Leeds United nostalgia: Talented striker Masinga never hit the heights

Phil Masinga.
Phil Masinga.
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FOR the man affectionately known as Waltzing Masinga, leading opposing defences a merry dance on a regular basis proved elusive during his time at Leeds United. Although he had his moments, however brief.

Phil Masinga will always be destined to be the lesser half of United’s dual raid upon South Africa in August 1994, with the place in the anals of the club’s history firmly taken by his compatriot Lucas Radebe. But back when he signed just under two decades ago, Masinga was the goal-den boy.

Tall, leggy, with an eye for a goal, Masinga, who celebrated his 45th birthday at the weekend, arrived at Leeds with a glowing reputation when he joined for £250,000 from Mamelodi Sundowns, having been spotted playing international football by United scout Geoff Speight.

Having fired 18 goals to help the Sundowns to the South African title, Masinga, first choice for his country, was a man in demand with European giants Porto one of several leading clubs in the market before United won the race for his services.

Five goals in two games in pre-season games against Italian sides suggested all looked rosy, but amid intense competiton alongside the likes of Rod Wallace, Brian Deane, David White and the emerging Noel Whelan, Masinga struggled to reach the requisite top-grade consistency, with the arrival of Tony Yeboah early in 1995 also not exactly advancing his cause.

The glimpses Masinga gave were tantalising ones during that 1994-95 season, with the following year seeing him slip down the pecking order following another big-money striking recruit in the shape of the infamous Tomas Brolin and one to largely write off.

It was Masinga who played a leading part in ending United’s 19-year Highbury hoodoo against Arsenal in December 1994, with his brace helping Leeds secure their first double over the Gunners in almost two decades in a sweet 3-1 victory.

Masinga’s shooting touch had been in danger of letting him down ahead of the clash in North London, but he showed just why Howard Wilkinson invested faith in him with a tidy double – rounding Martin Keown and Vince Bartram to fire Leeds’ 23rd-minute opener and sealing the win late on.

That winter proved Masinga’s apex with a famous nine-minute hat-trick after going on as a substitute in the 5-2 FA Cup win against Walsall after extra-time at Elland Road on January 17, 1995 followed by more fanfare seven days later.

While the £3.4m signing of Yeboah early that new year was hardly good news for Masinga, he also showed his prowess and aptitude for the fight in a fine 4-0 destruction of QPR, again in front of home punters, netting a brace and being handed plenty of praise and cheers when he was replaced by the Ghanian striker late on.

That season saw Masinga fire nine goals all told, but just two arrived in the following campaign, both in League Cup ties against Reading and Birmingham.

His goal against Blues guilded United’s 3-0 second-leg success which booked a berth at Wembley in February 1996, but it proved Masinga’s last meaningful contribution for Leeds. He didn’t feature in the final against Aston Villa.

He went onto leave for Swiss club St Gallen just under two years after heading to United for a fee of £500,000 in July 1996 after being unable to get an extension to his work permit, due to the lack of first-team appearances.

His spell in Switzerland proved ill-fated with his next port of call being Italian side Salernitana and later Bari where he stayed for five seasons.

On the international stage, Masinga scored the goal in 1997 against the Democratic Republic of Congo which took South Africa to the 1998 World Cup in France and went onto play for Al-Wahda in Abu Dubai before retiring due to a knee injury in the early noughties.

3,467 Leeds fans made the trip south to Reading on Saturday.

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