Philippe Bannioult, a striker and goalkeeper Jean-Felix Legault-Lemieux arrived by coach from South Africa. They left Canada to begin trials with Highlanders this week.
The deal was brokered by Canada-based Highlanders member Isaac Mbedzi who owns First Mobile Academy. Both players turn out for the academy and have been exposed in Europe, Canada and in the United States and are hopeful that they can impress Highlanders coach Mark Mathe.
Bannioult who stands at 1.182m is a left handed striker who however is strong on the right foot.
“I have come here to learn. It will be a bonus if I secure a contract. I have been here for a few hours and I have found the atmosphere, climate and the people very hospitable. Zimbabwe is a nice place to be and I am looking forward to meeting all at Highlanders and working hard to learn and impress for a contract.
“I have heard a lot about the club from coach Mbedzi and am looking forward to my stay here. It is quite peaceful unlike the hassle and bustle of Montreal (Canada) where I live,” said Bannioult.
His countryman Legault-Lemieux has a better appreciation of Africa and Zimbabwe football. He said the continent provided a perfect platform for one to grow and make a name for himself. He said he heard a lot about Zimbabwe’s finest and most successful goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar who joined Highlanders as a teenager, rising to play for Zimbabwe Saints, Durban City, Vancouver Whitecaps and Liverpool.
“I have heard so much about Bruce, he is one of the finest goalkeepers ever to play football. I know he is from here and that he played for Highlanders. It is encouraging to want to follow his footsteps and start where he began. Bruce is known internationally and his name is big in Canada where he lives,” said the aspiring goalkeeper who is only 19.
At 1.87m, he looks tormenting in between the goalposts and is most likely to give good competition to Munyaradzi Diya and Njabulo Nyoni with Ariel Sibanda rumuored to be eyeing a move to Madinda Ndlovu’s Township Rollers. The goalkeeper has played in the Canadian AAA League which is the highest division there and has been to France’s Soachaux FC and Lussane in Swirtzerland.
In Canada, other than playing for First Mobile Academy, has played for Montreal Impact and has been impressed by Cameroon goalkeeper Khameini.
“I could have gone to university in the US but I have found the lure of professional football irresistible and I want to start with Highlanders where I am here to learn and to try and impress the technical team if given the opportunity,” said Legault-Lemieux.
Highlanders have previously been home to Tommy Clark, Geoffrey Wheeler, Kelly Jacobson and Andrew Sue from the US.
In 1985 they had Tony Smith on attachment from the UK as Highlanders lived up to its cosmopolitan outlook which continues even to this day with players from around the country.
Grobbelaar is the highest profile individual to play professional football in Canada with several Zimbabweans involved in development soccer who include Peter Moyo, David Mukahanana, Cosmas Bahlangene Thebe and Mbedzi.
Mbedzi has two Zimbabweans in his team Marcel Chinowawa and Blessing Ndlovu.
The Canadian players were met by their hosts Musa Mbedzi and Allan ‘The Ripper’ Mpofu who quickly whisked them to a house in Hillside. They did not waste too much time going to a supermarket at Hillside Shopping Centre to sample groceries before their first meal in Zimbabwe.
Mpofu said he was happy to play host to the two with the Mbedzi family.
“I hope a good relationship of mutual benefit to both parties can be established. The two lads are eager to learn from Zimbabwe football and exchange experiences with locals,” said Mpofu.
Highlanders chairman Peter Dube confirmed the two players’ arrival. He said they were happy as a club that teething matters like insurance and their welfare had been resolved before their arrival.