As one of the first African players to play in Europe and Mexico, Kalusha Bwalya was a pioneering figure during his exceptional playing career.
Zambia's most-capped player and all-time top scorer represented his national team from 1983 to 2004, and played for Cercle Brugge and PSV Eindhoven in Belgium and Netherlands respectively before later enjoying stints with Mexican duo Club America and Necaxa. He has also coached the Zambian national team and was a member of FIFA Technical Study Group for the 2004 Olympics and 2006 FIFA World Cup™.
Yet despite his many achievements on the field and in the dugout, it is in an administrative role that Bwalya is now attempting make changes in football from the top down in his position as vice-president of the Football Association of Zambia (FAZ). "The fact of the matter is," he told FIFA.com, "of course I miss the day-to-day interaction on the ground, but I think my challenge is more outside of the football pitch." More specifically, the 44-year-old says that he feels that he "can make a big influence, not only for Zambians but for people around the world who love football".
"Football is my hobby, this is my core" he added. "I feel that I am able to bring more vision into African football administration. I enjoy it actually, I love it. I enjoy every minute of it."
Bwalya is optimistic about the future of African football, saying that: "There are a lot of challenges and problems, but we are winning... slowly, slowly." He points out that, since his retirement, African footballers have taken centre stage in world football, with Bwalya singling out Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Samuel Eto'o, Mahamadou Diarra and Kader Keita for especially high praise.
The 100-times-capped former winger also started the Kalusha Foundation in the hope of promoting self-esteem among people in his native Zambia and educating these same men and women about HIV/AIDS. "We are a small foundation," he explains, "but we are doing what we can, it is a job worth doing." Although he does not personally run the foundation, his philosophy shines through in its ethics and activities. "HIV and AIDS is amongst us, and we are trying to sensitise people to HIV and AIDS and the importance of healthy living. That is why our motto is healthy living and healthy mind."
As if his role with the foundation and his job as FAZ vice-president is not enough, Bwalya's also offers his opinion as a television football analyst and helps with coaching clinics at the club where it all started for him, Mufulira Wanderers.
Bwalya's career in Europe began at Cercle Brugge in Belgium. In his first season, he was the club's top scorer and was twice voted supporters' player of the year. Such was his impact that Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven took him to the Eredivisie, and he describes winning the championship twice in 1990/91 and 199192, under Bobby Robson, as a career highlight.
He jokingly adds that: "Most of the time we played in the opponents half, because the team was so good. You know, we had Romario, Gerald Vanenburg, Eric Gerets, Wim Kieft and Hans van Breukelen and just to be with that group, to train with them day in, day out, was an experience."
Bwalya's next stop was Club America, to whom he moved in 1994. The Mexican club's home ground is the legendary Azteca, an arena of which the Zambian icon has very fond memories. As he told FIFA.com: "I am privileged to have played in the best stadium in the world - and to have been able to call it my home ground." The Mexico experience in general was cherished by Bwalya, who devoted almost eight years of his career to the country and recalls his time there as "probably the best of my life".
On the international front, his earliest achievement was arguably one of the most remarkable hat-tricks in modern football history, with current world champions Italy on the receiving end in a 4-0 win for the Zambians at the 1988 Olympics. Bwalya acknowledges that the result was a surprise, but adds: "Zambia is a sleeping giant in a way. It is a small country in terms of football, but we were the first African team to beat a European power as convincingly as that."
Tragedy and triumph
The heroics of 1988 were soon overshadowed, however, by the disaster that struck 1993 when the aeroplane carrying the Zambian national team crashed off the coast of Gabon, killing the entire squad except Bwalya, who had remained in the Netherlands on club business. Despite his own grief, Bwalya agreed to help rebuild the team.
"That decision was taken by government, by the football association, and by the people" he explains. "So it was easy for me. I was the captain of the old team, and their goal was my goal, and still is my goal - it is my challenge, even today. It is the same challenge that all teams in the world have and that is to go to the World Cup. When we decided to go forward, we thought we will do it for the fallen heroes."
The successors to these heroes, with Bwalya as captain, played their first match later the same year against Morocco at the Independent Stadium in Lusaka . The Moroccans took the lead in the first half, but it remains Bwalya's belief that the will of the Zambian nation inspired a memorable triumph. In a bittersweet moment, Bwalya scored the equalising goal in Zambia's 2-1 win, and more significantly, the first goal since the tragedy.
The team went on to surpass all expectations by making it to the final of the 1994 CAF Africa Cup of Nations. In adversity, they had achieved greatness. "Sometimes," he concludes, "it's only when you reach deep into your own soul that something special comes out."