Overcoming challenges from his time in Maritzburg, Bangkok and Bloemfontein Celtic, enjoying some relief by scored 20 goals in two Finland seasons while ban before landing in Lusaka Dynamos, Willy ‘Awilo’ Stephanus seems to have finally found his rhythm again in the local premiership.
African Stars right winger Awilo is the current leading top goal scorer in the Debmarine Premier league with 11 goals, five assists in 14 outings, as he has proven to be one of the vital cogs in Stars’ engine room which has catapulted them to the summit with 28 goals and still undefeated.
And their prodigiously talented number 7 has been in the heart of almost all their key victories, from the 1-0 starring performance in the season opener against Unam FC to a dazzling hattrick offering against a sturdy Blue Waters side. Awilo has looks now more experienced, wisened, more astute.
He has struck a rich mental telepathy with Dynamo Fredericks, Edmund Kambanda and Edmar Kamatuka whenever Stars propel forward.
“But I actually think our defence is doing more of the homework. They have been disciplined and well organised which allows our progression whenever we are in possession,” says Awilo.
And that defence is well marshalled by unheralded Charles Hambira who has been a pain to most strikers in the league thus far. Only Tigers have denied Stars maximum points this season and Awilo says that draw was his toughest thus far as both teams fielded similar combinations.
With about 6 other Stars’ attacking players inconsistently sharing 18 goals oddly between them, it is now up Awilo to continue leading the onslaught for a club that seeks to recapture its former glories.
“He has brought in a wealth of experience being one of the few naturally gifted players in the squad who can spark at any time. Awilo is highly technical and now understands the concept of the game. It is very rare for local players to understand the whole model of the game. He has captured the sub-principal of the game, it is something special,” says Stars coach Mervin Mbakera.
It was in the Stars-Orlando Pirates derby that he seemed to have fully exorcised the evils that have made him nomadic all these years.
A long ball was pumped from the left and Awilo, powered by the enthusiasm of a veteran cock among the hens and the desire to prove his value to Starlile fans, teased his marker from outside the box; Unam Stadium held its breath, and Awilo—making a mockery of Stars’ nervous 1-0 lead, was coolness personified as he found his pocket of space to drill the ball home with a screamer that settled the nerves of every Stars fanatics. What a goal!
2-0 it was, Pirates were in sixes and sevens conceding a third goal two minutes later. 3-0 it was inside that first 25 minutes.
By the time all roads left Unam fields, Awilo’s stunning strike was the talk of Katutura, capping a quite brilliant individual performance.
The realisation that he is now actually the top goal scorer places him among the Starlile immortals, Congo Hindjou, Albert Tjihero, Quinton Jacobs, Bush Menjengua, Rudi Louw, Jamu Ngatjizeko, Ronald Katjieere whose names are serenaded over a cold Tafel Lager at Herero Mall and WhatsApp groups.
Yet in his football adventure of the past decade from his hey days at Black Africa, Awilo has never been one to score many goals. Fans are often fond of his dribbling skills, so silky and slippery have they been that you dare man-mark him if your family is in the terraces. The 4 goals in 38 Brave Warriors caps are a testimony of how he has been more a creator than a reliable goal scorer.
“The goal against Pirates will live long in my memory. I think it’s my best goal this season. A derby, a solo strike, outside the box… it had everything and it also gave us reason to believe because the scoreline was still 1-0 and you know anything can happen in a derby, especially if its Pirates,” he recalls, before another scorcher in the 6-1 demolition of his former team, Black Africa.
Otjiwarongo-based Life Fighters’ 24-year-old protégé Jackson Eliakim is the closest challenger to Awilo with six goals to his credit.
“It is not for me or about me, it is for the team. I am happy to continue scoring but I am happier when we win as team. I don’t want to put myself under pressure but will stick to my normal game,” thus Awilo.
As his redemption continues, Awilo’s one sounds like a jubilee. Like a second life, if you will. For a four-time premier league title winner with Black Africa after he debuted in 2010, it is his capacity for self-improvement and self-redemption which most distinguishes this Mariental-born star from any other player.