Albert Marufu  in LONDON, England
AFTER warming up to the demands of playing for the Warriors, Nottingham Forest defender Tendayi Darikwa has set about on a crusade to help lure more of the United Kingdom-based players to feature for Zimbabwe in the international game.

Darikwa is one of the famed “British Brigade’’ who has already made his debut for the Warriors and helped them achieve a rare victory over the Democratic Republic of Congo in a 2019 African Cup of Nations showdown in Kinshasa.

The 27-year-old defender then made his home debut as the Warriors fought a 1-1 draw against the Congolese at the National Sports Stadium, which ensured that Sunday Chidzambwa’s men remained top of Group G.

In just those 180 minutes of action for the Warriors, Darikwa had also done enough to charm the Zimbabwean fans who nicknamed him “Minister of Defence’’ for the industry he showed after being tasked by Chidzambwa to man the right back channel.

Darikwa is one of two members of the Brithish Brigade together with Wales-based Alec Mudimu to have had their passports sorted out and have already made themselves available for the Warriors duties.

The defender, however, told The Herald in London that he had taken it upon himself to also talk to some of his colleagues who were born to Zimbabwean parents but are based in the Diaspora, to return home and play for the Warriors.

“Speaking to players who can play for Zimbabwe is something I am trying to do. I am trying to get more players based here in England who are able to represent their country. Hopefully, they will come over and play, but obviously it is their decision. It is up to them because it is their career,” he said.

The long list of Diaspora-based players with the potential to play for Zimbabwe includes Reading’s Andy Rinomhota, McCauley Bonne (Leyton Orient), Kundai Benyu (Celtic), Joshua Jeche (Cambridge United), Adam Chicksen (Bradford City), Tristan Nydam (St John FC) and German-based striker Kelvin Lunga.

Warriors team manager Wellington Mpandare has also been working tirelessly to assist the players to have their documents in order amid an open door that has been extended by Chidzambwa who wants Zimbabwe to harness all the best talent they can get.

Darikwa, who missed Zimbabwe’s last African Cup of Nations qualifier against Liberia due to suspension, revealed his eagerness to return to the Warriors for their swim or sink Nations Cup qualifier against Congo Brazzaville at the National Sports Stadium on March 24.

“I think our chances to qualify for AFCON are very good. Obviously we still have a job to do against Congo Brazzaville. It will be a tough game but we will have to win and qualify for the tournament.

“I am in contact with the Zimbabwe technical team. It is important for me to know the football system there, but I am just looking forward to the game in March now. Hopefully, we will get a result and qualify for the AFCON finals in June”.

Darikwa also revealed his appreciation of the welcome he received from the Zimbabwe football fans.

“When I came for the games at the international break, it was good to see the “Minister of Defence” sing in the crowd. I am sure it was a bit of fun for the fans, but it is nice to have the fans appreciate me and the work that I do for the team,” he said.

Darikwa, who was born in England but qualified to play for Zimbabwe through his father, also spoke of the progress he has made in learning Shona.

“My Shona is something that I am working on with my dad, but it has not been easy. At 27, it is difficult to learn a new language, but it is something that I am determined to do and hopefully in future I will be speaking more Shona in my (future) interviews,” he said.

Asked about his role model in Zimbabwean football, Darikwa pointed to the legendary Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari.

“Peter Ndlovu. When I was very young, he was a very good player for the national team. He had a very good career in England as well.

“But Benjani was the main one for me in my life time growing up here in England. He had a very successful career and scored a lot of goals for the clubs he played for so probably Benjani.”

Darikwa is also looking forward to a successful club career under new manager Martin O’Neil.

O’Neil, a Nottingham Forest legend who won two European Cups with the club in the 1970s, replaced Spanish coach Aitor Karanka two weeks ago.

The Irishman picked up his first win following last Saturday’s 3-1 win over Wigan Athletic.

This came after a 0-1 humbling at the hands of Bristol City in his first match as the club’s new manager.

However, Darikwa is still to play under the new manager having missed both matches through suspension following his red card in the 2-0 loss to Reading in caretaker coach Simon Ireland’s last game on January 12.

A regular under Karanka, Darikwa believes that he will greatly benefit from O Neil’s experience.

“I played a lot of games under the previous manager. That was good for me. Now he is gone and Martin O’Neil has come in. Hopefully, I can do the same under him. He is a Forest legend and I am sure he will do well for us and get us up the league as quickly as possible.”

He added that he is generally happy with his performance this season, but believes that his team, which moved ninth place following Saturday’s victory, could have performed better.

“My season so far has been ok. I have played a lot of games this season. So from my personal point of view, I am happy. I enjoy playing games so that’s good. For the team, we are a bit disappointed with our position in the league. But we still have a lot of games to play and a lot of points to play for. Hopefully, we can improve,” said Darikwa.

Source : The Herald

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