Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
OFFICIALS from Istanbul Basaksehir, the ambitious club that has dramatically shaken the Turkish football establishment, are part of a group of administrators and agents desperate to watch the Warriors tomorrow night in their opening 2019 AFCON finals match amid a spike in interest in players representing Zimbabwe at this tournament.
Just a day after it was revealed a number of English Premiership sides, including Aston Villa, are chasing the signature of highly-rated midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, it has emerged that a number of officials from Europe, including club representatives and agents, desperately want to have a ring-side view of the Zimbabwean players here tomorrow night.
The Warriors take on hosts and favourites Egypt in the opening match of the 2019 Nations Cup finals at the 80 000-seater Cairo International Stadium tomorrow night and interest in the players, who topped their tough group, beat the Democratic Republic of Congo in Kinshasa and held Nigeria to a draw in a friendly international, has sky-rocketed.
This has seen the Warriors’ team management being bombarded by requests for match tickets, including from European club representatives and agents desperate for a front-row seat for another closer look at the Zimbabwean players and, crucially, how they can stand the heat likely to be provided by the quality of the Pharaohs and the Cairo International Stadium cauldron.
The stock of these Warriors has been rising since they showed remarkable resilience to beat the DRC in their Kinshasa backyard during the qualifiers and picked a point across the Congo River in Brazzaville, in a match they should have won in the first half, in which they dominated the hosts.
That the Warriors finished the campaign with a comfortable three-point cushion at the top of their qualifying group and provided some of the standout individuals — including skipper and top-scorer Knowledge Musona and his partner-in-crime Khama Billiat — has attracted the attention of many club representatives and agents.
It’s been a dramatic few days for the Warriors in their camp as the clock ticks closer to the moment they will face the ultimate test tomorrow, with the Mother of All Battles against the hosts and favourites, who as fate might have scripted, will be marking their emotional homecoming show after years of being cast away to play in Alexandria.
Yesterday, it emerged that:
Warriors’ striker Nyasha Mushekwi is being linked to a possible partnership with Spanish coach Rafa Benitez at Dalian Yifang, amid reports the Newcastle boss has been offered a cool £12 million a year, which will make him the highest paid coach in Asia to take over at the Chinese Super League side.
Skipper Musona, who remains unsettled at his Belgian club Anderlecht, where he just spent half the season before being sent on loan to relegated Lokeren, is generating a lot of interest among possible suitors after his six goals in the AFCON qualifiers caught the eyes of many.
Billiat remains the player the Egyptian journalists and fans like to talk about, especially after his links last year to a possible move to Zamalek before he chose Kaizer Chiefs, and the diminutive forward strikes fear in many of them because they believe he can explode and make a difference.
Reports that Billiat is not yet back to full fitness after suffering a knee injury during the COSAFA Cup, but is expected to make the starting XI tomorrow, has been cheering the locals who believe that if he doesn’t fire at all cylinders, then the Warriors’ mission is next to impossible tomorrow.
The Warriors could be underdogs tomorrow, but they are likely to be supported in a number of areas across Europe — with the communities of Nottingham in England, Wrexham in Wales, Le Havre, in the coastal Normandy north-western region of France and Bruges and Brussels in Belgium, set to be singing in their corner.
There are so many agents and scouts who will be watching and analysing the Warriors’ performance tomorrow night, some good performance by the players could dramatically change their careers with a number of them being poached to play elsewhere.
Representatives of Istanbul Basaksehir are so committed to their move that they want to be very close to the action tomorrow to closely analyse the performances of a number of the Warriors players and they have even be requesting for tickets from the Zimbabwean camp given the match sold-out a more than a month ago.
“The Turkish club want tickets to watch the match because they want to see some of our players in action and see if they can pursue them further,’’ said team manager Wellington Mpandare.
“The requests, not only from them, but from many others who want to be there in the stadium to make their analysis of our guys, has been overwhelming.
“What this shows is that our guys have done very well to attract such massive interest and I think these agents and officials believe that if we could top our group, hold Nigeria in their stadium and do very well against Egypt on Friday, it means that we have very good players.’’
Istanbul Basaksehir might be a young club in Turkish football after being formed in 1990, but they have been shaking the establishment in their country — dominated by the likes of Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas — and finished second in the last championship race behind Galatasaray after leading for long periods.
They have already built a new 17 000-capacity stadium.
Former Manchester City and Arsenal forward Emmanuel Adebayor, Brazilian star Robinho and Demba Ba have been recruited by the club while they also had the muscle to get Turkish star Arda Turan from Barcelona on loan last season.
Now, it appears, they have set their sights on recruiting one of these Warriors here, and if the interest in the services of Sunday Chidzambwa’s men is anything to go by, the Turkish side will have to fight to get their men.