Zimbabwe: Finally, Nakamba Makes Fans Sing With One Voice

GIVEN our fascination with Peter Ndlovu's wizardry, and sensational goals, it's understandable why it has taken a bit longer for the domestic football community to really appreciate the true value of Marvelous Nakamba.

For most of us, quality was largely defined by an explosive burst of pace, an effortless glide past opponents and a package of some of the finest goals the English Premiership has seen.

That's what the Flying Elephant used to provide, for club and country, from the very moment he made history as the first African footballer to feature in the millionaires' age of England's big football league.

A hat-trick against Liverpool, on March 14, 1995, where he became the first visiting player to achieve such a feat since 1961, provided the high point of Ndlovu's career in England.

His third goal, a beauty that even earned the applause from a section of the home fans, was the best of the lot with the forward picking possession, inside the Liverpool half, dancing his way through their defensive shield and firing the ball home at the Kop End.

Forty three goals, in 176 appearances for Coventry City in six years, between 1991 and 1996, also came at a good time for the Warriors, for which Ndlovu was the talisman.

Dubbed the Dream Team, Ndlovu inspired them to within just a victory, over Cameroon, and a maiden place at the 1994 FIFA World Cup finals.

However, those dreams were crushed, in the final qualifier in Yaounde, as the Indomitable Lions won 3-1 to secure a ticket to the United States.

Then, after Ndlovu left the English Premiership scene, Benjani Mwaruwari arrived and, once again, for the Zimbabwean fans, the attraction came from pace, and some goals, including a winner at Old Trafford for City, in the Manchester Derby.

Against that background, the arrival of a Zimbabwean player, in the English Premiership, whose value had to be judged in his defensive abilities, did not initially provide the universal appeal, among the local fans, for Marvelous Nakamba.

There were claims, among the critics here, he was too slow, played the game in a one-dimensional format, kept himself in a shell, for long periods in the match, and lacked either the adventure, or the courage, to move out of his comfort zone.

The fiercest of the critics even claimed he wasn't good enough and, just like Tanzanian striker, Mbwana Samatta, his shortcomings would be crudely exposed, by the passage of time.

And, he would be swallowed by this beast called the English Premiership.

In the age of social media, judgment is both swift, and brutal, even though it is at times served prematurely, and it didn't help that Nakamba lost his place, and form, after the lockdown, in March last year.

Even on the occasions, when he appeared to have done well, on the occasions he was thrown into the fray by his manager Dean Smith, opinion remained split, here at home.

Some critics were not even suggesting he would better be served, by some time on loan, somewhere in a league, without the intensity of the Premiership.

However, on Saturday night, everything appeared to change.

Nakamba's monster performance, in helping Villa find a way to nullify the carefree attacking threat, which Leeds United had displayed in their past games, meant that, for the first time, the praise, from the Zimbabwean fans, was unanimous.

"It has taken some time but it's good to finally see that there is unanimous acknowledgment, from the fans in this country, that Nakamba is a very good footballer," said Zimbabwe National Soccer Supporters Association founding leader, Eddie Nyatanga.

"It's amazing what one game can do but you can't argue with numbers and, for some of us, who have been choosing to look at him without any bias, it's something that we have been seeing for some time now.

"He gives everything into his performance and, when you are a professional footballer, it's all that the fans, your teammates and the manager want from you."

And, Nakamba's name was topping the Twitter trends, here, as Zimbabweans flooded social media with beautiful messages, praising their star, with many convinced this was the turning point of his Villa career.

"Good game homeboy," tweeted Tattenda Matanga. "The big challenge now is to be consistent and wrestle that starting jersey," while Declan Mukombiwa said he was "underrated and understated, Nakamba is class."

Another fan, Paul Chakurure, believes Nakamba could even be poached by a bigger side which, in itself, represents a sensational turnaround for a player some were saying should be loaned, even to the English Championship, to gain some experience.

For Timothy Mugova, the more he has seen Nakamba play, the better he now acknowledges his true value, and the Leeds game gave him the perfect opportunity, to complete his assessment.

"Whenever he has been called to do duty, he has given a good account of himself," tweeted Mugova.

"I see him more as an artisan than an artist, hence him unwilling to take that riskier pass but opting to stick to basics. He is a good shield to the backline."

The best message, though, must have come from Ghanaian football writer, Nuhu Adams, who is a leading voice in the coverage of African football.

"Top class footballer Marvelous," he tweeted in a message to Zimbabwean football fans. "I love the support you and Zimbabwe are giving to him to keep going. A true Warrior."

For Nakamba, the challenge is to maintain the levels he displayed against Leeds United and, in the brutal and unforgiving world of the English Premiership, the tests just keep coming.

Villa are away to bottom club, Sheffield United, tonight and the manager might decide to bring back Douglas Luiz or keep Nakamba in the midfield.

Whatever the case, there is no room for sloppy shows.

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