JULY this year will mark 30 years since the legendary Peter Ndlovu landed in the United Kingdom back in 1991 to sign for Coventry City before becoming, the following season, the first African footballer to feature in the new English Premier League.
Ever since Ndlovu’s pioneering feat, countless football players from this continent have gone on to play in the English Premiership – quite a number of them recording success and popularity eclipsing that of the revered former Zimbabwe captain.
For Zimbabwe, the three decades have seen the football-mad but success-starved nation provide three home-grown players to the EPL, arguably the best football league in the world.
That is an average of one Premiership player per decade from this country, with Benjani Mwaruwari sandwiched between.
A few more of our players should have made the grade in the Premiership over this period, in my view. But for a league that has not been fertile playground for players from some more established footballing nations, three, in a sense, is handsome return for a country like Zimbabwe.
It was a bittersweet moment for some of us at the weekend to witness our chosen Premiership team, Arsenal, suffer yet another defeat in what has become an all-too-familiar tale for the club these days, this time around to an Aston Villa side featuring Zimbabwe international Marvelous Nakamba.
Watching Nakamba putting in a solid shift in the Villa midfield for 90 minutes after being handed a rare start by manager Dean Smith was a thoroughly refreshing sight for many of the Warriors star’s fans back home, a welcome turn of events for a player whose future at the Birmingham club had been the subject of much speculation.
Occasions like this, against a side of Arsenal’s calibre no matter how floundering, can so easily remove any lingering doubts about a player’s ability and Nakamba might have done himself a hell of a lot of favour with that hugely satisfactory performance against the Gunners.
27-year-old Nakamba was not yet born yet when Peter Ndlovu, the best Zimbabwean footballer ever, was signed without hesitation by Coventry City from his boyhood club Highlanders.
But, age and era gaps aside, it is quite striking that the two players’ careers in the English Premiership could both get a huge boost, nearly three decades apart, from their showing against the men from North London.
While Nakamba was playing himself back into the hearts of the Villa Park faithful last weekend against Arsenal – probably securing his future at the club for the foreseeable future – for Ndlovu, it was his away goal in 1991 against the same team, Arsenal, that endeared him to the Coventry fans so early on in his English top-flight career, securing himself a longer stay at the club.
A tale of intertwined destinies, maybe.