The Sunday Mail
FOR Willard Katsande, reaching the 200-game milestone for a big team like Kaizer Chiefs is clear testimony of how football can transform a poor rural boy into an international star who can inspire some hopeless kids in remote areas.
The former Warriors skipper, who grew up in rural Mutoko before football took him to South Africa, clocked 200 league appearances for Amakhosi when he came on as a first-half substitute before Chiefs went on to beat Baroka 1-0 at FNB on September 28.
He hit 201 games three days later when Chiefs beat Knox Mutizwa and Danny Phiri’s Golden Arrows 2-0, to maintain their early stranglehold at the apex of the ABSA Premiership standings.
The gritty midfielder who turns 34 on January 15, 2020 and has scored 16 league goals, now has 281 appearances for Chiefs, including cup games, since joining Amakhosi from Ajax Cape Town in 2011.
Coincidentally, Katsande made his league debut in the Soweto Derby on September 17, 2011 when he came on as a 29th minute replacement for Lucky Baloyi in a match Chiefs won 2-1, thanks to goals by Bernard Parker and Spiwe Tshabalala.
He has gone on to play 200 more league games, winning two championships — in 2013 and 2015 — during an illustrious career that has endeared him well amongst the Amakhosi faithful who passionately call him “Salt and Vinegar.”
“I am proud of myself, I came here as a nobody but I will leave as a legend. I still need to win as many trophies as possible so that I can retire happy and look back and say ‘what a hell of a career I had’.
“It’s always good to get to those figures, it’s history for a poor boy from Mutoko to hold such a record. Thanks to my parents, family and close friends for supporting me through and through,” Katsande told The Sunday Mail Sport.
Katsande moved to South Africa in 2010 after joining Ajax Cape Town from the now defunct former Zimbabwe Premier Soccer League champions Gunners.
He had also played for Highway prior to his stint at Gunners.
But, it was at Gunners where he flourished and was part of a cast that won a championship medal under the tutelage of the legendary Moses “Bambo” Chunga.
“It seems like a lifetime if I look back at the beginning, but God has made this possible. I am enjoying life in the ABSA Premiership, it’s a very competitive league which keeps growing by each passing season.
“There’s also a lot of drama in this exciting league,” said Katsande.
Over the years, Chiefs have become a second home to scores of Zimbabwean football stars, thanks to club chairman Kaizer Motaung’s love for talent from the north.
Over a dozen players have featured for the Naturena based club since Ebson “Sugar” Muguyo set the tone with a fruitful spell in the 1970s before Rabson “Sarafina” Muchichwa raised the bar after the turn of the new millennium.
Tinashe Nengomasha, who played more than 300 games for Amakhosi, Thomas Sweswe, Zhaimu Jambo, Knowledge Musona, Abbas Amidu, Mathew Rusike, Ovidy Karuru, Edmore Chirambadare, Teenage Hadebe, Lincoln Zvasiya and Khama Billiat are some of the players who have featured for the Gold and Black team.
Katsande feels that the value attached to Zimbabwean players by Chiefs has seen more of his countrymen joining Amakhosi.
“We just follow what our elders did here before us, from ‘Sugar’ (Muguyo) till now. Chiefs are a club that value Zimbabwean players, they value our work rate,” Katsande said.
“Nengomasha remains my role model, I play the same position he played here and I am inspired to emulate his feat at Chiefs.
“He achieved a lot for this club, he is a well-respected man here.”
Katsande captained the Warriors at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon before retiring in controversial fashion after the tournament. However, the midfielder remained loyal to his national team.
He followed closely as Zimbabwe staged a late fight to win 3-1 against Somalia in a World Cup preliminary round second leg qualifier at the National Sports last month, with his teammate Billiat once again one of the stars of the show.
The Warriors progressed to the group stage with a 3-2 aggregate win.
“I felt some butterflies in my stomach as the game wore on, I told myself we couldn’t go out of the World Cup like that, against Somalia of all teams.
“But I am happy that we finally managed to secure the spot in the group stages and we can now go back to the drawing board and correct the mistakes. I am confident we have the pedigree to qualify for our first World Cup appearance because I believe in the players we have in the national team,” said Katsande.
He also spoke about Billiat’s magic, the talismanic forward who has scored six goals for Chiefs since joining Mamelodi in June 2018.
“We value him a lot here at Chiefs because every time he is in the team we look dangerous, especially whenever he is in possession. He creates a lot of scoring opportunities, he is a wow player for us.”
Any plans to retire soon?
“My body feels like I am 26, so I can play for a couple of seasons, l am targeting to retire in 2022,” revealed Katsande, who has also won the MTN 8 and the Telkom Knockout Cup with Kaizer Chiefs.
Surprisingly, for all his gritty style, Katsande only has one red card (a second bookable offence) in his 201 league appearances for Chiefs, which he received in December 2012 when Amakhosi beat Amazulu 2-0.
So far, the Chiefs hardman has accumulated a massive 51 yellow cards.
“They say I play rough (sic), yet I only have one red card, a second bookable offence for that matter,” joked Katsande.
With Chiefs four points clear at the top of the ABSA Premiership standings after eight rounds, Katsande feels this could be their season.
“Of course starting well always give you confidence going forward.
“We are also very much aware that we have not won anything big in a long time, so this might also haunt us.” The Soweto giants last won the league title in 2015.