Masinga wrote his name into SA football folklore
He was a stalwart for the national side after readmission and should be remembered as a Bafana legend
Phil Masinga was a stalwart of the SA national side on the country’s readmission to the international fold, an African Nations Cup winner and the man whose stunning strike against Congo booked Bafana Bafana a berth at the World Cup in France in 1998.
Never prolific, he was also a target for the boo-boys, who did not understand his particular role and the almost unique set of attributes he brought to the team.
Those who mocked him during him playing days will no doubt herald him after his passing on Sunday morning, as is the SA way, but it is beyond dispute that he wrote his name into SA football folklore and should be remembered as a Bafana legend.
Tall and imposing, Masinga was the lead forward for the national side after readmission, making his debut in the country’s first international against Cameroon on July 7 1992. He remained in the national team for the next nine years, scoring 18 goals in his 58 internationals, and creating numerous others with his target-man style up front.
He was part of the pioneering early days of the national side that proved difficult, and was joined in the team by his stepbrother, Bennett Masinga, who died in November 2013 at the age of 48. Phil would live just a year longer than his older sibling.
He was also the first player to receive a red card for Bafana after he was sent off in a 1-0 loss to Zambia in 1992.
It was really under former coach Clive Barker that Masinga flourished though, netting the side’s opening goal of the 1996 Nations Cup finals in a 3-0 win over Cameroon and starting the final against Tunisia, though he was replaced by two-goal hero Mark Williams.
His influence on the national team continued as he scored goals against Brazil and England, and crucially four goals in the World Cup qualifiers that followed.
He featured against France and Denmark at the 1998 finals, but while he played another 13 internationals after that tournament, his influence began to wane with the emergence of Benni McCarthy and the strong form of Shaun Bartlett and Siyabonga Nomvethe, as well as injury that kept him out of the 2000 Nations Cup in Ghana and Nigeria.
His final international was in August 2001 against Sweden, a game that Bafana lost 3-0.
Masinga also had a notable club career that included eight years abroad. He emerged as a talent at Jomo Cosmos in the early 1990s and managed a hat-trick against Kaizer Chiefs in the final of the BP Top 8 in 1992, though Ezenkosi still lost 4-3 to the Soweto side.
He moved to Mamelodi Sundowns shortly afterwards and it was there that he caught the eye of Leeds United manager Howard Wilkinson in 1994, who also took along Lucas Radebe from Kaizer Chiefs to try and ensure Masinga would not be too homesick. In the end it was Radebe who would have a glittering career at Leeds, going on to become a club legend, while Masinga battled to adjust to life in the north of England.
His stay was not helped by a point-blank miss against Manchester United in a crucial clash at Elland Road, which probably sealed his move away from the club.
There were some highlights. He netted a nine-minute hat-trick against Walsall in the FA Cup, but left for Swiss side St Gallen in 2006, before moving to Salernitana in Italy the following year.
He had his best spell abroad with another Serie A side, Bari, where he spent four seasons and scored nine goals in his first season to end as the club’s top scorer.
He had hoped for a return to English football with Coventry City in 2000, but the move fell through when he failed to secure a work permit.
He ended his club career at United Arab Emirates side Al Wahda, finally hanging up his boots in February 2002, saying he wanted to spend more time playing in the garden with his son Sipho. Masinga died in a Parktown hospital on Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer.