The Chief mourns the loss of a “Great Legend”
Sunday, 13th Jan 2019 23:33 by Tim Whelan
Lucas Radebe led the tributes today when we learned that Phil Masinga had passed away at the relatively young age of 49.
Radebe told the BBC. “He lost his fight against cancer this morning which is very, very sad for us as a football fraternity. We are mourning the loss of a great legend." Masinga joined the club at the same time as the Chief, in the summer of 1994, Phil coming from Mamelodi Sundowns and Radebe from the Kaiser Chiefs.
The Chief continued "For us as Africans it was a great experience. We weren't used to the weather and we struggled a little bit - we kept each other warm at times. Phil was a big hit with the team and the players. I looked up to him and I think he inspired me the most. It was absolutely great the way he adapted to the situation. He was easy to get along with and he was most respected at the club as a person."
BBC Radio Leeds co-commentator and former colleague Noel Whelan added on Twitter “Really sad news to learn that a guy I spent so much time with , laughs and games together has passed away , he was not just a friend and strike partner but one of the nicest kindest guys I've met , was a pleasure and privilege to have known and played with you Phil, always in my heart”.
Masinga made a promising start to his Leeds career, when both he and Whelan both scored in a game with Chelsea early in the 1994/5 season, but thereafter he found it hard to live up to the demands of the Premier League. He later admitted that he knew that coming to Leeds would be a challenge, but he wanted to test himself at the hardest level he could reach rather than taking an easier option at one of the other leagues in Europe.
One other highlight was a goal at Highbury later that season, when he miscontrolled a ball into the area , but managed to bamboozle the Arsenal defence in the process. Alan Hansen and co remarked that “the rounding of the keeper was exceptional” on Match of the Day, but I seem to remember that this was part of some long-running joke they were having at the time.
Masinga would score only 5 goals for Leeds in 31 league appearances, though this stat is slightly misleading about his strike-rate, as some of those were games when he came on as a late substitute. However, the signing of Tony Yeboah early 1995 was always going to limit the number of times he would be selected when the full squad was available.
But he would invariably find the back of the net against lower division teams in the cup competitions. Most notably when he came off the bench in a home FA cup replay at home to Walsall and became the first Leeds player ever to score a hat-trick in extra time as we went through to the fourth round with a 5-2 victory.
Though unfortunately he’d failed to notice that the south stand had been given to the Walsall fans that night, and was booked for an accidentally provocative goal celebration in front of them! After two seasons at Elland Road it was time for him to move on, and he later played for St Gallen (in north-east Switzerland) and Italian clubs Salernitana and Bari.
At international level he earned 58 caps for South Africa, scoring 18 goals, and I was lucky enough to see one of them, which came in a friendly against England at Old Trafford. I’ll admit to having had mixed feelings when Nigel Martyn came off his line but fumbled the catch, giving Masinga the opportunity to head home.
But his most significant international goal was against Congo, which ensured South Africa qualified for their first World Cup appearance in 1998. He had made his debut for South Africa in July 1992 against Cameroon in his country's first match following their readmission to international football by Fifa after the end of Apartheid, and he was also a member of their victorious 1996 Africa Cup of Nations squad.
South Africa Football Association president Danny Jordaan joined the tributes "Sad day for South African football. He was a loyal servant of the game, on and off the field of play."
I always thought Phil Masinga was a trier and in interviews he came across as a very pleasant and modest man. I wanted him to succeed, and although it never quite happened for him at the highest level he will never be forgotten by the fans of Leeds United.
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