Sunday, 16 March 2014

SOWETO DERBY SPECIAL: Willard Katsande, the industrial diamond, puts Kaizer Chiefs a cut above the rest

Rare diamond: Willard Katsande about to score the
Soweto Derby winner yesterday, with Senzo Meyiwa
beaten and Sifiso Myeni a mere spectator
SOME diamonds don’t sparkle. Some diamonds are industrial. Some diamonds are forged in the depths of the earth for drilling and grinding.

While their expensive cousins sit on the end of gold pendants and draw admiring looks for doing very little, the industrial diamond - tougher than any other substance known to man - simply cuts through the crap and does the job.

I put it to you m’lady: Willard Katsande is an industrial diamond. But as 90000 witnessed at Soccer City on Saturday, he’s a gem none-the-less in Kaizer Chiefs’ glittering array of double-winning sparklers.

Look, it’s no good pretending Stuart Baxter’s tactical genius won the Soweto Derby on Saturday. Or blaming former Kaizer Chiefs head coach Vladimir Vermerzovic for dropping Happy Jele and Thabo Matlaba.

It’s no good pretending the latest clash between the Soweto rivals was a classic, though the last half-hour was pleasantly hectic as Kaizer Chiefs held out for a telling 1-0 triumph.

And, Lehlohonolo Majoro, you really can’t blame the AmaKhosi for booing you after that controversial flit between South Africa’s two biggest clubs.

Forget all that. This was Katsande’s day. The man I described on twitter on Friday as “the best player in South Africa this season”. Blimey, did I take some stick for that one. After the game, typically, he had little time for self-embellishment. Industrial diamonds don’t bother with all that pretty stuff.

“We stuck to the game plan,” he growled, “We worked hard, we worked as a team. I did my job. But it was nice to get a goal at last. It was long overdue but it was an important one.”

Before the start on Saturday I sent Mbax an SMS complimenting South Africa’s most successful current coach for picking “a positive line-up” which included all THREE of the big guns he dropped for 2-0 midweek defeat against Platinum Stars at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium.

Having seen his 17-game unbeaten run since November 5 ended by Allan Freese’s men, Baxter put Knowledge Musona (the nation’s top scorer with 13 goals in all competitions), Bernard Parker (the PSL top scorer with 10 League goals) and Kingston Nkatha in his starting line-up. Goals aplenty loomed.

The truth is, it didn’t quite work. Buccaneer Mpho Mokola worked like a whirlwind in a first half where, against all the odds, Pirates actually had the upper hand. With Oupa Manyisa and Kermit Erasmus also doing good work, Chiefs were wobbling at times in a dullish opening 45 minutes.

Though stand-in goalkeeper Reyaad Pieterse made two comfortable saves, only one Chief really stood up to be counted in the opening stanza. I like to call him “KARDSANDE” due to Willard’s reputation for gaining a yellow card in every appearance as he charges around the midfield keeping control, regaining possession, winning the ball, keeping it.

So it was only right that South Africa’s premier defensive midfielder should score the only goal in front of 92,000 people on Saturday.

It was no rip-roaring snorter. And it was his first in 67 games in the PSL. Simphiwe Tshabalala’s corner was probably too close to Senzo Meyiwa. But Nkatha blocked the keeper’s route to the ball and Katsande popped up on the far post to scramble the ball home.

After his first EVER goal celebration in South Africa, the 28-year-old Zimbabwean returned to his day job and spent the frantic last 30 minutes doing what he does best: snuffing out the Buccaneers as they desperately sought the equaliser.

There were times when he tackled with his shins, cleared with a rogue knee or blocked with the back of his head. But Katsande, born in Mutoko on January 15, 1986, never gave up. Spotted by Bobby Motaung while playing a friendly for Zimbabwe v Zambia in 2011, Katsande’s arrival at Naturena in from Ajax Cape Town two years ago didn’t make much of a ripple in the transfer waters.

But having tackled himself to a standstill in a shock 1-0 win over mighty Egyptians Al Ahly in 2010 for Gunners FC, Katsande already had an established reputation as a Makalele defensive midfielder to the north of our borders. Gunners FC lost that African Champions League tie in Cairo but went on to win the Zimbabwean title with Katsande at the heart of their midfield in 2010.

Not that Katsande’s rise was meteoric. He started out as a teenager with Frontier Steel (2002–2005) and Feruka (2006–2007) before moving to Highway (2007-2009), a bunch of lads from Mutare renowned for their giant-killing exploits. That’s when the Gunners stepped in. The rest, as they say…

History of course, can take strange twists. Baxter sent me a two-word SMS after the Derby. It said simply “IMMENSE KATSANDE”, but he also admits: "I’ve told you this before, when I first saw Willard at training, I told (assistant coach) Doctor Khumalo ‘He can't play for Chiefs, he’s too reckless!’ But he’s worked so hard since then, he deserves all this.”

After Saturday’s Soweto Derby, Baxter chatted a bit about a poor first half and the changes he made at half-time. But then came the quote that mattered: “Yes, we packed the midfield. WITH ONE MAN. The guy over there with the Man of the Match award. Willard Katsande was incredible today.”

And that, in a nutshell, was the story of the Soweto Derby. With Bidvest Wits upset 3-1 by Free State Stars on Saturday night, who’s to say Katsande’s rare goal isn’t the most important strike of the season?

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  1. thank you neals. good sunday afternoon read, feels good after a chiefs win of course,

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