EDITORIAL COMMENT: ZIFA should monitor diaspora talent
THERE has been a remarkable increase in the number of budding players with Zimbabwean heritage making movements within the development structures of the England Football Association recently.
Some of these budding players have even been given contracts by clubs in the English Premiership and are on the verge of playing first team football in one of the world’s most challenging leagues.
Due to the migration trends experienced over the last two to three decades, a considerable number of young players making their way up in the English FA structures were either born or raised in that country.
Some of them have represented England at youth level but are still available for a future with Zimbabwe through their parentage, if they choose to or if the opportunity arises.
In the last month alone, the Zimbabwean football fraternity had their eyes opened to a highly promising midfielder, Trey Nyoni, who was signed by English Premiership giants Liverpool, with a lot of positive reviews around him.
He is only 16-years-old and will be playing in the Reds Under-18 side, having shown so much promise from a young age at Leicester City.
A few weeks later, Tawanda Chirewa (19) was unveiled by Wolverhampton Wanderers, where he was immediately drafted into their Under-21s and made his debut during the just-ended week.
These two are among a dozen young footballers with Zimbabwean heritage that have signed professional contracts with the English Premiership sides and have been registered for the current season.
Nyoni is joined at Liverpool by defender Isaac Mabaya who was handed his first England Under-18 call up last year following his fast rise in the Reds’ development structures. He is also tipped to become one of Liverpool’s success stories just as the other stars before him like Trent Alexander-Arnold. He has been at Liverpool from a tender age of six years.
Chirewa, as well, is not the only Zimbabwean at Wolves. There is also Leon Chiwome, who last year was named on the list of Guardian’s Next Generation, which features 20 of the best upcoming young players in the English Premiership.
The 17-year-old was also targeted by the England selectors for the UEFA Under-17 EURO championship. Sixteen-year-old Joshua Nyakudya was also registered by Wolves.
The long list of young players with Zimbabwean heritage registered by the EPL clubs this season also includes Newcastle United youngster Michael Ndiweni, West Ham’s Sean Tarima, Thierry Alfred Farai Katsukunya of Aston Villa, Brentford goalkeeper Marley Tavaziva, Burnley’s Vernon Masara, and Matthew Kudakwashe Takawira, who plays for Luton Town’s development side.
Many other young players of Zimbabwean descent, under the age of 20 years, are spread across all levels of the English football system; the likes of Tawanda Maswanhise (Leicester City), Ethan Kachosa (Sunderland), ex-Watford forward Jimiel Chikukwa, brothers Gerald Sithole of Bolton Wanderers and Ronald Sithole (Gillingham), and Nathan Jeche who signed for Queens Park Rangers this week.
These are some of the prospects that are coming though the English system. There are several of them.
There are also other players like Munashe Garananga (22) who is playing UEFA Champions League with Moldovan outfit FC Sheriff Tiraspol.
But the big question is, does ZIFA have in place plans to integrate these youngsters in the future to give the Warriors a boost? Some of them have never stepped on Zimbabwean soil. Some have openly declared their availability for Zimbabwe in future while others are yet to make a decision.
But this is a good chance for Zimbabwe to boost the Warriors in the next few years, considering the lack of proper development systems back home.
Grassroots development has been neglected for years by the authorities at ZIFA and the nation had private academies like Aces Youth Soccer Academy (AYSA), Bantu Rovers, DC Academy, Sprouting and a few others to thank for producing most of the players that fed the national team in the last few years.
But without financial support and lack of infrastructure, these academies have been struggling to operate effectively, the same way AYSA did when they produced the likes of Knowledge Musona and Khama Billiat or Bantu Rovers when they churned out the likes of Marvelous Nakamba and Teenage Hadebe.
So looking north could be an option as Zimbabwean football looks to reboot after years of mismanagement and the recent FIFA suspension. Soon, most of the diaspora players will be in their early 20s. ZIFA should take an active interest in these youngsters.
It’s unfortunate that corruption had almost killed the link between ZIFA and the diaspora after the sad revelations that some senior officials at ZIFA in the past demanded bribes from the diaspora players to be able to play for Zimbabwe.
But as Zimbabwean football gets ready to start afresh, the net should be spread far and wide and even consider the diaspora players for the junior national team assignments such as COSAFA and Youth AFCON.
ZIFA need to compile a database. Some African nations have tried this with great success. Morocco, the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-finals, had 14 of the 26 footballers in their FIFA World Cup 2022 squad that were born in another country.
Senegal have long been reaping the rewards from the quality in their diaspora in France.
Numerous players have benefitted from French football’s world-class youth development system. Kalidou Koulibaly, for instance, is the son of a factory worker from a partly Senegalese town in the French Vosges.
Koulibaly played for French national youth teams before being persuaded by Cissé to choose Senegal. Most of them grew up between two cultures while others were shipped to the youth academies in France at an early age.
Goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, Nampalys Mendy, Bouna Junior Sarr, Abdou Diallo are just but some of the several France-born players in the current squad that just won the AFCON tournament.
Going forward, Zimbabwe could choose to take the same route. They have tried it with the “British Brigade” which saw players like Tendayi Darikwa, Brendon Galloway, Kundayi Benyu, Jordan Zemura and Alec Mudimu coming back home to represent their mother country.
With the proliferation of promising young Zimbabwean talent in Europe, the local football authorities have to take notice and do what is best for the country. Zimbabwe can also tap into the diaspora talent, just like the likes of Morocco and Senegal. The ball is in ZIFA’s court.