ANDY COLE, who quit international football last week after being overlooked in England's team for the 2002 World Cup finals, is coming to Zimbabwe this week on a humanitarian mission that targets street kids.
The 30-year-old Blackburn Rovers striker is expected to arrive in the country on Friday - his second visit to Zimbabwe in the last three years on similar missions to improve the welfare of street kids.
Cole started the project - the Andy Cole Children Foundation - in 1999 during his first visit to the capital after being touched by the plight of street kids in the country.
The charity has since raised £250 000 (about Z$20 million) which is being sunk into children's homes in Zimbabwe with Zambia also getting a small share of the funds towards similar projects.
Chris Clarke, the manager of the foundation, arrived in the country on Sunday as part of an advance party which also include Simon Jackman of Hope for Children.
Clarke said they had arranged that Cole would come to Zimbabwe this week, should he be left out of the World Cup squad, or just after the showcase if he had made the trip to Japan and Korea.
He said Cole's visit was a mission to meet the street kids and view the progress that has been done since his last visit three years ago.
"We are taking care of about 1 000 children and in Harare we have a house for 120 homeless children and our visit is to enable us to meet with the kids.
"The fund-raising exercise has exceeded what we thought and most of the money has been raised in the last two years through dinners and the lottery.
"Andy is very much committed to the welfare of children in sub-Saharan Africa and I'm looking forward to us raising our first million pounds. We are committed to Zimbabwe," said Clarke.
Jackman, whose charity works hand-in-hand with Cole's foundation for children, said they were committed to their projects which were for the long-term.
"We are not here to just come, set up this thing and leave. Despite all the adverse publicity that this country has faced we have stayed here supporting the projects and we don't intend to leave," said Jackman.
Cole is expected to arrive in the country in the company of Worldmark Sports International chief executive Temba Mliswa.
The former England and Manchester United striker told the Mail on Sunday that he was moved to tears by the plight of street children on his last visit to the capital.
"I'll never forget my first trip to Zimbabwe. I was on a high having just won the Champions League with Manchester United.
"It left me in tears. I set up the Foundation and this is a great chance to see how the money we have raised has helped.
"My trip to Zimbabwe isn't about football. It's about life," Cole told the Mail on Sunday this week.
Cole also touches on the sad subject in his official leaflet released ahead of his visit.
"These children and millions of others like them in sub Saharan region, including Zimbabwe, Zambia and South Africa, are the totally innocent victims of HIV/Aids and as a result are denied the most basic of human rights - a family life.
"I left Africa knowing that I just had to do something to help. This is why I have got involved in my own charity and I am now asking you to support.
"We can't bring their parents back but we can bring them some relief - food, shelter, care and an education and perhaps even a real home and a real football," said Cole.
He says he has seen many football stars play with courage but has never seen the courage like what was displayed by the street kids that he came across.
Cole once broke the record transfer for British footballers when he moved from Newcastle United to provide the firepower for Manchester United.
At Old Trafford he slowly but confidently found his feet and in seven years broke the record as the club's leading goalscorer in European competitions of all-time.
He moved from Manchester United last year after falling in the order of preference and joined Blackburn Rovers to try and boost his chances to make the England team for the World Cup finals.
He helped Blackburn Rovers win the League Cup this year, scoring in the victory over Tottenham at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Cole becomes the first high-profile international sportsperson to visit this country after the landmark presidential elections.