Ethiopia Football:Mengistu Worku (1940-2010)

Mengistu Worku, the greatest Ethiopian footballer of all time, passed away today at the age of 70 after  undergoing a two-year medical treatment in Bangkok, Thailand.  Mengistu returned home recently after it was determined that his last days should be spent in his beloved country.

Mengistu, was named the “Ethiopian Kopa”, after the great French footballer of the 50s Raymond Kopa, because of his dribbling ability and swiftness of his movements.

I don’t think that there is any middle age Ethiopian, whether he/she likes football or not, who doesn’t know about Mengistu Worku, either from personally watching him play or from what their parents, older brothers, etc…. have told them about him.

The name Mengistu Worku is synonymous with Ethiopian football. He was the most complete player Ethiopia has ever produced. He had flair, speed, intelligence, elegance, extreme confidence and a knack for goals.

For those of us who were lucky enough to see him play at his prime, Mengistu was a joy to watch. His impeccable ball control (feet, chest), his timing and acceleration, his jumping ability, his positioning, and his passing and the many goals that he scored made him a star player in Ethiopian football at a time when there were so many good players around.

He was a player of average height but the volleyball training drills he did at “Medhane Alem Secondary School” during his early years, prepared him well for football that he often out jumped defenders who were much taller than him to score numerous goals both for his club St. George or the Ethiopian national team.

Although I don’t know of any statistics done as to how many goals he scored with his feet or his head, I wouldn’t be surprised if they are even.

He was loved and cherished by his adoring fans, who gave him several nicknames, including “Menge”, “Gonderew”, “Doctor” and “Fitawrari”, to name a few. While he was the pride and joy for St. George fans, he was on the other hand, a total nightmare for the opposition, and I can attest to that from personal experience. Being a member and also a supporter of Electric Football Club (EEPCO now) at the time, I can’t tell you how many times, I went home crying after Electric lost to St. George, due to Mengistu either creating or scoring goals against us.

However, as much as we resented him, we also admired him. This was certainly the case when Mengistu was playing for the Ethiopian national team. He was fearless and had such an incredible do-or-die attitude when representing Ethiopia that we were all behind him 100%.

Later on, I became a sports journalist for the Ethiopian Herald and he took over as head coach of the national team, and I had the opportunity to interview him on several occasions. We often spoke of the good old days and we spent the great majority of our times going over the goals he scored, the players he admired, the problems with Ethiopian football and much more.

The story of Mengistu and his contribution and influence on Ethiopian football can’t be summarized in one or two articles.

There is more to come in the days ahead.

Menge, I miss you already.

May the Good Lord rest his soul!