From Chiredzi’s Chishamiso Stadium to France’s World Cup stadiums Parc des Princes, Stade Vélodrome and Stade de la Beaujoir, former Warriors defender Harlington Shereni performed in theatres where acclaimed world football greats also strutted their class acts.
BY MICHAEL MADYIRA
In his seven-year playing stint at four different French clubs, it was in these stadia that he played alongside former Chelsea midfielder Florent Malouda, Arsenal centre back Laurent Koscielny and Croatian striker Ivan Klasnic.
It was also on those grounds that he came up against the likes of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri.
He also faced former Real Madrid and Liverpool striker Fernando Morientes, as well as Brazil free-kick specialist Juninho Pernambucano who he regards as his toughest opponent ever. But besides dining with the mighty in football in all those world-class facilities, he remains humble.
“I like PSG’s Parc des Princes, while Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome is also good, but the most prestigious stadium I ever played in was our National Sports Stadium,” said Shereni.
However, never in his wildest of dreams, did he dream of parading his skills on a European turf.
“When I was doing my O’ Levels, I told myself that one day I would play in the Premier League, but I never dreamt of playing outside Zimbabwe,” he said.
But his uncle, Max Nyakotyo, saw a special breed of talent in Shereni while he was still at Hippo Valley High School in Chiredzi and took him to CAPS United.
A fresh-faced teenager with only youthful football experience, gained from school and Hippo Valley juniors, Shereni arrived at CAPS United in 1995.
A league match against Highlanders at Luveve Stadium was a fitting debut for the then 19-year-old, who had to face battle-hardened veterans Willard Khumalo and Mecedes Sibanda.
“It was another world for me. I had never played in Division One and there I was in the top-flight league but Freddy Mukesha saw something in me and believed in me,” Shereni said.
The CAPS United side had veterans such as Joe Mugabe, Mpumelelo Dzowa, Silver Chigwenje and Brenna Msiska.
But his CAPS stint was cut short after a few games when he got injured.
“It went well at CAPS until I got injured. I was then loaned out to Air Zimbabwe Jets in Division One. I needed to grow up and gain more experience,” he said.
Having studied Mathematics, Biology and Chemistry at A’ Level, the Jets move came with an academic opportunity, as he then enrolled for an aircraft engineering course.
“Balancing football and studies took a lot out of me but it was worth it.”
Jets were then promoted into the top flight league.
Before he could play for Jets in the Premier Soccer League in 1998, Sunday Chidzambwa got wind of an immensely talented left-back who had enjoyed a scintillating season in the First Division the previous year.
“Marimo [now Chidzambwa]came to me and asked if I was willing to play in the Champions League. I have always loved challenges. I really enjoyed the experience at Dynamos, and played like someone who had been in the Premier League for a long time,” he said.
The Champions League campaign that saw Dynamos reaching the final earned him a national team call-up and he made his debut in September 1998 in a 1-0 home loss to Zambia in a Cosafa Castle Cup match.
He asserted his worth in the Warriors by grabbing the only goal in a friendly match win over South Africa at Soccer City on June 16 1999, to open the doors for himself for a European adventure.
It was in that match that he charmed scouts of Swiss club SR Delémont.
“At first I was supposed to join Jomo Comos [South Africa] with Benjani [Mwaruwari]. Jomo came and signed Benjie and said he would be back with my papers in a week’s time. But before he came back, Delemont arrived and I could not resist their offer.”
Delemont already had in their books another Zimbabwean, the late Adam Ndlovu.
“Thanks to Adam, he put in a good word for me to be signed by Delemont. He was a big brother when I joined them. I did not have to stay at a hotel while looking for accommodation but I stayed with him. He taught me everything I needed to learn and helped me settle down,” Shereni said.
Sochaux assistant coach Mehmed Bazdarevic was impressed by Shereni during a friendly match between Delemont and the French side in 2003.
The Bosnian then took up a head coach role at French League Two outfit Istres in the European summer of 2003 and quickly snapped his man to end Shereni’s three-season stint in Switzerland.
“League One [French] is fast and technically better. But the good thing about football is that when you play with better players, you improve a lot,” he said.
But his stay at Istres lasted only a season and League One side Guingamp came calling, but the club was relegated to League Two at the end of the first season with them.
Following four seasons at Guingamp where he played alongside Malouda and a then young Koscielny, he switched to Nantes and spent two seasons there sandwiched by a loan stint at Strasbourg.
“I had the best time at Nantes during my time in France, and I even captained them at one time. They were special in their own way.”
Shereni’s unfruitful warriors career
Despite being part of the history-making Warriors at their maiden Africa Cup of Nations Cup (Afcon) finals appearance in 2004, Shereni’s memorable time with the national team was his Zambia debut.
“I was a bit disappointed at Afcon 2004 because I played only one game out of three besides me being the only player who was playing top-flight football in Europe at that time,” he said.
But more frustration was on its way.
“I did not go to the following edition in 2006 because Charles Mhlauri thought I was not good enough. I remember him asking me to send him videos of my matches so that he could see how I play. I just said, ‘dude you must be joking‘,” he said.
Officially retiring in 2011, the 38-year-old is now based in South Africa, where he is administering “projects that have nothing to do with football or engineering. Maybe I will come back to football in two years’ time but not as a coach.”