Zambia’s Goal King, Godfrey Chitalu, remains the most prolific African scorer in international football with 79 goals in 111 games. But Zambia suffered a self-inflicted problem.
Chitalu was feared and respected throughout Africa. One of Africa’s great players, Mathematical, the Nigerian great, Segun Odegbami, holds Chitalu in high esteem.
“Chitalu was a threat to any team in his time,” Odegbami said.
“His reputation preceded him everywhere on the continent.
“He was one of the true greats of African football.”
But perusal of Chitalu’s scoring record reveals something odd. What should have been the defining moment of his career – the first appearance of his nation in the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations – was a personal failure.
Zambia reached the final, but the most feared striker was a shadow of his former self. He scored only once in the tournament and had lost the trust of coach Ante Buselić.
The Yugoslav tactician took the decision to drop Chitalu, by any definition one of the most feared and respected strikers of the time. But why? By his own high standards, the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations had been a failure. He played in all the qualifying matches, scoring in the middle one, but he did not play in the knockout rounds until the replay of the final, but only because Simon Kaushi got himself sent off in the first match.
Zaire made history, winning the only replayed AFCON Final, 2-0. Chitalu had been recalled but failed to trouble the scorers. By his own very high standards it was a poor return, but something was wrong. He was the most prolific striker in Zambian history at that stage. He had scored 32 goals in just 48 matches. The replayed final was his 50th international.
Just after turning 27, he played two matches in the CECAFA Cup in Tanzania.
At 27, it looked as if his international career was over – he was out form and finished, or so, it was said. Consigned to the wilderness, Zambia paid a price. Coach Buselić was a disciplinarian and Chitalu was used to the set up at Kabwe Warriors where he was given latitude as long as he delivered.
Chitalu failed to score in two matches in the CECAFA Cup in November 1974. That led to his absence from Zambia’s national team for more than a year.
Zambia went from beaten AFCON finalists in 1974 – their first appearance in the finals – to failing to qualify for the next AFCON in 1975. Morocco won their only AFCON title to date in an unusual format in 1976.
In Chitalu’s absence, Zambia slaughtered Malawi 9-4 on aggregate – they won the first leg in Blantyre 6-1, but the second round was a different story. Zambia lost 4-2 on aggregate to Uganda.
And to make matters worse, Zambia hosted the CECAFA Cup in 1975. They finished bottom of their group, without Chitalu. Zambia lost both matches, having scored just one goal. It was a disastrous performance.
Chitalu’s 53rd cap was against Nigeria in Chingola in February 1976 – he didn’t score in the 1-3 loss and was dropped again, but almost a year to the day later, he returned. There was a crucial difference. Although he failed to score in the first leg of the World Cup Qualifier in Kampala, on February 13th 1977, the wilderness period was over.
Chitalu, supposedly finished, was about to silence the detractors in style. He was about to show that far from being finished, he was in fact, the finished product.
Two weeks after his 1977 return, Chitalu returned to his predatory ways with a brace in his 55th match, the 4-2 win over Uganda in the return leg. It had been almost three years, and seven matches between his 32nd and 33rd goals – a terrible drought by his standards.
Finished? Perish the Thought
But Chitalu was far from finished. The first 55 had netted 34 goals. In his 56th match, the first half of his illustrious international career ended at half time on March 26th 1977. He had a brace to his name.
The first half of Chitalu’s record-breaking career had ended almost 105 months after his debut on June 29th 1968. He had scored a respectable 36 goals with a goals/match ratio of 0.65.
Chitalu pulled on Zambia’s shirt for the last time on December 12th 1980. The second half of his international career had lasted about 44.5 months. The prolific striker averaged almost a goal a month in this spell.
Incredibly, the ‘finished’ striker was deadlier in front of goal in the second half of his international career than the first, and in a considerably shorter time-span.
His goals/match ratio for the second half was a very respectable 0.77.
The first black man to play for Liverpool, Howard Gayle, is impressed. He wants to see Zambia’s Goal King, Godfrey Chitalu honoured for his many achievements, especially in Africa.
“It’s time for the footballing community to honour and recognise what is an outstanding achievement in goal scoring, so that his name and his country can finally be added to the Halls of Fame of footballing greatness,” Gayle said.
There was no doubt about it; the Goal King was back. His brace in the return leg of the Africa Cup of Nations Qualifier in Lusaka helped Zambia reach the 1978 Africa Cup of Nations Finals in Ghana. They were eliminated by eventual winners, Ghana, and Nigeria.
The Player of the Tournament and fellow African great, Abdul Razak Karim, scored the winner in the first Group Stage match against Zambia. Sadly, Chitalu pulled a hamstring and had to go off injured.
Razak, also one of CAF’s greatest 200 African players, appreciates great opponents.
“Godfrey Chitalu was an incredible player with a huge reputation,” Razak said.
“His records are phenomenal.
“He will always be remembered as one of our greatest ever players.”
Razak went on to establish his own reputation, helping Ghana to become the first team to win the AFCON trophy outright by winning AFCON three times.
And the final group match against Nigeria ended in a 0-0 draw. African legends, Segun Odegbami and Chitalu played in that match. Chitalu, playing through pain, just 5 days after pulling a hamstring against the Black Stars, eventually had to go off injured. It was his last match at Africa’s premier event as Zambia was eliminated in the second round of qualification for 1980 by Tanzania.
Odegbami went on to share the top goal-scorer honours with the 1978 AFCON final participants, the late Ghanaian great Opoku Afriye and the late Ugandan great, Phillip Omondi. Odegbami won the top scorer award and the AFCON trophy for the first time in Nigeria’s history in 1980.
Chitalu’s next competition, the 1978 CECAFA (Council for East And Central Africa Football Associations) Cup, saw the Zambian Goal Machine back to his outstanding best with a still unbroken record tally.
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.