By Mukudzei Chingwere
Former Warriors captain Willard Katsande says he would have considered to come out of retirement and represent his country again if coach Sunday Chidzambwa felt he still had value to add to the team in its battles to try and qualify for the 2019 AFCON finals in Cameroon.
The 32-year-old gritty midfielder led his country to its first appearance at the Nations Cup finals in 12 years when they featured at last year’s AFCON showcase as the only Southern African country who made the grade to take on the continent’s heavyweights in Gabon.
Regional rivals Zambia and South Africa, who have been crowned African champions in the past, fell by the wayside and could not make it to Gabon, leaving Zimbabwe as the only torch-bearers from COSAFA at the tournament where they drew against Algeria and lost to Tunisia and Senegal.
The Kaizer Chiefs hardman immediately announced his retirement from international football after the group matches in Gabon saying the time had come for other players to come and represent the country.
“For me, personally, it was a good experience. I feel it is now time for the youngsters. I feel I need to give way to the youngsters to carry the team forward,” said Katsande.
“Whenever I will be needed, I’m gonna give my assistance. For now I feel that what is needed is fresh blood to take on the future challenges.”
He also spoke to Supersport.com and confirmed he had called time on his international career after achieving his goal of taking his country to the AFCON finals.
“I have decided to call time on my national team career after bowing out from AFCON. (There) comes a time where you have to make the hard decisions, as you know I am 31 and it’s just the right time to now to fully concentrate on my club career at Kaizer Chiefs,” he said.
“We played well, but we have not been consistent, conceding goals despite working hard, but we take back lessons home and hopefully things will be different next time.
“I have given many years to my nation and I want to see younger players follow in my footsteps and hopefully, become even better. I have had a great time in the national team and I am definitely grateful about it.”
Tunisian defender, Syan Ben Youssef, showered Katsande with praise and said the midfielder was one of the best players in the Warriors team.
“Zimbabwe, led by their captain are a good team. Yes, we scored more goals, but they remain a strong team with good players, even in attack.
“They have good players, but we have more experience than them. It was a pleasure playing against them and I believe they need a bit of improvement to reach another level.
“They drew against Algeria and fought hard against Senegal. I wish them good luck next time and I would want them back at the finals. It was not an easy game.”
Katsande was not part of the team that thrashed Liberia 3-0 in the first game of the 2019 AFCON qualifiers, which was led by hattrick hero Knowledge Musona, but with Congo-Brazzaville and the Democratic Republic of Congo next in line, there have been calls for the experienced players to be considered.
Already, Warriors coach has recalled Costa Nhamoinesu and Nyasha Mushekwi, who were overlooked for that match against Liberia and Katsande says he would have returned to the national fold if the coach felt he needed his services.
“I would love to come because my national team is the reason why I am here at this stage of my career,” he told The Herald from his base in Johannesburg.
“If the coach wants me I have to talk to him, in person first, before he considers me. I think we have a great team that can upset anyone who comes our way.
“Honestly speaking, they are doing well (the current crop) I would not want to compare them with myself. Glory days need to be back, we need to make sure the fans have the same feeling, as before, when it comes to national team games.
“We all know football controls our lives, the best way is to give those fans good memories.’’
The midfielder said he remains proud of his achievements with the Warriors after becoming only the second captain, after the legendary Peter Ndlovu, the greatest Warrior of all-time, to lead the team to the AFCON finals.
Ndlovu led the Warriors to their maiden appearance at the 2004 AFCON finals in Tunisia, where he became the first Zimbabwean to score a goal at the finals in a 1-2 defeat to Egypt in the first group game and then guided the team again to the showcase in Egypt two years later.
Katsande said he never really cursed himself for his decision to call time on his international career after the end of their Gabonese adventure because he always feels he has done his part for the team.
“I never felt anything at all because I have achieved my objectives as a player and as a captain,” he said.
“During our qualifications (2017 AFCON) we gave lots of millions hope in our national team again.
“Everyone was talking about how our generation was good and we managed to fulfil the dream with an AFCON qualification, only World Cup qualification will surpass that achievement.
“We had a good and solid team (that) needed to be kept together, from players and technical point of view.”
The Warriors were under the guidance of coach Callisto Pasuwa in Gabon and now the baton has been passed to Chidzambwa, the country’s most successful football coach, who has returned for another spell in charge of his country.
The veteran gaffer was the first man to lead the Warriors to the AFCON finals. The Herald