When Marvelous Nakamba signed for Aston Villa last year, a refreshing wave of joy swept across our football community.
Even some Zimbabweans, who ordinarily don’t really care so much about football, found themselves celebrating the midfielder’s multi-million dollar move.
It was an irresistibly feel-good story for all of us — a boy born in a poor family in Hwange using his football talent to go all the way and land a deal with an English Premiership side.
He told us how his mother had to tirelessly work in South Africa, just for him to get a pair of football boots, when he was growing up, to continue pursuing his dream to one day be a professional footballer.
Now, with an estimated pay package of about £55 000 a week at Villa, life had come full circle for Nakamba, and his family, and they didn’t need to worry about money anymore.
For us, as a nation, there were even some bigger stories.
His rise had provided a model, to thousands, if not millions, of kids growing up in poor families in this country that, with hard work and focus, it was possible for them to change their plight.
Many of them dream of becoming professional footballers, seduced by the lifestyles of the rich and famous stars they see on television, or read about in the newspapers.
And, in Nakamba, a humble fellow from Hwange, they had found a perfect model that, should they pursue their dreams, despite their challenges, they could one day reach the very top.
They could, one day, play against some of the finest footballers in the world like Paul Pogba, whom Nakamba was marking on Thursday night, and the rest of these elite athletes.
They could also transform the plight of their families, like Nakamba is doing, having built his parents a house back home in Zimbabwe and setting up a number of business ventures for them to explore.
Crucially, they could also transform their communities, like Nakamba has been doing, through the establishment of his football school to give scores of budding footballers a chance, and the proper training and facilities, to develop themselves.
For us as a nation, it felt good to realise that the production line of footballers good enough to play in a top league like the English Premiership, did not have to end with Benjani Mwaruwari.
We have always derived a lot of pride, as a country, that in the infancy of the English Premiership, the first African footballer to play in that league was a Zimbabwean.
Peter Ndlovu, the former inspirational captain of our Warriors, got that honour in August 1992, when he featured for Coventry City in the second week of that league championship campaign.
In doing so, he opened the doors for scores of other African footballers, like Jay Jay Okocha, Tony Yeboah, Lucas Radebe and Didier Drogba to come into the EPL and establish themselves as legends.
We have always derived a lot of pride, as a country, that when the EPL was in its infancy, the only two African footballers on the roaster of some of its clubs were Zimbabweans — Ndlovu and goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar.
That the man we affectionately call “Jungleman,” went on to become the most successful African footballer, among those who played in England, has always given us some bragging rights.
Six league titles with Liverpool, a European Cup winners’ medal, three FA Cup winners’ medals and three League Cup winners’ medals, represents an amazing success story for Grobbelaar.
The other reason why there was a lot of excitement, throughout the country, when Nakamba made the grade to play in the EPL was that we all believed that, playing under some of the best managers in the game and against some of the best footballers, would help lift the level of our midfield star another notch.
That would be good news for our national team which can only benefit from the exposure that it can derive from some of its leading players regularly playing at a very high level of the game.
With Tino Kadewere also causing waves in French football, and moving to giants Olympic Lyon, after winning the Golden Boot in League 2 at Le Havre, this was exactly what our national team needed — its stars playing at this top level.
However, with Nakamba appearing to have lost his place in the Villa first XI, and his club seemingly destined for relegation from the EPL, the excitement, which initially greeted his move, appears to be fading across the country.
The optimism we had, that Nakamba could use Villa as a platform to showcase his talent and even move to a bigger, and better club, has gradually been fading and is now being replaced by a cloud of pessimism amid a flurry of questions related to his future should Villa be relegated.
One thing for sure is that Villa won’t afford to pay the likes of Nakamba their big wages, should the Birmingham team fall into the Championship, and the club, in an era where the finances of the leading football franchises have been hit hard by the Covid-19 outbreak, will have to make some tough decisions.
It could mean parting ways with some of their big earners, like Nakamba, and that would be a huge setback in the career of a footballer we have, as a nation, taken to our hearts.
It’s a difficult time for Nakamba and his team and we can only hope that they pull off the Great Escape because we have a lot to benefit, as a nation, should he continue to play in the EPL.