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Zim’s diaspora footballers: We need a method to our madness

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SAKHELENI NXUMALO

THE recent exploits of United Kingdom-born footballers Tendai Darikwa and Jordan Zemura (pictured) has reignited debate on how the country should aggressively seek and court players with Zimbabwean roots to play for the Warriors.

Captain Darikwa led Wigan to the League One title and automatic promotion to the second tier of English football.

Zemura is part of Scott Parker’s Bournemouth side that makes a return to the Premier League after securing second spot in the English Football League Championship.

Nicknamed the British Brigade, the Zimbabwean footballers, who were born or raised in the UK, have always divided opinion among football followers in this country.

Unconvincing performances by some of the players after being called up to the Warriors have left fans wondering if it is worth calling them up at the expense of locally-bred players.

But Darikwa and Zemura’s exploits might go a long way in changing people’s minds.

Personally, I have always argued that different systems of play have affected some of the British Brigade when they play for the Warriors.

For example, someone who is a wingback at his club may struggle if they are to be deployed as a fullback in the national team. Owing to the limited preparation time with the national side, this may not be picked up by the coaches during training, and only becomes apparent on matchday.

As a result, the jury is out on the abilities of players like Adam Chicksen and David Moyo, because they did not perform well in their early Warriors careers.

Chicksen was particularly targeted for ridicule by fans after Algeria’s Manchester City star winger Riyad Mahrez had a field day against him in the Desert Foxes’ 2-2 draw with Zimbabwe in Harare in 2020.

I do believe we have to start thinking outside the box and come up with a system that will not only help us identify and monitor the British Brigade, but also ensure that we have a comprehensive profile of whoever is called up to the Warriors.

Times have changed and there is very limited time for national team preparations. But as a nation we have to come up with plans to counter that.

Burying our heads in the sand and pretending it is business as usual will result in some absurd call-ups, like the time a pot-bellied Romario Matova was called up for the Olympic qualifier against South Africa. 

We have a number of Zimbabwean coaches domiciled all over the world and some of them have even offered to monitor players and report back to the national team, but those offers have been ignored.

Why not take it a step further and include a United Kingdom-based coach in the national team set up, seeing that we have a strong diaspora population in that country?

We also have a large contingent of footballers who are on scholarships in the United States and we really ought to include a coach from that side in the Warriors set-up.

Schools sport is the mainstay of US sporting culture and I believe some of our players plying their trade in that country should be given opportunities with the Warriors. 

I believe the exposure to modern training methods and equipment gives those players an edge over our local players.

Another member of the Warriors technical set-up should be from South Africa, where we have the majority of our foreign-based players.

Time permitting, the coaches based in the various parts of the world should come up with squads that will play each other and then the cream of the crop becomes our national team.

Instead of looking for international friendlies, the diaspora-based teams can fly in so that the teams play each other in a tournament set-up during that international break.

The fabled Dream Team under the late Reinhard Fabisch used to play Premier Soccer League teams and some players used that opportunity to become part of the Warriors after impressing for their clubs.

What those games also did was to destroy any doubts about who deserved to be part of the national team because contenders would be given a platform to state their case in front of everybody.

As a country, we cannot afford to ignore players who have Zimbabwean roots who ply their trade in the diaspora, but there has to be a method to our madness.

We have seen stories of other African countries actively pursuing players based in the diaspora and that has greatly improved their fortunes.

A deliberate effort that has been endorsed by all stakeholders will also eliminate shady dealings as we have in the past heard of some unscrupulous officials demanding kickbacks from players that want to represent Zimbabwe.

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