28 January 2008

Zimbabwe: Ngwenya's Bayern Link

Harare — Zimbabwe international striker Joseph Ngwenya appears to have taken the first steps leading to a dream move to Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich -- one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

The 26-year-old forward joined Austrian Bundesliga newboys SK Austria Kantern last week -- leaving the circus of the Major League Soccer in the United States for the tough world of European football.

Ngwenya signed for his new club last week -- opening a new chapter in a career that has been boosted by his exploits in the MLS where he led Houston Dynamo to the championship last season.

Prior to joining SK Austria Karnten, Ngwenya had a training stint at German side Alemannia Aachen but then his handlers decided to take him to the Austrian newboys.

Ngwenya also had trials at Spanish La Liga giants Atletico Madrid.

But while on the surface this just appears to be a straight move by a player from the American Major League Soccer to a tougher European environment, it's the drama unfolding in the background that tells a bigger story.

The group of people trying to help Ngwenya's career include German coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was impressed by the striker's performance when they met at Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy.

Klinsmann was the vice-president of an American consultancy firm when he began to work within the structures of the Galaxy leading to his meeting with Ngwenya.

Sources have revealed that while everything is being kept wrapped in secrecy, Klinsmann is the driving force behind Ngwenya's move to Europe.

Klinsmann -- a former deadly striker for Germany -- is set to take over as coach of Bayern Munich when this season ends.

He had a stint as coach of the German national team during the 2006 World Cup on home soil and led them to a place in the semi-finals.

Klinsmann's move to Bayern Munich is likely to coincide with Ngwenya's move to the German giants and the apprentice at Karnten in Austria is meant to give the striker a feeling of the tough world of European football.

The top Austrian league -- just like to the top league in Germany -- is called the Bundesliga.

Zimbabwean football analyst Brighton Mupangavanhu, who is based in Cape Town, believes the stage is being set for Ngwenya's eventual move to the Bundesliga giants.

"His move to the Austrian league is widely seen as a precursor to Ngwenya's dream move to the German Bundesliga," said Mupangavanhu.

"With Klinsmann having signed a contract to take over as coach at Bayern Munich at the end of this season, anything can happen.

"It won't be surprising if Ngwenya is invited to join him at Bayern Munich if he impresses at SK Austria."

Mupangavanhu says Klinsmann has always believed in Ngwenya.

"The German great has always shown faith in Ngwenya's qualities during both men's flirtation with LA Galaxy some few years ago. It's interesting that Ngwenya has now swapped the Major League Soccer for the Austrian Bundesliga for the year 2008.

"The 26-year old Plumtree born player, signed for the Austrian Bundesliga side AK Austria Karnten.

"The former Houston Dynamo player signed on the dotted line for his new Bundesliga side on 21 January 2008.

"He arrived at Alemannia Aachen for a training period with the German Bundesliga 2 team, in an arrangement which is believed to have been facilitated by Klinsmann.

"He is also believed to have facilitated Ngwenya's trials with Getafe of the Spanish La Liga in November 2006," said Mupungavanhu.

He believes the onus is now on Ngwenya to impress.

"The shock move by Ngwenya indeed looks risky, with his team currently anchoring the 10-team Austrian Bundesliga.

"Nevertheless, the Austrian topflight league is considered a stronger league than the MLS.

"Teams have the opportunity to play in the Uefa Champions League and the Uefa Cup."

Who are SK Austria Karnten?

"His new team was formed in June 2007, and became a new kid on the block in the Austrian top division after buying the franchise of ASKO Pasching.

"Ngwenya, who won the MLS Championship with Houston Dynamo in 2007, landed in Germany soon after the end of the United States of America elite league.

"When expectations were high that Ngwenya will finally realise his dreams of playing in his much fancied Bundesliga, he ended up signing for SK Austria," said Mupangavanhu.

Ngwenya appears to have a new coach who believes in him.

"I am really happy that it finally came through after a lot of back and forth.

"Joseph showed a lot of patience and took a big risk with us finishing the deal before the end of the transfer window," the coach said of his new player.

For Ngwenya the journey continues.

Born in Plumtree on March 30, 1981, he was drafted third overall by the Galaxy in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft -- opening the way for his meeting with Klinsmann.

In his debut season with Galaxy -- the team that David Beckham now plays for -- Ngwenya scored four goals in 22 matches playing either as a striker or a midfielder usually coming from the bench.

There were no goals for Ngwenya in the following season and he was traded to the Columbus Crew where he played 20 games and scored five goals in 2006.

Another trade followed last season and Ngwenya found himself at the Houston Dynamo and he helped the team win the championship.

Ngwenya caught the eye of the big teams during his days at the Coastal Carolina University when he led the NCCA in scoring with 21 goals and was named in the All-American First Team in 2003.

He was called by former Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri for the 2008 Nations Cup campaign but is still to make his debut for the senior national team.

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