Dubai’s football journey

The Chronicle

Sikhumbuzo Moyo, Senior Sports Reporter
HE never thought football would be his career as he was excellent in athletics, specialising in short sprints.

His move to Europe was as a result of unfortunate fate to Walter Chuma.

They called him little lion upon arrival in Cyprus and when his time was up in Europe, he decided to go to South Africa where his Orlando Pirates bosses called him Mugabe.

But before leaving Europe, he had been offered a contract by English side Sheffield United.

This is a summation of the life of newly appointed Highlanders’ second assistant coach and former striker Joel Luphahla.

Dubai, as Luphahla is also known, was trusted sprint king at Lozikeyi Primary School in Nguboyenja and in his early years in secondary school at Gifford High School.

“At school one normally does one or two sporting activities, which is what I did in my secondary life at Gifford.

The teachers would then throw me into football and because I was tall, they made me number nine and told the other guys to just pump balls forward and I would outpace my opponents and bang them in.

Slowly I began to realise that I could actually take football seriously and the rest is history,” said Luphahla in an interview with Chronicle Sport.

Like other youngsters then, he started going for training at Highlanders juniors with the hope of making it into the team but he couldn’t make the grade then.

“Highlanders’ juniors were very talented and it was difficult to make a break through so my cousins, Innocent and Garikai Rwodzi suggested I come to Zimbabwe Saints juniors, which is what I did even though my heart was always at Highlanders.

I, however, had to leave and went to South Africa where I was unfortunately arrested on arrival as I didn’t have travel documents,” said Luphahla.

After being deported, he returned to his rural home in Tsholotsho where he convinced himself that he would face a bleak future.

He decided to join a team called Madona playing in the Tsholotsho District Football Association League.
Little did he know it was to be his breakthrough.

“During one of our games, Madinda Ndlovu happened to be in Tsholotsho on business and watched us playing.

It was then that he spotted me and told coach Rahman (Gumbo) and manager, the late Ernest ‘Maphepha’ Sibanda about me.

They called me saying I should come for training, but it wasn’t easy.

I couldn’t believe that I was training with the likes of Amini Soma-Phiri so after just a week, I ran away,” said Luphahla.

He said Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda, who was his neighbour in Lobengula asked him to come to Zimbabwe Saints in 1997.

“Once again I found myself at Zimbabwe Saints. I was included in the starting line-up in my first week against Hwange and scored the only goal.”

Luphahla was at Chikwata for just three months before Maphepha came knocking again, this time going via Luphahla’s father in 1998.

“It was inevitable that I had to go to Highlanders which would be my home for two years before I left for Europe, which by the way was as a result of unintended consequences.

Rahman had played in Cyprus and those guys contacted him saying they needed two good strikers and the coach gave them ubhudi Zee (Zenzo Moyo) and Walter Chuma, who were the two deadly forwards in that season (2000).

All the bookings were done but unfortunately Walter picked up a knock while playing for the Young Warriors and Rahman then said since we had a telepathic understanding as twin strikers at Bosso, it was best I replaced Walter and go with Zenzo to Cyprus.

This is how I went to Europe.

I was not part of the initial plan but through Walter’s unfortunate fate, I ended up in Europe.”

Luphahla said their Cyprus hosts were more excited about Zenzo.

“I was an unknown person, just another footballer from Zimbabwe, so they started calling me ‘little lion’ by virtue of my slim body.

We went for pre-season training in Bulgaria where I believe I showed them who Joel Luphahla was.

We were on top of our game.

They immediately offered us contracts while in Bulgaria and we quickly appended our signatures even before the two clubs had agreed on anything,” said Luphahla with a smile.

They stayed in Cyprus for five years.

“While there, Sheffield United called, wanting someone to replace Peter Ndlovu in the 2005/2006 season. I am sure it was Peter who had recommended me.

I went to England for trials and made the grade and was meant to sign my contract on a Thursday, but it happened that Zimbabwe had an international game against Nigeria and Zifa wrote a letter to Sheffield United telling them that I was needed back home.

“I flew home and those guys told my manager Vincent Makamure that after our Sunday game I must fly to England to sign my contract.

They bought my flight ticket and I was booked for a Tuesday flight.

However, when I arrived on

Wednesday, things had changed. Keith Gilepsie, who played for Manchester United, had also attended trials and had taken my place.

This is how I missed out playing in England, all for the love of my country because I could have simply refused to come for national duty, but sometimes loyalty is critical.

It may not bring immediate benefits, but in the long run it does,” he said.

Having lost out on a Sheffield United deal, Luphahla decided to go across the Limpopo River with intention of joining Orlando Pirates in 2005/2006.

“Amabhakaniya said I should undergo trials first, but I refused, saying an international player who played in Europe for five years cannot honestly go for trials at a South African club.

Irvine Khoza tried to convince me, but I stuck to my guns until they ended up calling me Mugabe because babesithi ngilenkani kakhulu just like the late former President,” said Luphahla.

He said while in his hotel room with nothing having been agreed, he got a call from Pitso Mosimane, who was head coach at SuperSport United.

“Pitso called me and said he was by the hotel lobby and wanted to see me.

I went down to meet him,” he said.

They drove to a different hotel where Mosimane offered him a contract to join his team.

“I looked at the contract and said why not and I immediately became a SuperSport United player.

Later while there, Platinum Stars expressed an interest while SuperSport also wanted this other player from Platinum Stars.

They asked me if I wanted to go and I said yes because at SuperSport I wasn’t enjoying much game time.

I was playing in the same position as Jabu Pule, who was a darling of the fans and South Africans.

The guy would miss training the whole week, resurface on Friday and be in the starting line-up on Sunday,” said Luphahla.

He said he enjoyed his football at Platinum Stars from 2006 to 2009 until the dark day when he broke his leg.

Luphahla said he initially thought he was going to have his leg amputated but the doctor assured him that in six months he was going to play football again.

Miraculously after four months, he was no longer on crutches and he then decided to return home and join Highlanders.

Article Source: The Chronicle

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