IndependentSport View with Darlington Majonga
THE historic debut in Welsh colours this week of Lewin Nyatanga, whose father is Zimbabwean, is likely to generate as much debate as can be expected from a nation bereft of genuine football stars.
e the youngest footballer to play a full international for Wales when he made his debut at 17 years and 195 days on Wednesday in a friendly against Paraguay.
The most predictable — and rather preposterous — question many Zimbabweans might pose even to themselves is why our football authorities didn’t make a move to lure the young defender to his father’s homeland.
Nyatanga plays in the English Champions League for Derby County, where he has been since he was eight before making his senior team debut at the club last August. So far he has played 17 games in a league many Zimbabwean players have failed to break into after going for trials.
The wonder boy captained the Wales Under-21 side when he was just 16 — a feat we can only dream of in Zimbabwe unless we change our retrogressive “youth” policy.
But Nyatanga, born of a Welsh mother, did not find any reason to make it a secret that he never saw himself playing for any other country.
It was only a natural decision for Nyatanga to commit his allegiance to Wales, where he has lived since birth. Probably if Zimbabwe had qualified for the World Cup, Nyatanga would have answered a call from his ancestors and donned the Warriors colours.
It’s happening elsewhere in Africa.
Angola, having qualified for their maiden World Cup finals, realised they were not good enough with the home-grown players at their disposal and went on to sniff out all players with a link to the country and invite them to beef up their national team, the Palancas Negras.
This week Angola lured Porto defender Pedro Emanuel, who was eligible to play for Portugal although he was born in the African country, to turn out for the Palancas Negras at the world soccer showpiece in Germany. The World Cup debutantes also convinced Portugal-raised midfielder Figueiredo to play for the country of his birth.
As for Nyatanga clearly there was no incentive for him to have considered a switch of citizenship bearing in mind the chaos that has become synonymous with Zimbabwe soccer, qualifying for the world’s premier tournament will only remain a dream.
All said, Nyatanga stands a better chance to develop his career playing for Wales alongside his captain Ryan Giggs of Manchester United and a host of other highly regarded players such as Craig Bellamy.
While he might have shut the door on his father’s homeland, we would be doing ourselves a great disfavour if we limit our scope to the player’s choice of national team — assuming an option was there at all in the first place.
There are many positives to be drawn from the feat Nyatanga has achieved. The defender now holds the record as Wales’ youngest ever player at senior international level after beating compatriot Ryan Green who was 17 years and 226 days old on his debut in 1998.
Nyatanga’s feat should inspire many youths in Zimbabwe that they can do it as well on the big stage at such a tender age.
Talking of youth, we all should have been mesmerised by Barcelona’s 18-year-old Argentinean Lionel Messi, who tormented Chelsea defenders during their Champions League encounter last week.
We can also look no further than Manchester United’s talisman Wayne Rooney to see how genuine youth policy can work. American starlet Freddy Adu will be a mere 17 years and 127 days old when the United States take on the Czech Republic on June 12 at the World Cup finals in Germany.
Brazilian legend Pele became the youngest player to win the World Cup in 1958 after making his debut at the tournament and scoring against the USSR at 17 years and 235 days old.
Pele’s record as the youngest player at the World Cup finals lasted 24 years.
The youngest player ever to appear at the World Cup is Northern Ireland’s Norman Whiteside who was 17 years and 41 days when he debuted at the 1982 finals in Spain against Yugoslavia.
Cameroon star forward Samuel Eto’o is in second place after he played for Cameroon at France 98 when he was only 17 years and 99 days old. His compatriots, Salomon Olembe and Rigobert Song are also in the top 10 of the youngest players at the World Cup finals as they were barely 18 when they made their mark.
Age really is nothing but a number — though of course we have seen players beyond their prime ages starring at not only the World Cup but also even continental and regional tournaments. Cameroonian Roger Milla quickly comes to mind, while Egypt’s Hossam Hassan showed us he is not finished yet at the recent African Nations Cup finals though he is almost 40.
What Zimbabwe’s coaches need now is to invest their trust in the youth. With young players not only are we guaranteed players with a hunger for success, but also we will be assured of a team likely to be intact for a longer period.
It is with this view in mind that local coaches and administrators should stop abetting players to alter their ages.
Right now, we have players whose ages are dubious, if we are to be honest. Questions have been raised whether the likes of Shingi Kawondera, Tapuwa Kapini, Eddie Mashiri, Newton Katanha, David Sengu, Silent Katumba and Tinashe Nengomasha are as young as their official documents show.
It must be easy to forge ages so as to dupe foreign clubs about one’s youthfulness and therefore potential, but certainly no one can cheat age. Age cheats fade sooner than they reach their “potential”.
We should also make the conditions conducive for promising players to have a reason to believe football can be one of the best careers anyone can choose. They need direction and commitment to realise their potential.
Simply look at how many of the players who featured for Zimbabwe’s youth teams over the past 10 years who have gone on to make it into the national team.
Ever wondered what became of Nqobizitha Ncube, Kelvin Mushangazhike, Rabson Masauso, Obey Murefu and Musareka Jenitala, to mention but a few?
Something is very wrong with our youth policy, if not football.
It’s high time we invested in genuine youngsters. Can you imagine Nyatanga has spent the past nine years at Derby before making it into the senior team?
We hope Warriors coach Charles Mhlauri will begin infusing youth into the national team, though his — and Zimbabwe’s — crisis is that there are no good enough young players at the moment playing at the top level.
Which brings us to our daily war cry: revamp Zimbabwe’s junior policy and make development of young players priority number one. Hopefully Nyatanga’s feat will inspire not only young footballers but also local administrators as well to do the right thing.