FOR fast-rising Sakubva-bred footballer, Last “Lala” Jesi, the adage that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step holds particularly.
Taking a toddler’s steps with the national team by getting a call-up and enjoying a run in the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers is the fulfilment of a long-nursed and deeply cherished dream.
The ex-Manica Diamonds forward earned his first senior cap during the just-ended 2021 Afcon qualifying campaign.
He was first named in a bloated provisional squad before being selected for the match-day team in the final two qualifiers against Botswana and Zambia.
An unused substitute in the penultimate match away in Francistown, he made his full debut in the Chipolopolo clash at home in the next tie.
So sweet to savour for the dreadlocked attacker is that Zimbabwe secured a ticket to the tournament finals with him in the squad. Given that this is the first cut for the gifted player in the gold and green strip of the Warriors, it is certainly set to run the deepest and be a souvenir in his treasure trove.
“Being called up for national team duty is truly an honour. Nothing can ever compare to the overwhelming feeling one gets when representing their country. It is a recognition that we will be doing well out there and can come and add value to the national cause. It was a really humbling experience to pull the cherished Zimbabwe jersey, a pleasant delight that shall forever live with me.
“Turning out for my national team was special on its own and to be among this group which has qualified for a major continental competition was the icing on the cake. While this has been history made by the country, it was a unique first for me. Records like these do not come every day and each moment of it has to be enjoyed while it lasts. It has been a joyous occasion for me and I am over the moon,” said the Mutare-born star in an interview from his Khartoum base in Sudan early this week.
The talented playmaker joins the elite list comprising Kaizer Chiefs midfield enforcer, Willard Katsande, SuperSport United fullback, Onismor Bhasera (both 2017) and the retired, Lazarus “Mali” Muhoni (2004) as footballers from Mutare who have starred for the Warriors during a fruitful Afcon qualifying campaign.
Jesi added that he is appreciative of the priceless opportunity.
“I am grateful for this huge breakthrough and salute the Warriors technical team and everyone involved for offering me the chance to showcase my talent with the national team. Zimbabwe boasts several gifted footballers playing in top leagues across the globe and for me to rub shoulders with some of them like Knowledge Musona or to take the place of those who could not make it for these fixtures means a lot to me. Playing alongside my homeboy Bhasera made feel at ease and I learned a lot from the other senior guys’ wealth of experience. I relish that proud moment.
“My indebtedness also goes to everyone who believed in me and contributed to the development and growth of my career along the way. Many people had positive influence in shaping my career and this is where it has taken me. I sincerely thank them all,” he told Post Sport.
However, the La-Sakubva juniors product continues to take it one step at a time in the voyage without getting ahead of himself. By his own admission, he did not set the scene ablaze with an electrifying performance on his Warriors debut but he is keen to fight on and prove his mettle. Yet he is keen to rake up more national team caps.
Said the buoyant attacking midfielder: “The most important thing is that my time with the Warriors has taken off and I hope it marks the beginning of a long and rewarding period with the national team. I yearn to deliver and achieve a lot with this group. However, this only challenges me to work even harder in order to retain my place in the team. I am, therefore, setting big goals for myself because I believe I have what it takes to go far.
“Looking back at the debut, it was not such a bad outing although I still feel I could have done a lot better. It is always not easy the first time out [turning out for the national team] but I was encouraged by that run and I will continue giving it my best.”
As part of that triumphant cast, Jesi is in line for some rich pickings after Zifa promised a major financial windfall to Warriors as a reward for their sterling efforts in qualifying for the Afcon finals.