Senior Sports Reporter
ENGLISH Premiership football side Aston Villa have struck a deal with ZIFA which could see the midfielder missing the Warriors training camp at home and possibly flying directly to Cameroon for the 2021 AFCON tournament.
Nakamba, who is enjoying newly-found form under new manager Steven Gerrard, has been the mainstay of the Aston Villa midfield in their last few games.
Villa, who have since risen to mid-table after winning three of their last four games, with Nakamba getting the plaudits for his top-notch performances in all the four matches.
And Gerrard now feels he is indispensable and would want to have him through the Christmas and New Year fixtures.
ZIFA had wanted him back home when the Warriors begin camp around December 23, ahead of the team’s scheduled departure for Cameroon one week later, on December 29.
The ZIFA general manager responsible for national teams, Wellington Mpandare, told The Herald that Villa have approached the association with a special request.
Mpandare, who is also the Warriors team manager, said the English Premiership side indicated they wanted Nakamba’s services for the Boxing Day clash with Chelsea and for the trips to Leeds and Brentford between December 28 and January 2.
“Villa have written to us asking for special favours regarding the release of Nakamba. They requested that Nakamba remains with their team for their EPL games and then they will release him on January 3.
“We looked into the matter and weighed the pros and cons. The fact that he will be playing competitive football at that level means a lot.
“It’s because he is doing well at the moment and we also want him to bring his best form to the national team. So we agreed to their request and Marve (Nakamba) will be joining the camp a bit later,” said Mpandare.
Most of the Warriors players may not have time with their families for the Christmas holidays this year as they are expected to begin camp around December 23.
“We have not stopped planning. All the logistics are being taken care of, the hotel bookings and the air tickets bookings with airlines.
“The original plan was to begin camp earlier, around December 15. But then if you look at the South African Premiership calendar, where most of our players are based, most of the teams will wind up business on December 22 for the Christmas holidays.
“Some have games on December 23. So we can only start camp either on December 23 or the day after because time is not on our side.”
The Warriors, however, are likely to face many challenges ahead of the tournament.
Currently the ZIFA board, which should be driving the preparations for the upcoming campaign, is suspended.
The board was suspended before they had appointed the coach to take the national team at the tournament following the expiry of Norman Mapeza’s short-term contract last month.
The leadership vacuum in the coaching department has created problems for the preparations. Mapeza held the fort in the last four 2022 World Cup qualifying matches following the sacking of under-performing expatriate coach, Zdravko Logarusic.
But he has since vacated the office to concentrate on his club duties at FC Platinum. Still, the association submitted Mapeza’s name to CAF in the provisional delegation requested by CAF by the November 15 deadline.
There are high hopes Mapeza will continue with the team in Cameroon despite the chaos preceding their fifth appearance at the tournament. Former Zimbabwe captain Benjani Mwaruwari is also tipped to bounce back in the fold. Zimbabwe have to be in Cameroon at least by January 5, 2022, when CAF will start footing the bills for the participating teams.
ZIFA were hoping to set up a training base in Cameroon or one of the neighbouring countries in Central or West Africa, with the hope of engaging in friendly matches against some of the AFCON participating teams.
“That was the plan. Camping in Yaoundé seems better than in Bafoussam, where we will play our first two matches. But now it’s impossible to conclude anything without the coach’s input.
“So in the meantime we wait for the coaches appointments while doing all the other necessary groundwork,” said Mpandare. Zimbabwe are in Group B at the tournament along with Malawi, Senegal and Guinea. The Warriors will play their first two group matches against Senegal and Malawi at Kouekong Stadium in Bafoussam on January 10 and January 14.
Zimbabwe and Malawi will be resident at a hotel which is 70 km from the match venue, something which ZIFA and the Football Association of Malawi said was not ideal for the players. The Warriors will then transfer to Yaoundé for the final group match against Guinea on January 18 at the Ahmadou Ahidjo stadium.