JOMO SONO has showered George Shaya with the ultimate compliment, describing him as the finest attacking footballer to come out of Zimbabwe.
The beautiful game is mourning the death of the legendary forward.
Affectionately known as ‘‘The Mastermind,’’ the five-time Soccer Star of the Year died in Harare yesterday, at the age of 77.
Shaya has battled diabetes and was also diagnosed with dementia, a condition associated with the decline in brain functioning, which has been affecting a number of former professional footballers.
It has already claimed the lives of England World Cup winners — Martin Peters, Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson — while Bobby Charlton, Gordon Cowans, Chris Nicholl and Gordon McQueen, are undergoing treatment.
A recent study claimed professional footballers were five-times likely to develop dementia.
On Monday, Liverpool great, Terry McDermott, became the latest high-profile former footballer to reveal he had been diagnosed with dementia.
The 66-year-old Sono, is widely regarded as one of the greatest South African footballers of all-time.
Forty five years ago, Sono went head-to-head with Shaya, as Orlando Pirates battled Dynamos, in the final of the Southern Africa Champion of Champions.
The Buccaneers won the first leg, in Johannesburg, 5-3, before Shaya turned on the show, at a rain-swept Rufaro, in the second leg, to inspire the Glamour Boys to a 4-1 victory.
That gave them a 7-6 aggregate victory, in a vintage season, in which they won five of six Cup tournaments, scoring 67 goals, in 19 Cup fixtures, over the season.
Sono, who played with Brazilian legend Pele at American side Cosmos, said he has had the privilege of watching some of the best Zimbabwean players, since 1972, but has never seen an attacking force better than Shaya.
‘‘What a player, my opinion, the best attacking player to come out of Zimbabwe,’’ he told The Herald yesterday.
‘‘May his soul rest in peace.’’
Sono owns Jomo Cosmos, a club he established in 1983, and has worked with a number of top Zimbabwean footballers.
He handed former Benjani Mwaruwari a base in South Africa, to launch a career, which eventually took him to Manchester City.
Earlier, Sono had taken midfielder Kennedy Nagoli from Kwekwe, and transformed him into a player good enough to play for iconic Brazilian club, Santos, the traditional home of superstars like Pele and Neymar.
‘‘I am lucky I saw great players from Zimbabwe,’’ Sono said. ‘‘I have been around (from) 1972 to 2021, so I know all of them.
‘‘The different positions, and times, it’s not easy to compare them but what a player (Shaya). I remember Pirates versus Dynamos.’’
He isn’t the only one who still remembers that showdown, and that year, when the Glamour Boys, and their talisman, touched the heavens.
“We won the league title, Nyore Nyore Charity Shield, BAT Rosebowl, Castle Cup and Southern African Champions of Champions,’’ said DeMbare legend, David George, who was always on Shaya’s side, in recent months.
“In Shaya, whom I rate as the finest-ever player produced in this country, we had a terrific talisman, who was an intelligent game reader, and could win a match almost single-handedly.
“Just before kick-off, in front of a sell-out crowd (in the second leg at Rufaro), there was a heavy downpour but it did nothing to dampen the carnival atmosphere in the stadium.
“The Mastermind was back in the side and, straight from kick-off, he set us on a recovery path when he scored, I then scored the second goal before (Oliver) Kateya made it 3-0.
‘‘Sono, who was marked out of the game that day by our resolute defence, then scored to square the aggregate score at 6-6.
“As the whole stadium watched in bewilderment, anticipating extra-time with a few minutes remaining, we were awarded a free-kick just outside their penalty box.
“A short pass from Shaya to (Shadreck) Ngwenya saw him expertly back-heel the ball to (Kuda) Muchemeyi who blasted home past their ’keeper Partson Banda to make it 7-6.’’
It’s a measure of how good Shaya was, during his playing days, even the legendary Peter Ndlovu believes he is the GOAT, by a considerable mile.
‘‘We always talk of legends, we are legends of course, but we may talk whatever we want, and bring whatever we may bring, regardless of where you have been, where you have played,’’ the former Warriors skipper said, in November, last year.
‘‘Whatever guys, let’s not kid ourselves, this is a non-starter, this is really a no-show to compare ourselves with this man, we are nothing, we are too far (behind) guys.
‘‘Let’s just own up and hive him the crown, all the time, he deserves it, all the time, he deserves respect, we are not going to talk about other people, this man is the one.
‘‘In actual fact, we are saying, let’s start from people like Khama (Billiat) and myself, we are the sons of football, let’s go to Madinda (Ndlovu), let’s go to Moses (Chunga), let’s go to Marimo — Misheck and Sunday — those are the fathers of football.
‘‘But, when we speak of George Shaya, we are speaking of the godfathers of football, the owners of football in Zimbabwe and, of course, the owners of football, in the world.
‘‘The Mastermind did not just come from nowhere but it’s because of his exploits, and all his credentials, in the game of football.’’