Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
THE Zimbabwe Warriors’ rising stock isn’t going unnoticed in world football, with highly-rated defensive midfielder Marshall Munetsi benefiting immensely from his excellent performances for the national team by moving to the French Ligue 1.
This could be a springboard into Europe’s Big Four Leagues — the English Premiership, Spanish La Liga, Italian Serie A and German Bundesliga.
The 22-year-old has transformed himself into one of the pillars of this generation of Warriors and his big frame, talent and athleticism have always marked him out as a player who was likely to break into Europe.
Described by his coach Sunday Chidzambwa as a dream player every gaffer would like to have in his team because of his impressive disciplinary record and a stable lifestyle where he prefers to live in the shadows than in the limelight of social media pages, Munetsi penned a four-year deal with Stade Reims. Although he only started in 14 league matches for Soweto giants Orlando Pirates last season, Munetsi was a colossus in the Warriors’ midfield as the team’s successful 2019 AFCON qualifying tale, which saw them winning in Kinshasa against the Democratic Republic of Congo, caught the eyes of the global football world.
“I came here as a young boy, but now I leave as a man,’’ Munetsi said as he waved goodbye to the Sea Robbers.
“I would also like to thank the coaches, my teammates and, most importantly, the fans of this wonderful club for all the love and support they’ve shown me. As I turn the page to a new chapter in my football career, I look forward to the new challenge this presents, but as I move forward, I can never forget my roots . . . Once a Pirate Always a Pirate!“I fell in love with football. To come to Europe was a childhood dream of mine, today it is my biggest achievement and it is up to me now to ensure that more like it follow.”
Pirates also confirmed the departure of the utility man.
“Orlando Pirates Football Club can officially confirm the transfer of Marshall Munetsi to Stade de Reims,” the club said on their official website.
“With this move, the Zimbabwean international becomes the second Pirates player this season to move overseas following Lyle Foster’s transfer to Monaco earlier this year.’’
Reims also tweeted, “Welcome @MarshallMunetsi.’’
The club used to be one of the powerhouses of French football, providing the country with some of its best players in Raymond Kopa, Just Fontaine, Robert Jonquet, Roger Marche, Dominique Colonna and Armand Penverne, who played huge roles in helping France reach the semi-finals of the ’58 World Cup.
But, although they won six league titles and two Couple de France during those golden days, they have fallen from the top table of French football in the past few decades and only returned to the top-flight league in May last year after winning promotion into Ligue 1.
Munetsi, who was also wanted by Belgian side Zulte-Waregem and Major League Soccer team Columbus Crew, is one of the players expected to play a key role for the Warriors at the 2019 AFCON finals in Egypt, where those who shine are likely to attract the interests of some European teams.
His imposing physique, the position he plays as a deep-lying midfielder who can explode into the opposition area with devastating effect, ability to carry the ball while also being good in retaking possession, have all combined to create a player with just the physical qualities that top European clubs are always looking for.
That he can play both as a defensive midfielder and also as a centre-back when a coach goes for three at the back means he has the flexibility that many top European coaches need when they are looking for players.
Munetsi and his Warriors teammates have fuelled expectations among millions of their fans that they could — for the first time in their history — clear the first hurdle at the AFCON finals by, at least, making it out of the group stages following their strong show in the qualifiers.
In Harare this evening, the Warriors’ fundraising committee will host a fundraising function at Cresta Lodge where President Mnangagwa is expected to be the guest of honour.
The committee is seeking to raise US$500 000.
Acting Minister of Youth, Sport, Arts and Recreation Kazembe Kazembe chairs the committee, with businessman Kudakwashe Tagwirei and ZIFA board member Philemon Machana being the two vice-chairmen.
Other members of the committee are Transport and Infrastructure Development Minister Joel Biggie Matiza, Minister of Industry and Commerce Nqobizitha Ndlovu, businessman Emmerson Mnangagwa (Junior), Zimpapers chief executive Pikirayi Deketeke, ZIFA board member Sugar Chagonda, NetOne chief executive Lazarus Muchenje, business executive Divine Ndlukula and Chipo Mtasa and Sports Commission officials.
Committee spokesperson Eve Gadzikwa yesterday said they were excited and ready for today’s high-profile event where a table of 10 will be going for $5 000.
“Judging by the amount of interest from the corporate world and the public at large, it’s all promising to be an oversubscribed event,’’ she said.
“It’s the first major ceremony for the committee since it was appointed by His Excellency President Mnangagwa in May.
“We are, indeed, urging and inviting all stakeholders to come on board and support our Warriors. We will soon be rolling out a number of activities as part of the national public relations campaign as we rally support for our national squad. There will be replica jerseys, road shows and fan parks dotted around the country.’’
Yesterday, reports that Ghanaian authorities were seeking US$15 million to cover their AFCON costs triggered widespread debate across the continent.
The Federation of Uganda Football Associations were last year allocated 10 billion Uganda shillings (about US$2,660 million) by their Government which included funding for the Cranes, who are in the same group as the Warriors, with the team getting 2 billion Uganda shillings (about US$533 320) from President Yoweri Museveni for qualifying for the 2019 AFCON finals.
The Kenyans came up with a budget of 244 million Kenyan shillings (about US$2,408 million), which also included a US$500 000 bonus for qualifying for the 2019 AFCON finals.