Dodge: A soccer legend gone too soon
Moneni Pirates coach Dumisa ‘Dodge’ Mahlalela, who has been indisposed for the past month, succumbed to death on Sunday at around 11am at the Mbabane Government Hospital.
His death, which has no doubt left the entire football landscape shocked, has been described as a great loss to the nation. The reasons were simple. Motolo, as the pint sized former football great was affectionately called, had his name engraved in an iron ink in local football Hall of Fame.
In fact his name was mentioned in the same breath as the likes of living legend Absalom Scara Thindwa, the late Kaizer Cameroon Zini, Henry ‘Puma’ Kunene, Rueben ‘Pele’ Mncina, Zweli ‘Botsotso’ Khoza and David ‘Botsotso’ Manyatsi, to name but a few.
From the day he made his debut as a youngster in the mid 1970s at Moneni Pirates, his talent was not in doubt. He went on to establish himself as one of the greatest players to have donned the famous white and black Pirates jersey.
He was one of the best midfielders to emerge from local football, with phenomenon skills that defied his height.
The player was a handful for the opposition, and he was the member of the great Mhlume Peacemakers side that played attractive football in 1981.
His midfield partnership with Rueben ‘Pele’ Mncina and David ‘Botsotso’ Manyatsi was arguably rated among the best ever in local football. The player had gone on loan to the club for the Africa Cup of Champions, which is now called the CAF Champions League. They lost to a team from Madagascar on aggregate 4-3, but it was the club’s performance at the Somhlolo National Stadium that earned them rave reviews.
He went back to help the unfashionable Moneni Pirates team gain promotion to the elite league in 1983 and that same year the club played the finals of the Coca Cola Cup, losing to Mbabane Highlanders 1-2.
In the subsequent decade, ‘Dodge’ became the heart and soul of the Pirates team that had Themba Mkoko, Sylvester ‘Mkhulu’ Thwala, Mandla ‘Toy Toy’ Manzini, Johannes ‘Disco’ Lukhele, Christopher ‘Tototo’ Khoza and Pat ‘Steamroller’ Ntuli, to name but a few.
The team was literally built around the talented playmaker, who wore the famous number 10 jersey. He was pivotal in the club’s transformation from being a small team to being a top four club. On numerous occasions, the club would use him as the on-field coach, later graduating to a fulltime coach of great repute.
After serving in the team for some years, he was appointed Sihlangu coach in 1992, in time for the commencement of the 1994 World Cup qualifiers where the team was pitted in the same group as Cameroon, Zaire (now called DRC) and Liberia, who pulled out of the group due to civil war.
His team lost 0-5 in Younde’ against the star-studded Cameroonian side that was fresh from setting the stage ablaze in the 1990 World Cup in Italia, which was the best finish by any African team in the history of the tournament.
A week later, Sihlangu, watched by His Majesty King Mswati III, achieved a historic victory over Zaire at Somhlolo National, a result that has only been marched by the 2008 2-1 win over Togo.
Dodge was known for his ability to spot and nurture talent from both club and national team level. This was evident when he took an unfashionable Ubombo Flyers that had just been promoted to the premier league to the finals of the Trade Fair Cup before losing 0-3 to Manzini Wanderers.
From there he had successful stints at Mbabane Swallows in 1997 and Manzini Wanderers the following season. He had just returned from a coaching course in Hungary, and the fruits of that training were beginning to show for local football.
He is also credited for turning Young Buffaloes around between 2006 and 2007. He led the club to their maiden major cup final in the PLS Trade Fair Cup before losing 0-1 to Mbabane Swallows in extra time courtesy of a Sandile Mdlovu free kick.
He later joined rejoined Manzini Wanderers and led them to the semi finals of the SwaziBank Cup in 2008 losing 0-2 to Royal Leopard.
He was the member of the Sihlangu technical team during its golden moments early in the new millennium, working alongside another legend Francis ‘Mkhulu’ Banda. He was made the head coach when Banda was shown the boot in 2001 and he achieved what remained the greatest away victory for Sihlangu when they beat Zimbabwe 2-0 away in July 5, 2002.
He left the team in 2004, but he was back four years later as the second assistant to Rauol Savoy and Ephraim Shakes Mashaba.
He returned to club football, working at Hub Sundowns, then moving back to his beloved Moneni Pirates last year before meeting his death.
Rest in peace Motolo.