Zimbabwe: Adama, Gueye, Ayew, Nakamba and the Aston Villa Connection

17 January 2020

ONE of the top African experts on the English Premiership says the journey travelled by Idrissa Gueye, Adama Traore and Jordan Ayew should provide caution against quickly dismissing Marvelous Nakamba as a flop.

Gueye, the Senegalese enforcer, Spanish muscleman Traore and Ghanaian forward Ayew have become stars after initially struggling when they arrived at Aston Villa.

Gueye has even transformed himself into one of the world's best midfielders.

Stanley Kwenda, an award-winning Zimbabwean journalist who produces the BBC Series "Where Are They Now" is a regular feature at English Premiership matches where he has a front-row seat covering the league.

He has interviewed many of the African stars in the league and, thanks to interactions with colleagues covering the league and coaches, has an in-depth understanding of what makes a good player for the Premiership.

Yesterday, Kwenda joined the debate started by The Herald, looking into Nakamba's performances in his first four months at Villa, which have drawn mixed reactions from the Zimbabwean football community.

Some people have been highly critical of Nakamba, saying he hasn't exploded the way they expected, and they have since started questioning if he is, indeed, good enough for the Premiership. There is even a group that now believes the midfielder could be offloaded just a season into his life at the Birmingham club after failing to adjust to the demands of the pace and quality of the English Premiership.

However, others believe he will eventually come good, and like many before him, needs time to settle into a league where matches are usually played at full throttle and where the opposition is often top quality.

Nakamba has already played against the likes of Sergio Aguero, the Argentine hitman who is now the best scoring foreigner to grace the English Premiership, and the three best African footballers -- Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Riyard Mahrez.

Mahrez and Aguero tore Villa to pieces last weekend as they scored five of the six goals the Birmingham side conceded in a 6-1 thrashing of manager Dean Smith's men at Villa Park.

Nakamba was relegated to the bench in that match, with new signing Danny Drinkwater being preferred as the defensive midfielder, but the former Leicester City star had a horror show in his debut for Villa.

Kwenda says there are a number of examples of African players whose quality was questioned when they first arrived at Villa, but with time, proved to be real gems who are now stars at other clubs. He was reacting to an article carried in this newspaper yesterday under the headline, "Almiron shows why Nakamba needs love", which highlighted how the Paraguayan striker initially struggled at Newcastle before finding his feet -- and goals.

"Totally agree," Kwenda said on Twitter.

"Other examples from @AstonVillaOfficial (Aston Villa FC) who later became a success -- @IGuanaGueye (Idrissa Gueye), @AdamTrd37 (Adama Traore), @jordan_ayew9 (Jordan Ayew), all who were dismissed (as flops) when they first arrived."

Ironically, Senegalese star Gueye arrived at Villa on July 10, 2015, as a defensive midfielder, the same role which Nakamba plays, after a £9 million transfer from French side Lille.

He made 35 appearances, scoring once in an FA Cup third round replay against Wycombe Wanderers, but could not stop Villa, who picked up just 17 points all season, from being relegated at the end of the season.

"He arrived in England with a similar reputation to N'Golo Kante and the similarities between the pair were clear," noted the English Premier League Index in its report.

"Even Kante would have struggled in that Aston Villa side. It is clear that the manner of the side's relegation has tarnished every player's reputation and Gueye is no different. But, if you look deeper into his performances, the midfielder actually had a good debut season."

Despite Villa's relegation, Everton triggered the buy-out clause in Gueye's contract and snatched him on August 2, 2016.

The Senegalese star, despite a tough first season at Villa, went on to make the highest number of successful tackles and interceptions per match across all of Europe's Big Five Leagues over the 2016 calendar year.

He also became the first player in the English Premiership, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and French Ligue 1 to win 100 tackles in 2016-2017 season.

And, from being relegated with Villa the previous season and being dismissed as a flop by some, Gueye was now attracting interest from Manchester United and Paris Saint-Germain.

The French football powerhouse won the battle for his signature and signed him for £30 million on July 30, last year.

Spanish winger Adama Traore had a nightmarish season when he arrived at Villa in August 2015 from Barcelona, and after just playing a handful of matches and running into disciplinary problems, was dropped from the team.

With Villa being relegated at the end of the season, Traore -- whose parents are from a Mali -- was shipped to Middlesbrough. Barcelona didn't even exercise their three-year buy-back clause, because he had been deemed a flop at the Birmingham side.

He later moved to Wolverhampton Wanderers in August 2018 and had transformed himself into a star who was even linked with Real Madrid earlier this month.

Ghanaian forward Jordan Ayew, also arrived at Villa in July 2015 for £8 million from French side Lorient, but could not save the Birmingham side from relegation at the end of the season.

On January 31, 2017, he left to join Swansea before moving to Crystal Palace where he now is the team's top scorer. His late winner against West Ham on Boxing Day took his overall tally in the English Premiership to 21 goals, with 20 having been scored in the second half of matches.

That represents 95 percent of his goals, the highest ratio of any player with more than 20 goals in the league's history.

Gueye, Traore, Ayew!

Kwenda has seen them all before being dismissed -- as is the case with Nakamba today -- as flops when they first arrived at Villa, but then went on to prove their doubters wrong.

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