BY HENRY MHARA
PEP Guardiola regards the English Premiership as the toughest league in the world. The Manchester City boss has had an illustrious career, winning multiple league titles in Spain, Germany and England.
Most players, who join the English Premier League (EPL), often struggle or take time to find their feet.
Arsenal great Robert Pires, once voted the sixth greatest ever player in the club’s history, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who rose to prominence with Chelsea, Nemanja Vidic, who won titles with Manchester United, and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino, are some of the big names that took a little longer to settle in the EPL.
But this has not been the case with Marvellous Nakamba, who has made a seamless transition from the Belgian League where he played for Club Brugge to Aston Villa.
“So far so good, but there is always room for improvement in football. It’s my first season in a new environment but I’m happy with my progress. I’m learning and trying to do better each time I’m given a chance. I’m feeling positive whenever I’m playing knowing that I’m not only representing my family but millions of Zimbabweans. That alone keeps me encouraged to try and work hard,” Nakamba told The Sports Hub this week.
After just a few months since joining the promoted side, Nakamba has hit the ground running.
He missed the team’s first three matches because he did not have the whole pre-season with them, but as soon as he was given a chance, he started the following eight matches and getting man of the match awards on three occasions.
Already, he is beginning to be linked with some big teams in the league and abroad.
But he is keeping his feet on the ground.
“Of course, I want to give everything for Aston Villa, and I work hard each time I’m given a chance. They gave me an opportunity so I will also try to repay them with good performances. I will give everything for them. I’m an Aston Villa player and my focus is with the club. I’m happy at Aston Villa and I want to play well and help them achieve set objectives this year and in the future.”
He reckons his experience playing in the Champions League before with Club Brugge, where the Belgium club faced teams like Athletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, is coming in handy.
“I have played tough matches, in the Champions League before, against some of the tough teams and that experience has helped me to be where I’m now. I have played against some of the best players in the world now, players like Antoine Griezmann, and that made me a better player. That experience of facing such kind of players is priceless. It’s a lifetime opportunity, and after playing against a player like that, you won’t fear anyone going forward.”
Aston Villa has already played the EPL champions Manchester City, and current log leaders Liverpool this season, with Nakamba starting in both matches.
He was on the losing side in the two matches, but he still managed to get positive comments after tireless performances especially against Liverpool when he, until the dying moments of the match, had managed to neutralise the team’s famed front three of Sadio Mane, Mohammed Salah and Firmino.
Aston Villa led Liverpool 1-0 until the 88th minute and appeared to hand the runaway league leaders their first defeat of the season until Andy Robertson and Mane scored two late goals to snatch away the match from the stunned Villains.
The 24-year-old had also done well against City’s superstars including Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Sergio Aguero.
“The English Premier League is the best league in the world and you got to play with and against the best players, week in and out. Manchester City and Liverpool are some of the best teams in the world and playing against those teams was awesome. I can’t really explain the feeling. Competing against those teams, their stars, is good for confidence and makes one a better player.”
Nakamba is arguably the most popular player with the club’s fans, especially on social media. This is not only because of his name, but also because of the untiring performances he has given, with his work rate usually compared to that of Chelsea’s midfielder N’Golo Kante.
“The fans are amazing, the players and the technical team are absolutely wonderful. They have been very welcoming and very supportive. Everything there is run professionally, and the environment is just good. You can’t ask for more, really. The fans in particular are brilliant, they support us even when things are not going on well, which gives us more encouragement to want to do well for them every time when you go out there to play.”
He was signed together with former teammates at Brugge, Wesley Moraes and Björn Engels, something that has helped him to settle down quickly at the club.
“Wesley is a person that I’m close to, and apart from football he is also my friend. I was also with Engels in Belgium for two months or so and there are other players that I knew before I joined the club so it has been a bit easy for me to settle. All the players are generally easy to work with because they are all professionals, so I’m happy.”
Nakamba’s rise is a typical story of most African players who have risen from obscurity and defied the odds on their way to the top. From the dusty streets of Hwange, he is now rubbing shoulders with the best in the business. He believes that his rise will open doors for many Zimbabwean players.
“It’s all about getting an opportunity, and I thank God that He opened the door for me, and I’m hopeful that He will open also for my peers because I know they have the talent to play at the top. What’s also needed is discipline, dedication and hard work. I feel they can do it anywhere if given the opportunity,” he said.