AFTER being released by his club, Mutare-bred former Kaizer Chiefs midfield maestro, Willard Katsande has declared that “the journey continues” in his football career.
The former Warriors skipper did not have his contract extended by the Soweto giants at its expiry after a decade of sterling service during which he chalked up a record 326 official appearances.
While his Zimbabwean compatriot, Khama Billiat had his deal renewed, no similar gesture was extended to Katsande.
Other senior footballers who were handed contract extensions are seasoned goalkeeper, Itumeleng Khune, Bernard Parker and Ramahlwe Mphahlele, while seven players were released.
Katsande on Wednesday released a statement thanking the club and its fans for rallying behind him throughout his glittering career at Amakhosi and the success they enjoyed together.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must leave my beloved Kaizer Chiefs family. I am honoured and eternally grateful to the chairman of the club, Kaizer Motaung for granting me the opportunity to represent this great institution over the past 10 years.
“To the peace-loving fans of Kaizer Chiefs, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for your support and encouragement over the years . . . I trust that I represented the Badge and Brand with the respect and dignity that it deserves,” reads part of the statement.
He, however, could not divulge his next move; only indicating that “the next chapter of my life commences.”
The 35-year-old will, nonetheless, not be short of any suitors as he looks forward to another dance at the top level before finally hanging up his boots.
Reports are already suggesting that AmaZulu are weighing up an offer for the tough-tackling midfielder, while several other clubs are also understood to be interested in him.
The gritty hardman lifted four trophies – league title (2012-2013 and 2014-2015), Nedbank Cup (2012-2013) and the MTN8 trophy (2014-2015) – during his illustrious time at Kaizer Chiefs.
He also helped them progress all the way to the CAF Champions League final this season for the first time in their history.
Meanwhile, the statement has elicited an outpouring of both adoration and reverence for the seasoned player from a legion of ex-teammates – among them Warriors captain, Knowledge Musona, ex-teamamte, Billiat and former defender Thomas Sweswe – as well as fans after he posted it on social media.
By yesterday (Thursday) morning, there were more than 1 000 comments, over 3 200 retweets and more than 16 200 likes responding to the statement on his Twitter handle @WillardKatsande.
His Facebook page, Willard Katsande had attracted more than 31 000 reactions as well as over 4 000 comments and nearly 700 shares.
Indications were that the numbers were likely to swell.
A multitude of football followers put their club affiliations aside to unite in feting the ex-Highway player, whom many described as a legend who had distinguished himself with peerless distinction in the gold and black strip of Kaizer Chiefs.
The eulogies came from admirers and adversaries alike in equal measure, showing that the Sakubva-bred star’s popularity transcended the confines of Amakhosi.
While thousands took to responding to his social media posts and statement, hundreds others simply shared their unsolicited sentiments on the same platforms.
Tributes have continued to pour in following the announcement of his exit, with some sharing their favourite videos and pictures of the combative midfield enforcer in action.
Hundreds of Zimbabwean fans, particularly those from Manicaland, hailed the Sakubva-raised star as a true ambassador of the country and province.
On Wednesday night, Katsande was also a radio guest on Marawa Sport Worldwide hosted by influential South African sportscaster Robert Marawa as he chronicled his glorious soccer journey with Chiefs.
The club’s official Twitter handle @KaizerChiefs on the same day also announced that they are preparing something big to bid the decorated star farewell in style, with snippets of videos of their former man.
During the week authoritative football magazine KickOff also joined the bandwagon, running a story profiling the 10 kits the player wore during his 10-year stay at Naturena.
With 326 games under his belt, Katsande is officially the most capped foreign player to have turned out for the Glamour Boys of South African football.
An influential presence with staying and star power in the team, he also wore the armband at Kaizer Chiefs.
Even at 35, the veteran enforcer had not shown any signs of slowing down.
Below are some of the randomly picked comments by fans on social media:
@skhoza: You served Amakhosi with distinction. You gave it [your] all! We appreciated your invaluable contribution. The team won’t be the same without you, taking no prisoners in the centre of the pitch!
@GNkgathi: Take your lap of honour Katsande and rest assured that the Kaizer Chiefs family will always be proud of your immense contribution to the team’s success. Know that our bond with you is permanent and we would be asking management to stage a Benefit Match 4 u if it was possible.
@SamKubheka1: You fought like a true soldier and we will forever remember No. 31 (his jersey number) in gold. All the best for your future endeavours, I hope you will continue to serve the beautiful game even if it is on different platform.
@JolaPhiliso: The legendary Kitoko Makasi (what Katsande calls himself on social media, meaning beautiful and strong), many of us remain inspired by your discipline in and out of the field; you have played a big role in aspiring youngsters. All the best for your future endeavours.
@khensanePromise: Farewell, soldier, and thank you for your dedication, hard work, professionalism, and leadership. You’ll certainly go down as one of the greatest foreign players to ever play for Amakhosi. You’ve left us with precious and priceless memories at Chiefs. #Khosi4Life
Wellan Dee: Willard Katsande, my home boy pamaOTS Sakubva apo; we grew up together playing soccer at Sports Oval and then Sakubva Stadium. You made me become a Amakhosi fan and I believe most of the people from Manicland support Kaizer Chiefs because of you. The journey is still on, my captain. One love, King Salt. Tisu Anhu Acho.
Clayton Masekesa: Thanks for a job well done, our legend!
Edie Mawoneke: You played your part homeboy, you have created a legacy and you name will always be on the Kaizer Chiefs history.
Zakhele Shongwe: You’ve been everything that we needed in terms of commitment. We fell in love with you from day one, and we shall love you as long as we [are] still alive. Our journey might end here, but our love for you will never end.
Elie Disipi: We appreciate the quality and strength you brought into the team. Your contribution will forever be cherished and remembered.
Thembela Mthimkulu: Legendary departure should be celebrated. I doff my hat to all your dedication to the club and good luck with your future ahead.