JOHANNESBURG — The case of Burnley defender Tendayi Darikwa, arguably the first real talent to emerge from the ranks of Zimbabwe’s growing Diaspora community in recent years, had for long looked a pretty straightforward one.
Here was a talented right-back who could also play in midfield, surfacing virtually from nowhere to enthrall audiences and attract interest from some of England’s big clubs in the process. And he was eager to don the Warriors jersey.
But as Warriors coach Kalisto Pasuwa weighs his options ahead of the 2017 Africa Cup of nations [Afcon] finals, Darikwa’s progression has stalled.
Once a marauding presence down Burnley’s right channel, the 24-year-old now spends his match-days either on the bench or the terraces.
He still awaits his Premier League debut, with a start in Burnley’s 1-0 defeat to Accrington in the League Cup representing his only run-out of the campaign.
It has really been a chastening experience for Darikwa, who had known nothing but consistent action since establishing himself at the then League Two side Chesterfield during the 2012/2013 season and racking up 31 starts.
The prolonged spell on the sidelines could possibly have affected his form and self-belief, making it difficult for Pasuwa to tell whether he would be a worthy inclusion in the Afcon party.
Yet it is also clear the Warriors are short on quality and depth at right-back, with the yet-to-really-convince Hardlife Zvirekwi just about the only credible option available.
Things are not looking any brighter at left-back, with Ronald Pfumbidzai’s halting progress necessitating a recall for veteran Onismor Bhasera, even though the SuperSport United man is clearly beginning to look his age.
In fact, it is the calibre of Zimbabwe’s full-backs that some pondered with considerable trepidation after an Afcon draw, which placed Pasuwa’s men in the “Group of Death” alongside Algeria, Tunisia and Senegal.
The prospect of Zvirekwi and Bhasera coming up against forwards like Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez can be enough to induce an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.
Zvirekwi, in particular, has not really acquitted himself well in tournament football after featuring at both the Chan finals in January and the subsequent Cosafa tournament.
Pitted against sides with talent approaching world-class, Zimbabwe would clearly need to be at their best in defence to avoid embarrassment.
Zimbabwe boast of their own potent options up-front, with Knowledge Musona, Khama Billiat and Tendai Ndoro looking capable of troubling any defence. The partnership of Willard Katsande and Marvellous Nakamba has also stabilised the midfield, even though the search for a No 10 remains ongoing.
But Pasuwa’s men desperately need an injection of quality in a defence, where Czech Republic-based Costa Nhamoinesu has often been overworked following the sidelining of Ajax Cape Town’s Eric Chipeta.
Darikwa’s inclusion would, therefore, provide some cover and indeed competition for Zvirekwi, who can be impressive on the run but often disappoints with his deliveries and decision-making.
And should he prove ready to play, Zimbabwe would certainly benefit from the addition of a strong, technical and energetic body. When on song, Darikwa is as impressive with his defensive shifts as with those famed overlapping runs which often result in dangerous crosses.
Fans will fondly recall watching him in Burnley’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Arsenal in January, when he capped a strong showing with a fine delivery from the right to create the Clarets’ only goal.
But the defender was by then already being restricted to cup competitions after losing his starting position to former Aston Villa defender Mathew Lowton a month earlier.
His Burnley predicament aside, Darikwa has long relished the prospect of serving the country of his parents’ birth, although he was initially put off after allegedly being asked to pay a “processing fee” by a former Zifa top official.
With no “fees” required this time around, the decision is now Pasuwa’s on whether to include Darikwa in his Afcon squad.
In making his decision on Darikwa, Pasuwa would have to consider not just the quality of his other options, but also the potential of the Burnley man, who at 24 clearly has his best years ahead.
For while his travails at Burnley will come to pass, Darikwa’s quality looks set to abide.