Kat­sande’s jour­ney

Wil­lard Kat­sande has been on a re­mark­able jour­ney that has taken him from street ven­dor to one of the most in­flu­en­tial play­ers at Kaizer Chiefs. His story is an ex­am­ple of how quickly for­tunes can change in foot­ball.

Kick Off - - Contents - BY LOVE­MORE MOYO

From street ven­dor to Kaizer Chiefs star, Wil­lard Kasande tells his in­spir­ing tale

KICK OFF: You have grown into an in­flu­en­tial se­nior player at Kaizer Chiefs since you ar­rived five years ago …

WIL­LARD KAT­SANDE: I ar­rived here as a no­body with a lot to prove be­cause the pre­vi­ous sea­son I had not played much at Ajax Cape Town. I was even called deroga­tory names by some peo­ple, which I have since re­alised is nor­mal be­cause of the weight of this brand called Kaizer Chiefs. The ex­pec­ta­tion here is al­ways that the club should sign high-pro­file play­ers and when­ever they sign low-pro­file play­ers, like was the case with me, it raises eye­brows. The big­gest chal­lenge for me was that my first game was against Or­lando Pi­rates in the 2011 MTN8 fi­nal, which we lost. I came on a sub­sti­tute and it was a very dif­fi­cult game for me ... I didn’t even see any­thing in that game.

Just how were you signed then, when you had started just four games at Ajax?

It was very funny – Chiefs came to Zim­babwe dur­ing the off-sea­son to watch Lin­coln Zvasiya in the na­tional team as he had al­ready been to Na­turena for tri­als. I had ac­tu­ally left my base in Cape Town at the end of my first sea­son there [2010/11] with the new coach [Maarten Steke­len­burg] hav­ing al­ready told me that I was not in his plans for the new sea­son be­cause he didn’t want to waste a for­eigner space on me. Ajax’s plan was to loan me to Vasco da Gama in the Na­tional First Di­vi­sion. I then per­formed very well in that na­tional team game [against Zam­bia] and luck­ily Chiefs were watch­ing.

What hap­pened next?

Chiefs then con­tacted my agent right away and told him they wanted my ser­vices. When my agent first told me about Chiefs’ in­ter­est I thought he was just kid­ding. Af­ter the game I hap­pened to be on the same flight with Bobby [Mo­taung] and he told me right away, ‘Papa, we need to bring you to Jozi for work pur­poses’. Still, I didn’t be­lieve him and thought he was just flat­ter­ing me since I had a good game. The next day when I ar­rived at my base in Cape Town they told me I had to pack my bags be­cause I was leav­ing. You didn’t have the best of starts to your time here at Chiefs ... My first game was hor­ri­ble, like I said. Af­ter los­ing, there were so many bad com­ments about me. Af­ter that cup fi­nal loss, which was played in Sep­tem­ber, I never played or sat on the bench again un­til in De­cem­ber when I got my first start in strange cir­cum­stances. Lin­coln was due to play right-back that day against Free State Stars as Jimmy Tau was sus­pended, with Thomas Sweswe and Do­minic Isaacs at cen­tre-back. Zhaimu Jambo was at left-back with Ti­nashe Nen­go­masha hold­ing. I was only in the squad of 20 that went to camp, but I was one of two that were on standby. Isaacs then got sick just be­fore we left the ho­tel for the sta­dium. I had al­ready packed my bag into my car be­cause I thought I would be in the stands. Out of the blue coach VV [Vladimir Ver­me­zovic] told me that I would be play­ing at right-back.

In­ter­est­ing ...

He didn’t even ask me if I could even play in that po­si­tion. I told my­self, ‘OK, let me take my chance and all I will do is just de­fend be­cause I might not cope with hav­ing to go up and down’. Luck­ily for me the back four were all Zim­bab­weans, with Lin­coln mov­ing to part­ner Thomas in cen­tral de­fence, Jambo at left-back with Ti­nashe hold­ing, so they all helped me a lot in set­tling down. In the end I had a fan­tas­tic game and we won 2-1. The next game against AmaZulu I didn’t play be­cause Jimmy was back, but the coach told me that I need to be ready men­tally as I will start play­ing af­ter the Christ­mas break. Af­ter that break I made 12 con­sec­u­tive starts. Then came coach Stu­art Bax­ter the next sea­son ... I re­mem­ber the club re­leased about 12 play­ers just as Bax­ter came in, but I

was lucky enough that he ex­plained to me right away how he needed me to play. From there on­wards ev­ery­day was a good learn­ing day and he would tell me that, ‘I see you do­ing this al­right, son, now it is time to move to the next step’. At the time, I was pick­ing up a lot of yel­low cards and be­ing tar­geted with no­body giv­ing me a chance. But Bax­ter was there to de­fend me all the time. Grad­u­ally I be­gan to un­der­stand how I need to ap­ply my­self and it helped me a lot to have some­one like him in terms of un­der­stand­ing my role. I am still en­joy­ing my foot­ball up to to­day be­cause of Bax­ter.

What does it take to suc­ceed at Chiefs?

It takes char­ac­ter and a big heart. What I have been through in life has taught me to be grate­ful for ev­ery op­por­tu­nity I get. I lost my fa­ther when I was nine and life sud­denly took a sharp curve down­wards for me e so much that my mom – who was not ot ed­u­cated – could not af­ford to buy us a loaf of bread. I then be­came a ven­dor and would have to leave what I was sell­ing on the streets to at­tend foot­ball train­ing. At one point I stayed in the ru­ral ar­eas and would wake up at 3am to work in the fields. By 7am, I had al­ready chopped down wood from the moun­tains and was al­ready train­ing cows to work the fields. I don’t want to be back in poverty again and strug­gle the way I did. When I joined Chiefs a close friend said to me, ‘let us hope that you will not be the first Zim­bab­wean to be a fail­ure at Chiefs!’. Those words stuck with me and even though he was jok­ing, I re­alised that in ev­ery joke there is el­e­ment of truth.

Af­ter last sea­son’s tro­phy­less cam­paign, what is the mind-set of the play­ers at the mo­ment?

Ob­vi­ously we are pro­fes­sion­als and men­tally we need to be strong in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. If you play this game, you need to be aware that there will be ups and downs. It is how you han­dle th­ese chal­lenges that gives you the char­ac­ter to last in this game.

Why has Chiefs not suc­ceeded over the last year?

Last sea­son was dif­fi­cult be­cause we were the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons which meant we were the hunted. This sea­son we are hunters, so there will be less pres­sure on us. Now we need to en­joy our foot­ball and try to score goals. We will just have to deal with what­ever hap­pens there­after.

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