The Herald (Harare)

3 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Villa Eye Zim's Pritchard. . . Youthful Midfielder Also Targeted By Fulham, Reading

ZIMBABWEAN midfielder Bradley Pritchard could this year finally make his big break into the English Premiership and become one of the four players from this country to play in that top-flight following revelations that the Charlton Athletic man is on the radar of Aston Villa, Reading and Fulham.

Bradley - surprisingly overlooked for selection by former Warriors coach Rahman Gumbo in May this year despite being called up for the start of the senior team's 2014 World Cup campaign - has however, continued to make waves with the English Championship side Charlton Athletic.

The 27-year-old midfielder will now be hoping that new Warriors coach Klaus Dieter Pagels could give him a chance to play for his country of birth when Zimbabwe resume their World Cup qualifying bid with a tough trip away to group leaders Egypt in Cairo.

But before he can turn his attention to trying his luck in the Warriors again, Pritchard - who has never played in the domestic top-flight - could yet fulfil an even bigger dream, that of breaking into the Barclays Premiership and completing a fairytale rise in his growing career.

According to Sky Sports, Pritchard is being tracked by Aston Villa, Fulham and Reading.

"Ex-non-league ace Pritchard has been a revelation since joining the Addicks in the summer of 2011, establishing himself as a first-team regular.

"His performances for the Londoners, who were promoted to the Championship last season, are understood to have earned him admirers in the Premier League.

"It is thought Villa, Fulham and Reading are all monitoring the midfielder going into this month's transfer window as they consider bolstering their squads," wrote Sky Sports.

The English transfer window opened on January 1 and will run until the end of the month and it is during that period that Pritchard, who has starred for Charlton Athletic, will be hoping that one of the three top flight sides that have been tracking him will take their interest further and offer him a deal.

Villa are currently 16th on the Barclays Premiership table, Fulham are three places above them, while Reading are 19th on the 20-team table.

Should a deal to any of the three sides materialise, Pritchard could become the next Zimbabwean -- after former Warriors skipper Benjani Mwaruwari -- to play in the English top-flight.

Legendary former Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu, and another Warriors legend Bruce Grobbelaar, are the only other Zimbabweans to have played in that demanding league, probably highlighting how tough it is to break into that Premiership.

Pritchard, who opted to play for his country of birth, thought he had found his way into the Warriors when he was included in the squad that assembled in the capital ahead of the senior team's opening World Cup qualifier against Guinea.

But the midfielder, who is revered at Charlton, somehow did not spark an interest from Gumbo and his technical team and was left out of the Warriors sides that subsequently played against Mozambique away in another World Cup assignment before returning home to host Burundi in an African Cup of Nations first round tie.

There was no place too for Pritchard in the Warriors team that eventually crashed out of the Nations Cup qualifiers after blowing a 3-1 first leg lead to lose 2-0 to Angola in Luanda and bow out on the away goals' rule.

But with Zifa having disbanded that Warriors side that failed the nation and looking for a "fresh start" under Pagels, the appointment of the German coach might open new avenues for Pritchard.

Maybe by the time the Warriors regroup to prepare for the trip to Cairo, Pritchard might have taken a giant step in his professional career by signing for either of Villa, Fulham or Reading.

While Pritchard is targeting a big move during the transfer window, Zimbabwe and Ajax Cape Town hotshot Khama Billiat has committed his immediate future to the Urban Warriors, insisting he will only move from the Absa Premiership side if an overseas deal materialises.

There has been speculation that the talented forward could be lured by any of the top South African clubs.

Billiat has one more year left on his initial contract with Ajax Cape Town, but the Warriors star and former Aces Youth Academy forward said through his manager Edzai Kasinauyo that he would only change clubs if he was going abroad.

"Overseas is the first option for Khama, so if an overseas club comes with a good offer, he will go.

"But if that doesn't materialise, he stays with Ajax. He still has another season to go at Ajax because he had a four-year contract.

"So for now, the most important thing is that he gets an overseas club which his qualities deserve," Kasinauyo said.

Kasinauyo refuted claims that his player was feeling frustrated at his club and said they had briefed the Ajax Cape Town management about Billiat's commitment to the Urban Warriors.

"We are always in touch with Ajax through their CEO George Comitis and it is not as if he is being frustrated by the club.

"It's just that he is not for sale to local clubs because a player like him must go overseas from here."

Kasinauyo said he was also still in discussion with Ajax Cape Town over former CAPS United winger Tafadzwa Rusike.

"We are still in discussion with Comitis and we are hoping that after the festive holiday break we should be finalising on a new deal for the player because the sticking point has largely been on the figures, but talks have been going on," he said.

It could also be a busy month for a number of Zimbabwean players at home and abroad as they either seek greener pastures or simply extend contracts with their various clubs in South Africa and other countries.

Soccer Star of the Year Denver Mukamba leads a cast of those players plying their trade on the domestic front who are searching for greener pastures with the Dynamos midfielder still on the verge of sealing a move to Bidvest Wits.

Striker Roderick Mutuma is also set for trials with Bloemfontein Celtic, while defender Partson Jaure, on the radar of SuperSport United and midfielder Tawanda Muparati could all seal moves to the Absa Premiership before the January transfer window closes.

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