Grace Chingoma Senior Sports Reporter—
RONALDINHO, Rivaldo, Edmilson, Mendieta, Edgar Davids and Patrick Kluivert are coming to town and, if you are a football fan, it doesn’t get any bigger than that. Brace yourselves for a date of a lifetime and it’s happening in November this year. The Barcelona legends side — featuring some of the greatest football stars to have graced the game — is expected in Zimbabwe in November for a high-profile match.
The tour of the Barca legends was revealed yesterday when the skipper of that collection of players, Dutch forward Patrick Kluivert, led a delegation that met Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in the capital.
Kluivert and his Dutch counterpart Edgar Davids, who also starred for Barcelona, are in the country in the company of Spaniard Rayco Garcia, the representative of the legends, to tie the loose ends of the proposed blockbuster match.
The trio are the guests of the Minister of Sport and Recreation, Makhosini Hlongwane, who facilitated the visit, which will also see them discussing football development in the country.
And yesterday the delegation made headway when they briefed Mnangagwa before they went into a final meeting with Hlongwane to work out on the finer details of the deal, which will see the country witness live some of the world’s greatest players such as Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, who once donned that famous Barcelona shirt.
And to set the tone for the upcoming match, the legends yesterday presented personalised Barcelona shirts, which were signed by all the club’s players to President Mugabe.
A special jersey, inscribed Amai, was also given to the First Lady Amai Grace Mugabe.
Mnangagwa will present the jerseys of the First Family.
Hlongwane was handed the Number 9 shirt which used to be donned by Kluivert, one of the best strikers of his generation, while Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Walter Mzembi was also given a Barcelona shirt.
Kluivert said the game was important for the country, which has often been viewed in negative light abroad.
“Mr Vice President, thank you again for having us here. On behalf of Barcelona Legends, we would love to have a discussion and pursue the game we have in our mind. We did a lot of games in Africa and it was a great success. And I think, also regarding the situation of Zimbabwe in Europe, I think personally, and what I hear in the surroundings, Zimbabwe is a great country, I think that has been ruled very good, but it has a bad (image) in Europe.
“Regarding this match, if Barcelona Legends can play the Warriors or legends of Zimbabwe, it will give Zimbabwe a very good day and I think it is essential to have the game played in one of the most beautiful stadium.
“We visited the stadium this morning (National Sports Stadium) and if we can bring 60 000 people into the stadium with the best coverage that we can have for the game, I think that is very essential for Zimbabwe,” said Kluivert.
Garcia added that the exposure of being associated with such players, who recently played against Manchester United Legends in a high-profile show, will also boost the country’s profile.
“It is a pleasure for us to be here and thanks to all of you for giving us this opportunity. This is very important for the country, important for the youths,’’ he said.
“We are here to promote Zimbabwe, internationally, it has a big potential and many people don’t know it.
“I think there is a big market outside waiting for you and we are ready to use our team as the best platform to reach those that didn’t have any information about this country, of course, there is a lot information which should reach Europe, not only bad information.
“I insist that this is a wonderful country and since I have been here, people have received us very well, they are very comfortable with us making pictures and treating us very well.
“We are happy to use all of our players, they have millions of followers in the social media and to use that as a platform to say to the world how beautiful and how good are the people of Zimbabwe.”
Since last year, Garcia and his local representative Tich Mawone, have been pursuing the deal to bring the Spanish club here and had numerous meetings with Hlongwane.
But yesterday it came to fruition when Mnangagwa sealed the deal.
“On behalf of President Robert Mugabe, we are extremely grateful that you have come to Zimbabwe and also that you have agreed to bring the Barcelona Legends to come and play in Zimbabwe.
“I am sure we will need screens outside the stadium, just to know that Barcelona is coming to Zimbabwe, it is a thing that will put this country on fire, I can assure you on that one.
“But, most importantly, is the fact that you are honouring our President Mugabe by giving him your own jerseys is something extremely important.
“I discussed with the President this morning about your business in the country, but because of his commitments, he is unable to see you today (yesterday) and is only able to see you on Tuesday evening even or Wednesday, which is a bit far,” said Mnangagwa.
Davids, one of the greatest midfielders of all-time who featured for Barcelona, Juventus, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Ajax Amsterdam, believes the match will inspire Zimbabwe’s football generation.
“We are happy to be here and we hope we can contribute to the development of football in this country and also be an inspiration to the youths of Zimbabwe,” he said.
Kluivert had kind words for Mzembi, who has been on a massive mission to paint the right image of this country around the world.
“Continue with your job to promote the country, we heard about it,” he said.
And in turn Mzembi assured the former footballers a smooth tournament and told them the country successfully hosted Brazil at the National Sports Stadium in a warm-up match ahead of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.