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Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE international forward Nyasha Mushekwi says he is ready for competition after his Chinese Super League side splashed US$22.65 million on former Napoli skipper, Marek Hamsik, who left the Italian giants after smashing Diego Maradona’s all-time club goal-scoring record.
Dalian Yifang had been linked with a move for Atletico Madrid star Diego Costa, but eventually settled for Hamsik who brought the curtain down on his 12-year romance with Napoli in which he made a club record 520 appearances and scored a club record 121 goals.
When Hamsik scored his 122nd goal for Napoli two years ago, he broke the record set by the immortal Maradona, which had stood for 26 years, with the Argentine superstar having scored 121 goals by the time he left the Serie A giants.
Hamsik also holds the record for most appearances for his country, Slovakia, for whom he has played 111 times, and getting the honour of captaining his nation at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.
He arrived at Napoli in 2007 and spent 12 years at the club, including captaining the team last season, and helping them win the Coppa Italia twice, the Supercoppa Italia and reaching the semi-finals of the UEFA Europa League while, regularly, playing in the Champions League.
A special talent, Hamsik has also been voted the Slovakia Footballer of the Year six times, he was the Serie A Young Footballer of the Year in 2008, and made the Serie A Team of the Year in 2011, 2-16 and 2017 while in 2015 he also made the UEFA Europa League Team of the Season.
Six years ago, Bloomberg named him the eighth best footballer in European football and Napoli have told him he will be allowed to return to the team should he decide to come back for one farewell stint.
Hamsik will earn around US$10 million a year at Dalian Yifang after signing a three-year deal to play for the ambitious Chinese Super League side.
He made his debut on Sunday in a 1-1 draw away at Henan Jianye as the new Chinese Super League campaign exploded into life at the weekend.
Belgian World Cup star, Yannick Carrasco, who stayed at Dalian Yifang despite huge interest in his services from many European heavyweight clubs, including Inter Milan, scored the equaliser in added time.
Mushekwi missed the game after failing to recover from a fever that struck him during the week and this meant he could not repeat his heroics, against the same side, in August last year when he scored twice for Dalian Yifang in a 2-1 win.
Those goals came during a red-hot spell for the Zimbabwe international forward, who eventually ended as the leading goal-scorer at the club last season, with Mushekwi having also scored three times, the previous week, against Guangzhou R&F.
Ironically, Dalian Yifang’s next match is against Guangzhou R&F and Mushekwi is confident he will be fine for that match after he was pulled out of Sunday’s opener as a precaution.
‘‘I had a fever this past week,’’ Mushekwi told The Herald from his base in China.
‘‘I didn’t recover in time for this game but it was a good point gained for us. I’m okay now and the next game I should be in contention to play.
‘‘We have brought in Hamsik and a young player from Ghana (Emmanuel Okyere Boateng) who used to play for Levante in the Spanish La Liga.
‘‘It’s all about competing for places and it’s good for the team because everyone has to work hard to make the squad and let’s see how it turns out.’’
Boateng, who turns 23 on May 23 this year, featured for Levante from 2007 and scored seven goals in 41 appearances for the team and also represented his country at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
He was thrown straight into battle on Sunday, playing in Mushekwi’s place as the spearhead of the team’s attack, while Hamski was just behind with both newboys completing 90 minutes of action but failing to get a goal.
Dalian Yifang are also under a new coach, South Korean gaffer Choi Kang-Hee who replaced German coach Bernd Schuster, the man who masterminded the team’s survival last year.
Schuster had arrived at Dalian Yifang with an impressive CV after managing Spanish giants Real Madrid, Getafe, Levante, Malaga, Shakhtar Donetsk, and Besiktas in Turkey and invested a lot of trust in Mushekwi to lead the Dalian Yifang attack.
The Zimbabwe international had been over looked by the coach who started Dalian Yifang’s campaign in the Chinese Super League last year but the arrival of Schuster dramatically changed his fortunes with the Zimbabwe international forward finding his goal-scoring touch.
His new coach, Kang-Hee, was named the 2016 Asian Coach of the Year while he also won the South Korean top-flight league, K-League 1, Manager of the Year in 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.
The 59-year-old gaffer had two spells at South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, between 2005 and 2011, and between 2013 and 2018 while, in 2012, he was in charge of his national team.
Mushekwi, one of the players likely to feature in the Warriors squad for the final 2019 AFCON qualifier against Congo-Brazzaville on March 24, underwent a delicate career-defining surgery in the Spanish capital Madrid in November last year.
The surgery was conducted by a team of specialist Spanish doctors and came just a few days before the Warriors plunged into a key battle in Monrovia, Liberia, in their 2019 AFCON campaign.
Needing just a draw, to qualify for the next AFCON finals, the Warriors misfired terribly and went down 0-1 in that match.
The surgery also came just a few days after another wave of speculative and highly toxic reports emerged in local newspapers that the big forward was faking injury to keep himself out of the Warriors campaign.
Mushekwi has maintained he will always be available to play for his country, as long as he is fit to do so, and the coaches believe he could add value to the team.