He led Young Warriors' golden generation

HARARE - Vusi Laher, who captained the Zimbabwe Under-23 that agonisingly came close to winning the 1995 All-Africa Games gold medal, never imagined he would reach dizzy heights as a footballer, preferring to play the game as a pastime.

Laher, who began his rise to prominence at the famed Zimbabwe Grounds where he turned out for Highfield Juniors, even snubbed a chance to play for CAPS United as he felt football was not his calling.

However, after much persuasion from goalkeeper George Mandizvidza (late), Laher gave football a chance.

“I had the talent but I never imagined I would get to where I got in football,” Laher tells the Daily News.

“Mandizvidza convinced Max “Malume” Moyo, then Black Mambas coach, to come and talk to my parents to persuade me to take football seriously.

“Then I was still playing for second Division side Zimbabwe Crackers.

“I instantly broke into the first team. I still remember vividly my debut game against Black Aces.

“I was marking Wilfred Mugeyi. Mugeyi was at his best back then, but I managed to contain him and we ended the match goalless. From then on I never looked back.”

Some impressive performances in the 1993 season for Mambas would see Laher being called into the Zimbabwe Under-20 side.

The following year, Laher moved to Rufaro Rovers, then the big spenders of the Premiership.

Along with Laher, Rovers would acquire the services of Godknows Chamwalila, the late Shingi Twaliki (later known as Shingi Arlon) and Mandizvidza.

After only a season at Rufaro Rovers, Laher moved to Blackpool, where he would reunite with his former Black Mambas teammates in 1995.

That same year, the Highfield- raised left-back captained the Zimbabwe Under-23  side, a team famed for being one of the finest youth side to emerge from the country in that decade.

He played alongside such players as Gift Muzadzi, Lloyd Jowa, Alex Munawa, Methembe Ndlovu, Alois Bunjira, Stewart Murisa, George Mbwando, Edelbert Dinha amongst others.

The side agonisingly lost in the final qualifier of the Atlanta 1996 Olympics to a Nigerian Under-23 side comprising such players as Nwankwo Kanu, Augustine”Jay-Jay” Okocha and Celestine Babayaro, who would later become top-class players with different European teams.  

There was no shame though for Zimbabwe in losing to that Nigerian outfit, which stunned world football by winning the gold medal at the Olympics.

“Everywhere I go people still ask me about that Under-23 side.

“I feel honoured to have captained that side,” Laher says.

“Despite the numerous coaches that coached the side all of them maintained their faith in me to lead the team.”

Laher picks the 1995 All-Africa Games semi-final victory over Congo played in a packed Rufaro Stadium as his most memorable game.

“We were down 1-0 as the clock ticked to full-time, the fans were getting agitated and there were about three minutes of regulation time left.

But despite the disappointment, no one left the stadium.

“I pulled one back but it was disallowed. But we never gave up. Edelbert Dinha scored the equaliser at the stroke of full time and Stewart Murisa scored the winner in added time. It was dramatic.

“I tell you, we celebrated until the wee hours of the morning.”

Zimbabwe however, went on to lose 3-1 to Egypt in the final, but for many, that tournament shaped their professional careers.

Laher, Bunjira, Murisa and Mbwando would feature in a Blackpool side that narrowly lost the Premiership title to Dynamos on goal difference in 1995, albeit in controversial circumstances.
 
The colourful Ndochi also reached the semi-finals of the African Cup Winners Cup, now known as the Confederations Cup.

Laher’s exploits were noticed by South African side Cape Town Spurs, who signed him on as direct replacement for Zimbabwean compatriot Francis Shonhayi.

At Spurs, Laher teamed up with young Benni McCarthy and such players as Moeneeb Josephs, David Modise and later fellow Zimbabwean Ian Gorowa.

Laher got injured in 1999 after falling victim to a lunge tackle from winger Keryn Jordan in a match against Manning Rangers, then coached by current Bafana Bafana coach Gordon Igesund.

“I never recovered after that despite going under the knife a couple of times. The club let me go in 2001.
I recommended Edzai Kasinauyo as a direct replacement and he too was a success,” Laher says.

Laher who holds a Level Two coaching course, believes he still has a lot to give back to the sport that brought him fame.

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