By Ponga Liwewe
To his legion of worshippers, he is known as ‘’King Kalu.”
In Zambian football, his status is unchallenged as one of the top players in the country’s illustrious football history.
His resume is littered with stories of success: African Player of the Year 1988, Top Scorer 1996 Africa Cup of Nations. These are some of the accolades Kalusha Bwalya won during his years on the pitch.
Though his playing career didn’t reach the heights or win the recognition of George Weah, Abedi Pele or Roger Milla, he is considered a true legend of African football, ranking fourth in a poll of Africa’s greatest players of the 20th Century.
On August 10, 2018, the King lost his crown. The Adjudicatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee released a press statement announcing a two-year ban and CHF100,000 fine for breaching FIFA’s code of ethics.
It was a bitter blow to the man whose career has centred around nothing else but football from the time he first kicked a ball professionally for the Mufulira Wanderers team where he would go on to become a local hero.
The FIFA decision was the culmination of an investigation that began almost as soon as the UK Sunday Times newspaper published an exclusive story on that highlighted the levels of corruption around the Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup and race for the FIFA presidency.
The lead player was Mohammed Bin Hammam, a one-time confidant of the man he was challenging for the position, FIFA President Sepp Blatter.
The Sunday Times Insight team carried out a comprehensive investigation that included gaining access to Bwalya’s emails. In it was the damning correspondence between himself and representatives of Mohammed Bin Hammam from whom he was requesting financial support for both himself and the Football Association of Zambia.
“As per our conversation, please Mr President if you could assist me with about 50 thousand Dollars for my Football association and personal expenditures. I hope to repay you in the near future, as the burden is little bit too hard for me at this moment.” The little bit too hard burden prompted him to make a further request in 2011 as he declared himself “a little thin on resources.”
This was followed by an additional payment of $30,000.
To understand how he got himself into this situation, it is necessary to go back to the beginning, to when his football journey began five decades ago in the dusty streets of the mining community of Mufulira in northern Zambia.
His father, Benjamin Bwalya, was a football official who went on to later become a committee member of the Football Association of Zambia.
The senior Bwalya earned a reputation for his stubbornness and no-compromise approach to many issues. Some say this where his son’s inflexibility and tendency perceive non-existent slights stems.
Kalusha’s football journey took him from the city council team Mufulira Blackpool to the more prominent mine-owned club, Mufulira Wanderers.
It was here that he flourished under the tutelage of the late Samuel ‘Zoom’ Ndlovu and, while still in his teens, was wearing the colours of the Zambia national team.
In Mufulira, alongside his older and arguably more talented brother, Benjamin, they were the most exciting prospects in Zambian football. By 1985, at the age of 22, he had outgrown Zambian football and made a move to mid-level Belgian side, Cercle Brugge where he quickly became the club’s best player.
Three years later in 1988, he was leading the Zambian team at the Olympic Games in Seoul, where he emerged second highest scorer in the tournament with six goals, just one behind the fabulous Brazilian, Romario.
His performance in Seoul saw him signed on by the top Dutch side, PSV Eindhoven, where he initially struggled to make an impression before gaining more playing time under Bobby Robson.
After Robson’s departure, he was deemed surplus to requirements and was part of a purge of senior players when Aad de Moss took over.
At 30, the prospects of playing for another European club diminished and his next move took him nine thousand kilometres away to Mexico where he signed on for Club America, one of the most popular teams in the Mexican football league.
The change gave him a new lease of life and saw him become a cult hero to the fanatical Club America fans.
To fans in the terraces, he could do no wrong.
Off the field, however, relationships with his teammates and others were not as smooth sailing.
After his move to Europe, he became more distant from his teammates in the national team and began to make demands on the team management and association that were at best questionable.
He demanded a single room while all the other players paired.
On at least one occasion his wife Erica joined him in the team camp while in preparation for a crucial match.
Bwalya also insisted on receiving extra payment from the football association whenever he played for the national team for what he termed ‘’loss of wages,” even though the clubs he played for paid his salary when he was on national duty, as was the norm.
More disturbing was his antagonistic attitude towards the equally successful Charles Musonda who had followed him a year later from Mufulira Wanderers to Cercle Brugge as a 16-year-old precocious talent.
After one season Musonda transferred to the Belgian and European giants Anderlecht, leaving Kalusha in his wake.
This irked him and matters came to a head when the two differed in front of the nations’ cameras over whether the Zambia national team should continue to play matches after the horrific Gabon air crash which killed 18 players of the national team.
Musonda’s position was that Zambia should take a long break to rebuild and as he made his point he was sharply interrupted by Bwalya who retorted ” What do you mean we should stop? We have to go on!”
A persistent knee injury curtailed Musonda’s career, and as he sought treatment to get back on the field, his rival did nothing to halt the false impression that he didn’t want to play for the national team anymore.
Later, when Musonda returned from an injury-induced three-year break from active football to play for the national team, he was inexplicably left out of the starting line-up in a crucial World Cup qualifying match against South Africa in 1996.
Sources suggested that this was due to an ultimatum from Kalusha that either he or Musonda play but not together in the same team.
Zambia was held to a 0-0 draw at home and subsequently failed to qualify.
Two decades later, when Musonda’s three sons began to make an impression on the football stage, their reluctance to appear for Zambia’s junior team’s was linked back to the fractious relationship between the two, and with Bwalya as FA President, Musonda’s caution was understandable.
At the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations, the Zambian team split apart over a dispute about bonuses when the Head of Delegation Major Richard Kachingwe inexplicably handed Bwalya $50,000 in cash for the players’ allowances.
Bwalya informed the local players that there would only be a bonus for a win and nothing for a draw or loss.
Having lost the first game and drawn the second, this meant that the players would receive no compensation at all.
He decreed, however, that the players who had come from overseas teams would be paid allowances and proceeded to share the $50,000 between five players, taking the largest portion for himself and leaving out the rest of the 23-man squad who earned a pittance in the local game.
This caused unrest within the team, leading to a player strike that was only averted at the last minute.
Goalkeeper Davies Phiri flatly refused to play and was replaced by the ineffectual Emmanuel Mschili who conceded twice in a 2-2 draw with Senegal.
Zambia left the tournament at the first hurdle.
After the match, Bwalya announced his retirement from international football.
At 36, the curtain had finally fallen on a career that spanned 19 years.
He would return for a brief cameo appearance in 2004, featuring in a World Cup qualifying match against Liberia in which he came off the bench towards the end and scored a thunderous free kick from forty metres away, bringing the excited crowd to its feet in jubilation.
All this would be undone a few weeks later when, in the final of the 2004 COSAFA Castle Cup against Angola, he was the only player to miss a penalty in the shootout, giving Angola a 4-3 win on Zambian soil.
For the first time in his extraordinary career, he was booed by disappointed fans as he left the pitch.
It was the last time he would kick a ball as a competitive player.
In 2003, he was drafted into the South African bid for the 2010 World Cup on the recommendation of this author who was serving on the board and who advised the then Chief Executive Officer, Danny Jordaan, that a Spanish speaker would be invaluable to cover the Conmebol countries of South America and other Latin American territories.
Jordaan promptly brought Bwalya into the fold as an ambassador but would pay a hefty price later when Bwalya turned against him.
Bwalya actively campaigned against Jordaan in his attempts to become COSAFA and CAF committee member respectively.
Bwalya’s disdain for Jordaan intensified when his outspoken wife Emy Casaletti was asked to leave her marketing role at the 2010 World Cup Bid Committee.
It would only be in 2017 that Jordaan would get into the CAF committee on the crest of the wave that swept aside CAF President Issa Hayatou from office.
After the successful World Cup bid that saw South Africa win the right to host the World Cup, Bwalya switched his attention to local football politics and was voted FAZ vice president in 2004.
His four-year term was characterised by open warfare between him and the association’s President, Teddy Mulonga.
The level of distrust was clear when Bwalya stood up to vote for himself as he bid for the Presidency of the southern African regional football body, COSAFA, breaking the norm of the vote being cast by the association’s president.
In 2008, Bwalya stood against Mulonga for the presidency and riding high on his popularity as a football legend, swept him aside in a near-landslide win.
Vote buying and intimidation characterised the election.
It was the beginning of an era that would see lack of accountability, factional fighting and downright incompetence in the running of Zambia’s football affairs.
Nothing personified this more than the ill-fated national team trip to play a friendly match against Ghana’s Black Stars in London when only eight Zambia national team players made the trip, forcing the coach to call up Zambian students living in London to make up the numbers.
A few weeks earlier, the association had failed to procure tickets for referees coming for an Africa Cup qualifying match against Comoros, leaving thousands of fans waiting in the stadium for a game that wouldn’t take place on the day.
Football House became an arena of shenanigans and buffoonery.
Worse still was the blatant misuse of football resources for a lavish lifestyle of first-class travel and endless hotel stays, all at the expense of the association.
National team gate receipts were no longer made public, and it was not uncommon to see the associations’ executive committee members openly selling match tickets to fill their own pockets as part of their entitlement for their positions.
Revenues from international matches were unaccounted for as the Zambian team made trips to play Brazil, Chile, Kuwait, Japan and other teams abroad.
For the game against Brazil, sources revealed that the sum of $2m was paid as a match fee.
More telling was the absence of any entry in the FAZ books relating to the match.
Bwalya also involved himself in transfer deals involving players.
According to sources at Nchanga Rangers Football club, while still a player at the same club, he played a part in the transfer of Harry Milanzi to UAT Correcaminos in Mexico. To date, Nchanga Rangers is yet to see a penny of the transfer fee.
When Collins Mbesuma transferred from local club, Roan United, to Kaiser Chiefs in South Africa, Roan United again found themselves holding the short end of the stick.
The biggest transfer scandal involved the movement of Emmanuel Mayuka from Kabwe Warriors to Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.
Bwalya was subsequently summoned by the National Sports Council of Zambia to explain his role in the transfer and suspended for his refusal to appear before the council. He was also severely criticised in a parliamentary report looking into the matter.
With his grip on local football cemented, Bwalya turned his attention to CAF and FIFA where there would be even more money to be made if he played his cards right.
He quickly ingratiated himself to the then CAF President Issa Hayatou, acting as a bagman for Issa’s campaigns, going door-to-door, ‘’encouraging” delegates’ to make the right choice.
The big money spinner came when the bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups began in earnest after the 2010 World Cup. Qatar’s Mohammed Bin Hammam and Bwalya had first become acquainted when Bwalya was appointed an ambassador for the South African bid, and over the years they had kept their acquaintanceship going for whenever one would need to call upon the other.
Sources say when Ahmad first stood for the position of CAF committee member in 2011, much of the financial support for the campaign had come from Bin Hammam.
It was this election when Bwalya had been playing an active role in the re-election of Issa Hayatou.
With Danny Jordaan and Ahmad, both from the southern African region, as candidates. Bwalya saw the opportunity to undermine Jordaan by fully backing and campaigning for Ahmad.
He was later heard saying gleefully after Jordaan’s loss, ‘’As long as I am around, Danny will never get into CAF. Over my dead body.”
In FIFA circles, Bwalya’s status as one of the few ex-players in an executive role endeared him to the FIFA top brass.
He was appointed to the prestigious Football Committee and worked in the technical study group for several tournaments.
It was this rubbing of shoulders with the key stakeholders and his desire for more power and prestige that saw him roped into the Bin Hammam quest to overthrow Sepp Blatter.
As Bin Hammam’s star grew with Qatar’s success in winning the bid for the 2022 World Cup, he was emboldened to go for broke. His fatal error was in the final days of the campaign for the FIFA presidency to offer $40,000 in cash to each of the CONCACAF president’s at their congress in Trinidad and Tobago.
Not all were prepared to destroy their reputations for the pieces of silver on offer, and they declined.
Chuck Blazer, the secretary general of CONCACAF, ever the Blatter man, and under intense pressure as a turned informer of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, passed on the information to Blatter and Bin Hammam’s fate was sealed.
On 2011, the respected Sunday Times Newspaper broke the story of how Qatar bought the vote to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup, and in it, Bwalya’s name featured prominently with copies of emails he had made to Bin Hammam requesting financial resources for both the Football Association of Zambia and himself.
Bwalya’s domestic decline began with his loss to Andrew Kamanga, a successful businessman who had served as Chairman of Kabwe Warriors Football Club.
After a series of monumental blunders outlined above, the associations’ members had rallied behind Kamanga in 2011 to take over the helm of the association.
They were thwarted at the last minute by the withdrawal of a vote of no confidence motion when the sponsor – allegedly for the price of a large screen television – had it taken off the agenda.
Five years later, in 2016, Kamanga made another bid for the presidency and against overwhelming odds, defeated Bwalya by the slim margin of 163 to 156 votes.
It was the biggest upset in the history of Zambian football elections.
Bwalya, who had left the hall and returned to his hotel room before the final vote was counted, broke down and wept at the news of his loss, according to eyewitnesses present.
After an initial inquiry into the vote-buying allegations in 2012, FIFA concluded its investigations through the Adjudicatory Chamber of the Ethics Committee in April 2018.
Bwalya was found guilty and sanctioned four months later.
He received a two-year ban from all football activities and a substantial CHF30,000 fine.
The action effectively ended his tenure at the top echelons of football. Where he goes from here is unclear.
After the dizzy heights of playing football at the highest levels and becoming a household name in the African game, the road thereafter went downhill with one controversy after another.
Today public opinion is divided about whether to still view him as a hero or now as a villain after his fall.
It is yet another sad tale about how greed and corruption can eradicate a lifetime of work and achievement in an instant.