Zulu was denied opportunity to play for Man U

HARARE – Ten-time Zimbabwe Soccer Star of the Year finalist Joseph Zulu still bears emotional scars of his failure to honour a one-month trial call-up by British football giants Manchester United.

The year was 1979 when the then high-riding attacking midfielder was invited for a trial stint at the world famous record English champions.

This came after Manchester scouts had spotted the Mazowe-born wizard turning out for the Rhodesia national team during one of their many battles with neighbours South Africa.

He had been set to make the trip together with the South African duo of Gary Bailey and Colin Viljoen.

But the Rio Tinto Football Club great failed to travel to England after his club management threw spanners in the works.

“What hurts more is that Gary went on to become the Manchester United goalkeeper and that trial opened doors for Colin,” Zulu, who was employed by Rio Tinto as welfare supervisor at the time, tells the Daily News.

“The air ticket had been sent to me by United. But the management knew if I left, Rio Tinto would go down. I was so disappointed that I did not report to work for a month.

“If I had gone my family would be well off. But the company just looked at their side. During that time, I was playing unbelievable soccer. I remember John Rugg (then Rio Tinto coach) asking me after every match ‘how did you do this, how did you do that’”?

The failed Man United trip spurred Zulu on.

“Life goes on, I continued playing football. I even performed better and shortly after the failed Manchester trip I was supposed to go to Greece with Dynamos left-back Oliver Kateya for trials but that move was blocked again. Then in 1982, Cameroon Premiership side Tonnerre Kalara Club of Yaoundé were interested in me.

“I had been instrumental in our World Cup qualifier where they beat us 2-0 in Cameroon and we beat them 1-0. I understand they paid Rio Tinto some money but the final day that I was supposed to leave the company refused. The deal was reversed.”

The former Rio Tinto midfield star went on to receive offers from Chibuku Rovers, then coached Jack Miga.

But Rio Tinto held on to their priced asset.

Zulu called time on his career in 1990, immediately becoming the coach of Rio Tinto.

Joseph Zulu was born on September 2, 1952, in Mazowe.

He honed his skills at lower division outfit Feoch Mine FC in 1967, in a league that also comprised of teams like Metal Box and Sinoia Tigers.

He left Feoch Mine in 1971, joining Rio Tinto for the 1972 season as a 20-year-old.

Zulu was soon drafted into the Rhodesia national side in 1975, going on to captain the team at the turn of Independence in 1980.

At Rio Tinto, he would play alongside Phineas Mutyavaviri, Jimmy Gilpin, Robert Godoka and Jubel Phiri.

The midfielder-cum-winger would spend 18-years at Rio Tinto, winning countless accolades and individual awards along the way.

“Back in our days it was cut-throat, you were as good as your last game, Dynamos had great players, Rio Tinto had great players. Now you go watch Dynamos versus CAPS United, Highlanders versus Hwange, you get bored. And by half time you will be living the stadium. It’s just a pity there were no cameras to capture these moments for the current generation to see.”

Now 61, Zulu feels the fitness regime of his era was way better than today’s.

“Every Thursday, I would run from Chegutu to Eifel Flats, 33 kilometres.   After that I would go and train with the team. Come match day I would be extra feat, that’s how we would win games. It was commitment, a lot of commitment.

“It wasn’t about money or fame, it was self-fulfilment.  I wanted to be the best player.  I was committed towards this goal. I was committed to football. I can’t compare our heyday to the way the players are physically prepared now. Back then it was an issue of hard work and determination.”

Zulu still lives in his hometown of Kadoma. He retired from Rio Tinto last December after serving the world’s second largest mining company for 44 years.  He currently runs his own mining business.

He has been married to his childhood sweetheart Venenzia since 1970.

Comments (3)

A true football genius. It is a pity to note when football was part time, players gave it their all. Epic matches were always thrillers and everybody would wait for fixtures including Rio Tinto, Dynamos, Mhanugura, St Pauls, City Wanderers and the n came Arcadia United, Caps, Zimbabwe Saints and Highlanders. It could be nostalgia but man that was football. Hats off the the players of yesteryear. At least you are running a mine, praise God.

Mavara Azarevhu - 14 September 2013

You were one of the greatest players Joseph, wish you the best in your ventures.If you are in Kadoma area i would wish to greet you in person and share memories of yesteryear.

varozvi - 11 October 2013

When I was young this legend the way he was so fit, he reminds me of another legend Rambo Sibanda, they played similar roles.

Romeo - 22 December 2016

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