Tributes to ‘Big Phil’ as African striker dies aged 49
TRIBUTES HAVE been paid to former Leeds United star Philemon Masinga following his death at the age of 49.
‘Big Phil’, as some knew him, was the lesser in footballing terms of the South African duo signed by Leeds United in 1994, but his larger-than-life character made its own impression in England.
Masinga came to England in a £275,000 transfer from Mamelodi Sundowns in the same recruitment which snared Lucas Radebe from Kaizer Chiefs.
Radebe went on to become an icon at Leeds, a club captain and ambassador who was recognised as one of the Premier League’s leading centre-backs, but Masinga’s two years at Elland Road also earned him some affection.
Masinga’s former Leeds teammate Noel Whelan tweeted: “Really sad news to learn that a guy I spent so much time with, laughs and games together has passed away, he was not just a friend and strike partner but one of the nicest kindest guys I’ve met.”
A giant of a centre-forward at 6ft 4in, he was a more soughtafter player than Radebe when Howard Wilkinson signed him, fresh from scoring 17 goals in the Sundowns’ run to the South African title. Porto were in the running to buy him and other European clubs took an interest but the deal with Leeds was done before the start of the 1994-95 season. The story went that the acquisition of Radebe was in part about keep Masinga happy and firing so far away from home.
Masinga was sold to St Gallen in Switzerland. A spell at Bari followed before his retirement through injury at the age of 32.
Back home in South Africa, Masinga made history with the long-range strike which sent the Bafana Bafana to the World Cup for the first time in 1998. Despite that goal, and a tally of 18 finishes in 58 international matches, he was a target for abuse from a section of South African fans and the criticism weighed heavily on him. The passing years, however, have cast him as a loyal servant to the country’s national side.
Masinga had been fighting cancer. His death was confirmed by South African media. A statement from Leeds said: “It is with great sadness that the club has learnt of former striker Phil Masinga’s passing.”