IN Zimbabwe he is a known as a defender, but in France — where he spent seven years of professional career — Harlington Shereni was revered as a defensive midfielder.
yesteryear profile with MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
Shereni was one of the most underutilised, but immensely talented players to ply their trade in some of Europe’s top leagues with just 23 Warriors caps.
He spent 13 years in Europe, starting at Delemont in Switzerland and playing for French sides Istres FC, En Avant de Guingamp, FC Nantes and Strasbourg.
At some point, former Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri left him out of the Egypt 2006 Africa Cup of Nations squad while he was playing in the French top league and this did not go down well with most local soccer followers.
After a career spanning 17 years, major trophies always eluded the Chiredzi-born retired footballer.
Notably, the 1998 Caf Champions League in which Dynamos lost to Ivory Coast side Asec Mimosas in the final.
However, there is an achievement that Shereni always talks about.
“My best trophy which I always carry with me wherever I go is the fact that I emerged from a small town called Chiredzi where there was no premier league football to become a recognised top player in Zimbabwe football,” the former Hippo Valley High School student told Standardsport.
“I even went on to play in one of Europe’s leagues, Ligue 1 where there are some of the most iconic stadiums like Paris St Germain’s Parc des Princes. I rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s best footballers and that is the trophy that cannot be equated to any other I could have won.”
In French football, Shereni played in the same team with the likes of Arsenal centerback Laurent Koscielny at En Avant de Guingamp. When he arrived in the summer, Ivorian legend Didier Drogba and former Chelsea winger Flourent Malouda had left the club.
He also rubbed shoulders with top footballers like Juninho, Karim Benzema, Michael Essien, Samir Nasri, Sylvain Wiltord, Djibril Cisse and Franck Ribery, just to mention a few.
In school, Shereni was a very bright student. He wanted to become a doctor, but six points at A’ Level where he did Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry were enough to get him a place to study aircraft engineering at the Zimbabwe School of Aviation.
A football calling plucked him from Air Zimbabwe Jets to Dynamos where a historic Caf Champions’ league run in 1998 put him on the radar for Europe.
“The champions’ league semifinal match between Dynamos and Hearts of Oak is the one that brought me closer to Europe. Nobody expected us to perform the way we did and it made many of us believe that we could play in top leagues,” Shereni said of the match which he regards as the most memorable in his career.
However, it was the June 16 1999 encounter between Zimbabwe and South Africa at the Thabo Mbeki Inauguration Challenge that gave him a break through to Europe.
“It was because of Adam Ndlovu that I ended up in Switzerland. We beat South Africa at the inauguration of Mbeki and I scored the only goal. Adam’s team in Switzerland was looking to sign a defender and he told them about me,” he said.
“The scout came to watch me and everything happened very fast and a week after the game, I was in Switzerland.”
In Switzerland, Shereni learnt to speak three languages — French, Italian and German.
“The football was great. I played in the same team with Adam Ndlovu for six months and then I moved to FC Zurich. I almost joined Peter Ndlovu at Sheffield United a couple of years later, but the deal did not materialise,” he said.
Istres FC took him to France in 2003 and he helped them gain promotion into the top flight league before he was snatched by Guingamp.
It is at this club that Shereni asserted himself as a mainstay in the next four years such that when he left to join Nantes, the Guingamp fans felt betrayed.
“The move was difficult and people do not understand exactly what happened. I spoke to the club with six months left on my contract and they said they were going to discuss a new contract with me,” he said.
“Nothing happened until the end of the season and I moved to Nantes. I had to secure my future in time for the following season.”
At Nantes they made him captain and that’s where he would end his professional career with a loan spell at Strasborg.
When his time in Europe was up, Shereni planned a high-profile testimonial match which was meant to bring stars such as Koscielny and his Arsenal teammate Olivier Giroud, Senegal’s El Hadji Diouf, Ivorians Emmanuel Eboue and Bonaventure Kalou to Zimbabwe in 2015.
It was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Shereni spoke about the cancellation of the testimonial.
“It’s still going to come but when it comes I want it to be a memorable one. I wanted to do it exactly the way I wanted it done but things got a bit out of hand with a sponsor pulling out at the last minute. Once I have sponsors my European guest players list in place, then the testimonial will be staged,” he said.
At the moment Shereni, who turned 43 last week, is pursing academics but could not divulge what it is exactly. He said he was coming back to local football.
He said his main worry was that there were a few Zimbabwean players plying their trade in Europe.