Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ZIMBABWE international midfielder Marvelous Nakamba is enduring a very frustrating spell at Belgian football champions Club Brugge amid reports his relationship with his Croatian coach Ivan Leko has been severely strained in recent weeks.
Nakamba, a regular member of the Warriors who stand on the threshold of reaching the AFCON finals in Egypt later this year, needing at least a point in their final home game against Congo-Brazzaville next month, arrived at Brugge amid a blaze of publicity and helped them win the league.
His handlers said the move was to take him closer to a transfer to one of the Big Four European Leagues — the English Premiership, Bundesliga in Germany, Serie A in Italy or La Liga in Spain — and Nakamba appeared on course to realise his dream.
Strong eye-catching performances in his first games, including in the UEFA Champions League, provoked huge interest in his services across Europe, with English Premiership side West Ham United leading the charge to secure his signature.
But that was as far as things went and Nakamba remains holed up at Club Brugge and, sadly, his relationship with coach Leko has now been severely strained to an extent that the Croatian gaffer is frustrating him with spells on the sidelines.
Nakamba was a first-team regular when he arrived in Belgium from the Netherlands, but things have changed dramatically in the past few weeks and he is now spending more time on the bench.
He was an unused substitute as Club Brugge’s European dreams were shattered last Thursday when they slumped to a 0-4 hammering at the hands of Austrian side RB Salzburg in the second leg of their Europa tie to bow out 2-5 on aggregate.
They had won the first leg 2-1 in Belgium, but the return leg was virtually over in the first half in which RB Salzburg raced to a 3-0 lead with Zambian forward Patrick Daka scoring twice during that blitzkrieg.
That the towering influence that Nakamba provides, both defensively and offensively, was lacking in that demolition job by the Austrians, was there for everyone to see.
But that wasn’t just a one-off decision by the coach to relegate the Zimbabwean to the bench.
This appears to have become the norm at Club Brugge as Nakamba was also an unused substitute when Club Brugge thumped Genk 3-1 on February 17 in a league match.
He was also an unused substitute when they beat RB Salzburg 2-1 in the first leg of their Europa League tie in Belgium.
Nakamba was also left to watch the entire match against Cercle Brugge in a domestic contest which ended 2-2.
He was sent off in the 2-1 win over Oostende after picking a second yellow card in the 90th minute while in the matches against Sporting Charleroi, PSV Eindhoven and Lokeren he started, but was pulled out in the second half in all three games.
His last full game was against Antwerp on December 23, last year.
In fact, Nakamba also started yesterday’s top-of-the-table league match against Anderlecht on the bench.
“Marvelous is not happy right now because he doesn’t know exactly what is happening around him and why suddenly he can’t make the team,” a source told The Herald.
“It’s a frustrating period for him because he believes he is training well and his form is good, but it appears the coach has other ideas and doesn’t trust him to deliver.
“It’s a shock to everyone associated with the team because just a few months ago he was the toast of the side and offers were coming from some bigger clubs in England and Italy for his services.”
Former Zimbabwe international Cephas Chimedza, who is based in Belgium, said he believes Nakamba will bounce back into the starting XI soon.
“I’m not worried because everyone is saying the team needs him,” said Chimedza.
“Everyone sees he is missed.”
However, it appears there is also a dark side to what is happening to Nakamba.
Interestingly, the player who is being preferred for the position the Zimbabwean plays is also managed by the same agent who takes care of the coach’s affairs.
“In Belgium a lot happens and there have been stories in the background that some players get favours from coaches because they pay back a certain commission for being given a chance to play,” sources said.
Nakamba has also not helped his cause by not agreeing to extend his present contract.
His coach is also a controversial character and in October last year, he was one of the 28 people arrested in pre-dawn raids by the police in Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro.
Player agents, referees, club officials and a lawyer were also nabbed in that operation amid investigations into corruption involving conspiracy to conceal illicit commissions and manipulate the transfer market.
Seven were formally charged.
Leko, the Club Brugge coach, spent a night in police custody before being questioned by a judge and released without charge.
However, he remained under suspicion of money laundering.
Nine Belgian clubs were accused of being part of those corrupt activities.