Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter
ZIMBABWEAN football is poised for a major boost as a delegation led by Spanish footballer Rayco Garcia, which includes Dutch legends Patrick Kluivert and Edgar Davids, touched down in Harare last night on an historic visit.
The European stars are expected to meet President Mugabe, First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe, Sport and Recreation Minister Makhosini Hlongwane, as well as ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa.
Kluivert famously scored the winner in the 1995 UEFA Champions League final for Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam against AC Milan as a teenager.
He spent six years with Barcelona where he formed a deadly attacking combination with Brazilian great Rivaldo and scored 124 goals in 249 appearances for the Catalan giants.
The forward also starred for the Dutch national team with 40 goals in 79 appearances and remains the third highest scorer in the iconic orange shirt.
He was the Golden Boot winner at Euro 2000 with five goals and also had a stint with AC Milan. Recently he was the football director at French giants Paris Saint-Germain who shocked the globe by paying a staggering world record fee for Brazilian star Neymar.
‘’I have been to many parts of Africa but it’s my first time in Zimbabwe,’’ Kluivert told reporters on arrival at Harare International Airport.
‘’It feels good, it feels good to be with my brothers.’’ It’s also the first visit by his Dutch colleague Davids, one of the greatest midfielders of all-time, who featured for Barcelona, Juventus, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Ajax Amsterdam.
He was capped 74 times by the Dutch and won three league titles at home before lifting three league titles with Italian giants Juventus.
Davids was named by World Soccer Magazine as one of the 100 Greatest Footballers of All-time. Spanish footballer Garcia has been to other African countries such as Tanzania and Uganda where he planned to set up football academies.
The visiting crew are the guests of the Minister of Sport Makhosini Hlongwane, who has facilitated the visit, and their programme will see them discussing football development in this country.
The domestic football family is expected to draw a lot from the expertise of the Dutch legends and their Spanish counterpart in what is a landmark visit to this country.
In a brief statement Deputy Director in the Ministry of Sport and Recreation, Richard Runyararo Mahomva, said the visit will create synergies in sport development in the country.
“The Ministry of Sport and Recreation is pleased to announce that Rayco Garcia and his erstwhile counterparts in FC Barcelona Patrick Kluivert and Edgar Davids will be in Zimbabwe this evening (yesterday),’’ the statement said.
“It is also a pleasure that Garcia, Kluivert and Davids are also bringing signed souvenirs jerseys by Lionel Messi for His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Cde R Gabriel Mugabe and Her Excellency, Dr Amai Grace Mugabe.
“Garcia and team are also expected to meet with the President of ZIFA, Philip Chiyangwa.
“Moreover, this delegation is also expected to discuss prospects of the soccer development with the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Honourable Makhosini Hlongwane.
‘’The visit coincides with the Government’s adoption of the Community Sport and Recreation club system which envisages the realisation of the ongoing initiative of establishing eight thousand soccer clubs across the country.
“This comes at a time Government is putting in place efforts to lobby for strategic international partnerships to assist Zimbabwe in setting up high performance academies as well as complementing other Government initiatives already in place to promote talent identification and development.
“The visit is crucial as it rightfully resides in the ethos of the Ministry of Sport and Recreation’s Sport Diplomacy Programme.
‘’Moreover, this momentous visit by Garcia, Kluivert and Davids sets in a new precedence in terms of how soccer becomes contextually sensitive to the country’s accommodation for interfaces aimed at promoting the development of the sport and recreation sector. This follows the visit to Zimbabwe by FIFA president Gianni Infantino early this year.’’
Zimbabwe football has been on a rebound after years of decline thanks, in part, to the spirited efforts of ZIFA boss Chiyangwa and his management team and a Sports Minister who has demanded that the national game transform itself into a winning discipline.
The Warriors ended more than a decade of waiting for a dance at the Nations Cup finals when they took part in the showcase in January this year where they were the only Southern African nation to feature at the festival.
The Mighty Warriors also made history by playing at the Olympic Games in Brazil while the Warriors also powered to glory in the COSAFA Castle Cup this year.
After years of struggles in the CAF Champions League by local teams, CAPS United dumped five-time African champions TP Mazembe to qualify for the group stages, for the first time in the Green Machine history, where they crushed Egyptian giants Zamalek 3-1 in one of their matches.
Chiyangwa, who was in South Africa yesterday, revealed that ZIFA will this year honour some of the football leaders who have led the Association.
‘’We will honour some of those who have led ZIFA in the past when we hold our meeting of the Councillors to thank them for the contribution they have made to the game and we will also assign some of them to roles in football on the continent,’’ said Chiyangwa.
‘’Leo Mugabe, the former ZIFA chairman, is one of those that we will honour at that meeting.’’
Chiyangwa also said his Association will honour those who have stood by them since they took office, notably PHD Ministries leader and Yadah Stars owner Prophet Walter Magaya, for the big role he has played in helping the national game stand on its feet again.