Home » Sports » Zim Players Find English Soccer Demanding

It needed no trials for Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Ndlovu, and Benjani Mwaruwari to break into the English game. That was exceptional talent.

Then 18, Ndlovu became the first African player to move from this continent straight to England after signing for Coventry City in 1991.

He immediately sent shockwaves that saw him being compared to Irish legend George Best and his 13 uninterrupted years of service to British football made him one of its longest serving players.

Grobbelaar’s exploits in between the posts for Liverpool are well-documented with the 1984 European Cup final against Italy’s AS Roma ranking among his best moments.

On top of being retained by three managers in a space of 13 years since breaking into the first team in 1981, Grobbelaar became the first player from Africa to win a European Cup.

Mwaruwari, with his power and aggression, became a fans’ favourite at Manchester City, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers.

Sadly, despite the trio’s exploits, Zimbabwean soccer players have failed to break into this league, arguably the richest on the planet with mega television rights and the list is mind-boggling.

Most of those with Zimbabwean roots playing in the lower English leagues are not products of the domestic leagues.

The late Adam Ndlovu came close to joining Manchester United before Alex Ferguson opted for Eric Cantona. Adam later found solace in the Swiss league which also became home to greats such as Vitalis Takawira (FC Winterthur), the late Benjamin Nkonjera (SC Kriens) and Agent Sawu (Young Boys and FC Basel).

Celebrated Zimbabwean football personalities have continued finding breaking into the English game a monumental mission.

Then represented by former England international John Fashanu, Norman Mapeza auditioned at West Ham in 2000 and charmed Harry Redknapp, but the proposed move was stalled by complications in obtaining a work permit.

“My experience at West Ham was good and I made it. I felt in me that I was ready to play but there was some politics regarding obtaining a work permit,” said Mapeza.

“At the moment I do not think we have anyone in our local league who can play in the English Premiership. I think our players have wrong attitude. The desire to learn and hunger to succeed is no longer there. They are just looking for money. We know people need money to survive but look at career opportunities first before you consider money. Maybe those already playing abroad can make it in England,” he said.

Early in the new millennium, the late Blessing Makunike failed to sway Wenger following a trial stint, while Esrom Nyandoro came close to joining Sheffield United in 2006.

Then top-flight league side Portsmouth offered Onismor Bhasera a contract in 2009, but his former club Kaizer Chiefs reportedly blocked the move with their “exorbitant” demands and he then appeared to be on the verge of joining Queens Park Rangers at the beginning of 2010.

Even young goalkeeper Pope Moyo tried his luck at Coventry City with no joy.

The nation still grapples for answers as its talent now measures its success by joining the South African Premiership while those lucky to secure contracts abroad find home in lightweight leagues of Europe or America.

More recently, Zimbabwe’s Soccer star of the Year Denis Dauda failed a trial in the lesser-known league in Azerbaijan who are ranked lower than Zimbabwe on the Coca Coca Fifa World rankings.

British soccer agent Jake Duncan of Showtime International Ltd who in the past tried without success to take to Europe players such as Tauya Murewa, Hebert Dick, Francis Chandida, Joel Luphahla, Esrom Nyandoro, Brian Badza, and Shingi Kawondera said the passport and immigration status remained a stumbling block for Zimbabweans.

This was the reason why Badza and Murewa could not join Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic. “The immigration status is by far the biggest stumbling block for — say — Zimbabwean players to secure a contract with a professional United Kingdom club.

“There was a time when Zimbabwe was in the top 200 [or close]. Then the players could qualify for a UK work permit provided they were full internationals who had featured in at least 75% of their country’s competitive international games within the two years prior to the application,” said Duncan.

However, England-based Zimbabwean soccer agent, Ndaba Nyathi believes that problems lie with the kind of coaching the youngsters get in Zimbabwe.

“We do not have a playing philosophy and our coaches are just poorly qualified. Technically our players are very poor and this is largely because of the poor education that they get from their coaches. Some coaches in Zimbabwe have a UEFA B coaching licence which most players attain here while still playing,” he said.

He added “We often hear people saying that our players are small, but that is not a disaantage at all. Barcelona has a number of small bodied players, but they play some exciting football. It is just about getting to know your football playing philosophy. That means we should go back to the grassroots.”

Another player agent Ralph Nkomo, who represented Mwaruwari, Nwanko Kanu and John Utaka, among a host of other celebrated international stars, said it is a combination of many factors with Zifa’s administration inadequacy being chief among them.

“We are not producing g athletic and physically imposing players from yesteryear. Players such as Rambo [Mercedes Sibanda] and Francis Shonhai were g and technically gifted. Our players used to be technically superior in the region, but we are now behind Zambia and South Africa,” Nkomo said.

“They were mentally g but now it is no longer the same as they have become soft and whinge about everything. We lost a bit and the players were disheartened and did not care about football,” said Nkomo who represents Bhasera, Nyasha Mushekwi and Ovidy Karuru.

Ironically, Bhasera and Karuru made a seemingly career downwards spiral when they came back from Europe to play in the South African Premiership.

Nkomo also concurred with Nyathi on the assertion that the players are poorly coached in Zimbabwe.

“If you watch Zimbabwe and South Africa boys at the age of 25, their football brain is a bit behind that of a 21-year-old in Europe. So if a gaffer in the United Kingdom can get a 21-year-old in West Africa, England or South America, why waste time chasing a 25 year old. We should just go back to the grassroots and start all over again,” he said.

Former Zimbabwe international and long serving Dynamos captain Memory Mucherahowa who had short stints in Belgium and Argentina feels Zimbabwean football is not moving in line with modern trends, hence players failing to catch up with those in superior leagues.

Source : Zimbabwe Standard