Unsung Chitalu better than Messi !



He's a national football hero, but outside Zambia few have heard of Godfrey Chitalu, who local authorities claim scored 107 goals in a calendar year in 1972  many more than Barcelona's Lionel Messi.

Having reached the pinnacle of sporting achievement in his country, the sharp-shooter died in a plane crash with almost the entire national team in 1993, a year after he became head coach.

"He was an attacking striker and very energetic. I never saw him sick, injured, so that somebody could take up his position. Godfrey was simply an incredible man," remembered Dennis Liwewe, the country's 76-year-old commentator renowned across the continent.

Barcelona forward Messi was hailed by many as the greatest player the game has seen after he scored twice last Sunday to beat the 40-year-old record of Germany's Gerd Mueller for most goals in a calendar year.

Mueller had scored 85 in 1972. 

But claims have emerged that he may still be well short of Zambia legend Chitalu, who netted 107 times — 49 in league matches for Kabwe Warriors and 58 in cup and internationals — between January 23 and December 10, 1972.

A black-and-white Zambia Daily Mail photo from 1972 shows the striker dressed in a suit and tie holding a ball inscribed with "1972 Godfrey Chitalu 107 goals".

"I played with him and I know what type of player Godfrey was. You cannot take away from him that he was the best striker this country has ever had," said respected coach Fred Mwila, who played for English club Aston Villa in 1969-70.

Humble upbringing

Born on October 22, 1947, in a shantytown in northern copperbelt town Luanshya of then-Northern Rhodesia, Chitalu had a humble upbringing.

"I don't think he went too far in education," his daughter Chewe — one of seven children — said.

"He was a loving father even if people say he was temperamental on the pitch. At home, he was the exact opposite."

He joined prestigious club Kitwe United in 1965, and three years later was crowned Footballer of the Year after scoring 81 goals in one year, according to football researcher Jerry Muchimba.

He won the accolade five times.

Chitalu moved to the Kabwe Warriors in 1971, and his endurance earned the nickname Ucar, after a brand of long-lasting batteries.

In 1972 his power goals won Warriors the league and all three the nation's knockout tournaments.

Ironically his 107 goals happened in the same year as Mueller's 85, the previous official record for most in a calendar year.

His performance on continental scale was less remarkable.

He made the starting line - up in two of six matches in the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations, where the side lost the final against Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).

He played in two of their three matches in the continental tournament four years later, where they were knocked out in the group stages. He scored in neither tournament.

After his playing career Chitalu went on to coach the Warriors, then the national side, the Copper Bullets.

He died when the plane crashed off the coast of Gabon in 1993 on the way to a World Cup qualifier in Senegal.

"I travelled with him in 30 countries and he was temperamental but very cool at home and if he was alive, he is one player that could have played for Manchester United or Chelsea. Godfrey was simply terrific," said Liwewe.

International recognition of his achievement came from an unlikely place the past week: there have been claims that jealous Real Madrid supporters punted his achievement to prevent Messi — at rival club Barcelona — from getting the record.

Indeed, European football bloggers were on to his goals earlier than Zambian media. Zambian researchers Muchimba and Musonda Chibulu finished their work in January, but have struggled since then to get it published, Muchimba said.

Until Messi's record.
Fifa spokesman Alex Stone said that none of the apparent records — whether Chitalu, Mueller, Messi or another claimant Brazil's Zico — could be authenticated, given the lack of data from all of its 209 member associations.

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