Newton Katanha’s football career appeared over when he found himself in the South Asian country of Cambodia last year.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
Plying his trade in this part of the world, sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand where Justice Majabvi and Mike Temwanjira are based, Katanha appeared more lost than his compatriots.
To him though, Asia was not new territory after completing the 2004/2005 season at Selangor MPPJ in Malaysia.
The former Warriors forward is now reincarnating himself, eying a move to Zimbabwean giants Dynamos.
He has just quit four-time Cambodian champions Phnom Penh Crown where he spent last year after having been lured to the capital city club by Swiss coach Sam Schweingruber who was an admirer of the 31-year-old during his six years in Switzerland.
“Their [Cambodia] football is growing. They are buying established players to market their league. I know Cambodia is not well-known in terms of football but I just wanted to explore that part of the world,” said Katanha.
After a professional football career spanning 15 years overseas, 13 of those spent in Europe, the former Blackpool and CAPS United man’s career has been punctuated, according to him, with regret and betrayal by fellow countrymen.
He however says he is not moved by media claims that he was offloaded by German side Arminia Bielefeld in 2004 because of age controversy.
Katanha feels Nelson Matongorere’s national Under-23 side which had the likes of Dickson Choto, Shingi Kawondera, Tinashe Nengomasha, Kelvin Mushangazhike, David Sengu and Eddie Mashiri eligible had the potential to become a formidable unit.
“I feel had we been kept together, that team would have done wonders,” he said.
“If we were true football people, that team would have conquered the football world. But the problem is that our group was dismantled and we did not know where some of the guys went to play as we were scattered around the world. Look at the Germany team that won the World Cup last year. Most of the players came a long way together from junior national teams.”
His heart also bleeds for the senior national team where he only made eight appearances.
“Yes, I regret not playing much for the national team. It is something that still pains me. While in Europe I was closely following the national side and when the team failed, I would feel that had I been called-up, I would have helped in a big way. The few times I played I had high hopes that I would stay longer in the team and one day help Zimbabwe play at the highest level. I did not mind the money and in the few times I was called, I used my own money for air fares, which I have not been refunded until now.”
For someone who played alongside CAPS United greats like Joe Mugabe, George Mudiwa, Abdul Karim Abdul, Mpumelelo Dzowa, Pardon Chivasa and Claudius Zviripayi, Katanha is now playing with a totally different generation of players.
Katanha rubbished the age-cheating claims, saying he felt betrayed by a close friend who “peddled lies” about his age.
“The whole issue is a lie. Some people just wanted to sell their newspapers. It was said that Fifa would ban me from playing in Europe but look, I went on to play in Russia and Switzerland for a combined seven years. Arminia Bielefeld never offloaded me because I had altered my age. My contract with Arminia Bielefeld simply expired and they chose not to renew it and I had to move on. It was also said that I had a serious injury and would not resume my career but look at it, 11 years later I am still playing,” he said.
Now trying his luck at Dynamos who appear charmed by the striker, Katanha feels he still has a lot to offer to local football following a 15-year absence from the scene.
If David Mandigora decides to sign him, he would be the only player above the age of 30 at DeMbare this season.
“I feel I still have three more years to play. To be frank with you, I have not given some thought on retirement as yet. I tried to attain some coaching badges in Switzerland but time did not allow me as I had to concentrate on playing. When I am free I will start working towards that.
“I would like my experience to benefit youngsters here. So far, some are keen to know how football life in Europe is like and I always tell them in the hope of inspiring them.”
He has not lost touch with local football and feels there should be more local players in competitive overseas leagues than during his era at Blackpool and CAPS United in the late 1990s.
“Things have changed a lot. During the European off-season I would watch local matches. The standard is different from back then. Nowadays more matches are being broadcast on television, which exposes players to scouts. It is a great opportunity that players of today have,” he said.
Just like a number of players with CAPS United roots, Katanha has bolstered the recent trend of crossing the Harare great divide to Dynamos.
“I just heard that there are trials at Dynamos. I do not know when CAPS United begin their pre-season. I am a football person so I do not follow club names but where real football is being played.
“Training is fine. Everyone warmly welcomed me here. I will just wait to hear the club’s position on me,” Katanha said.
Katanha arrived in Europe from CAPS United in 1999 after signing for SV Austria Salzburg following a successful trial stint.
After two seasons at Salzburg, he spent another two terms at BSV Bad Bleiberg until the European summer of 2003.
“Ian Gorowa initiated the move. He had contacts with the Austrian club who wanted a young striker. I was at my peak then. At first it was tough. It was during winter and my legs would freeze with snow. I was coming from summer in Zimbabwe straight into European winter. It was quite a challenge but as someone who was facing a big career opportunity, I made myself ready for anything,” he said.
Arminia Bielefeld, in the German Bundesliga 2 swopped him from Bleiberg and after a season in Germany, he went to Malaysia amid an age-cheating storm back home.
After just a season in Malaysia, he arrived at Swiss side Winterthur, 14 years after compatriot Vitalis Takawira had left the club.