Clifford Mulenga was a key figure in Zambia's solid performance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007. Now 21, he is living up to his potential in this season's South African Premier Soccer League, where his exhilarating performances from the left wing helped Bidvest Wits go into Round 6 this weekend in third place.
Mulenga was only 17 when he debuted for Zambia's U-20 side, and his displays in Canada earned him the African Player of the Year award in 2007. However, at club level he failed in repeated European trials, and seemed stuck in limbo at Pretoria University, a second-tier side in South Africa.
Snapped up by Bidvest Wits before the start of the 2008/09 season, Mulenga is now beginning to display the consistency that could allow him to fulfill the repeated predictions of greatness that have swirled above his teenage head for some time now. Clever Boys coach, Roger De Sa, belives the player is a special, if somewhat precocious, talent. "He's a headache, high maintenance," he said. "But he can play!
"His arrogance and confidence is what you want when going after the championship. He's not a player you can teach. He creates situations out of nothing and can get a goal from a seemingly hopeless position. He can really do the unexpected and that makes him a special player."
Wits have started the season in fine form, conceding only two goals in five games, and positioning themselves as early contenders for the crown.
Mulenga, described as decisively quick with the ball at his feet and most dangerous when running at players, has been central to their form. "He is crucial to us," affirmed De Sa.
Mulenga made his debut for Zambia long before any impact at club level. He was a pivotal part of the U-20 side that qualified for Canada 2007, and the U-23 team that participated in qualifiers for the Men's Olympic Football Tournament Beijing 2008.
The fleet-footed winger won his first senior cap in February 2005, playing for Zambia in a friendly against Botswana in Gaborone. He also appeared for his country during their unsuccessful qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.
Mulenga has often been compared to Zambian great Kalusha Bwalya. Ironically, Kalusha was the coach who thrust him into the deep end at international level. Only time will tell if this young African star will shine as brightly as Kalusha, his country's all-time leading marksman.