Learning at a rugby-crazy school where football was an alien sport, Matthew Rusike’s friends still find it hard to believe the Kaizer Chiefs midfielder ended up being a professional footballer.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
“I went to St Georges College, which is a rugby school. Rugby was the main thing and all my mates played rugby, so they were always in the gym and I was there with them,” Rusike recently told Chiefs official magazine, Amakhosi.
“Yeah I played a bit of rugby but obviously I had to choose between football and rugby. I played as a wing or full back.”
But the football bug had already bitten him while he was at BN Academy where he honed his skills from a tender age.
At 16, he was already trying out his luck in England with Charlton Athletic.
“I went to try it out but couldn’t stay because of work permit issues. I decided to come back and I played in the Zimbabwean local league for Monomotapa and we actually won the league in my first year there,” said Rusike.
But for someone who had to choose between two disciplines, he would easily get frustrated when things did not go well in his preferred field.
At one time he contemplated quitting football, even though he had already turned professional.
This was after he had been released from his contract by Pretoria University, his first club after he left Monomotapa.
“I was a bit undecided about whether I was to pursue football or not. I was actually going to go to University but then Jomo [Sono]phoned my father and I decided to go and give it one last shot at Jomo Cosmos,” he said.
That proved to be the right move as he helped Cosmos gain top-flight football promotion and he went on to be named the club’s best player at the end of the 2011/12 season, before Kaizer Chiefs and Ajax Cape Town came calling.
But it was Chiefs who won his signature.
Before signing for Chiefs, he drew the interest of the then English Premiership side Bolton but nothing materialised as French and Belgian clubs also expressed interest.
Born to a black Zimbabwean father and white South African mother, Rusike has citizenship of both countries but opted to play for the Warriors.
Having represented all national team levels, he feels proud to be part of Warriors coach Klaus-Dieter Pagels’ side.
“I chose Zimbabwe purely because I was brought up there. We might not have the infrastructure, but felt I had to be patriotic. I still go home, it is my home at the end of the day and playing for my country allows me to give back to the people of Zimbabwe,” Rusike said.
The 22-year-old opened up about his life and how he had to adapt to the divergent cultures of his parents.
“My dad is Zimbabwean through and through. He has lived in Zimbabwe his whole life and owns retail franchises. My mother is South African, that is how I have a South African passport as well and her father was Zimbabwean, and she lived in Zimbabwe her whole life as well. My mom is a hairdresser, she has her own salon,” Rusike said.
“Even though my dad is from an African background, both my parents were teachers and lived in the UK and they are not really the traditional African family,” he said.
Playing just 187 minutes and scoring one goal in the process for Chiefs in a season where his progress was plagued by injuries, Rusike vows to come back stronger next term.
“Next season I want to cement myself a position in the starting line-up, I want to work hard and get more goals,” he said.
“The layoff due to injury was very frustrating because I was actually just getting into my rhythm and settling into the team and working with the dynamics of other players and all that. It was a bit upsetting for me but it is football and things like that happen. But I am coming back and will break into the team again.”