Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
WHEN another English Premiership marathon gets underway tonight, in a battle between its all-time dominant force and its most unlikely of champions, it would be the 21st championship race since Peter Ndlovu left its ranks after having created a piece of history for himself.
Manchester United — who have won a record 13 titles in the era of the English Premiership, after it dumped its old identity as the Division One League — host Leicester City, the Foxes who stunned the world when, against all odds, they found a way to transform themselves into champions two years ago.
The Red Devils were champions in 1997, when King Peter — the first African to play in the English Premiership — made his final appearance in that league back in an era when even Newcastle could compete for honours and finished second in that marathon with Arsenal ending in third place.
Leicester City were also part of the English Premiership that season and finished ninth while Coventry City finished just a place, and point, above relegation trouble with Sunderland, Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest getting the chop during Ndlovu’s swansong Premiership campaign.
But, even though 21 years have passed since King Peter graced those Premiership fields in England, the impact that he made during his spell at Coventry — which saw him attracting the attention of Liverpool and Arsenal — is still being felt up to this day with the footprints, which his magical left feet, still being visible.
It’s a measure of Ndlovu’s quality that hardly a season of the English Premiership passes without his name being mentioned and that he made such an enduring impact, while playing for a modest football club like Coventry City, confirms he was, indeed, a class act.
A lot has changed since the days when the Flying Elephant was still part of the stars of the English Premiership.
The league has transformed itself into the most watched sports league in the world, dwarfing every other league in any other sport, as it is broadcast in 212 territories and, when Manchester United and Leicester get the marathon underway tonight, the game is likely to be seen in more than 640 million homes.
When you bring in those who watch the match in sports bars and other places, the English Premiership now has a potential TV audience of about 4.7 billion.
And it has become a money-making machine.
Central payments for the 2016–17 season amounted to £2,398,515,773 across its 20 clubs who make up its membership with each team receiving a flat participation fee of £35,301,989.
France, who won the World Cup in Russia recently, took home $38 million but West Bromwich Albion, who finished bottom of the English Premiership in the last season after winning just six matches, took home a $45 million participation fee, seven million more than the world champions.
Then, there is also the additional payments for television broadcasts (£1,016,690 for general UK rights to match highlights, £1,136,083 for each live UK broadcast of their games and £39,090,596 for all overseas rights) and commercial rights (a flat fee of £4,759,404) that also come into the coffers of the clubs.
There is also a fee based on final league position, £1,941,609 multiplied by each finishing place, counted from the foot of the table, which means that a team like Burnley which finished in 16th place last year, received 5 × £1,941,609 = £9,708,045 merit payment.
Peter’s Coventry might have disappeared down the football league ladder where they are struggling in the backwaters of English football but they are one of 49 clubs that have had the privilege of playing in the English Premiership.
Only six of those clubs, led by Manchester United with their 13 league championship titles, have been crowned champions since 1992 with Chelsea in second place with five titles, Arsenal in third place with three titles, the same as Manchester City, while Leicester City and Blackburn Rovers have won one title each.
United manager Jose Mourinho is the only manager, still in the English Premiership, with more than one title given that his collection of three titles matches that of Arsene Wenger, who left at the end of last season, while Sir Alex Fergsuon leads the way with 13 titles.
For all the money that has rolled into the English Premiership, and all the stars who have graced the league, they haven’t forgotten the boy who arrived from Bulawayo and turned the league on its head with his bag of skills.
And, this week, one of the players inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame, Gary Neville, the former Manchester United captain who is now a television pundit with SkySports, remembered the Flying Elephant.
Neville hosted Irishman, Robbie Keane, on his show, Gary Neville Soccerbox, where he takes his guests down memory lane of their time in the English Premiership and, during the course of their discussion, the spotlight fell on King Peter.
Keane is a former striker of Coventry City and Neville, who won eight league titles, three FA Cups, three League Cups, two Champions League titles and one Intercontinental title with United, remembered the day when Peter gave him a roasting at Highfield Road.
‘’I went to Highfield road and my first game there was against Peter Ndlovu, remember him?’’ Neville asked Keane during the television show, with the Irishman, who went on to play for Tottenham and Liverpool, saying he remembered the Flying Elephant, of course.
‘’He destroyed me, absolutely destroyed me,’’ said Neville, in glowing tribute to the way King Peter made their match-up a mismatch that day when the Flying Elephant scored one in Coventry City’s 2-3 defeat to United whose goals came from Paul Scholes and a double by Andy Cole.
‘’You think about Coventry, big crowd and great ground.’’
Coventry City have not forgotten their talisman from Bulawayo, either and, on the occasion of his 42nd birthday, three years ago, the club paid a special tribute to Peter on their official website.
‘’Coventry City legend Peter Ndlovu is celebrating his 42nd birthday today and to honour him we have given you a chance to relieve some of his best Sky Blue goals,’’ the club said.
‘’Ndlovu scored 43 times in 176 appearances for City between 1991 and 1997, often in crucial games and often spectacularly. He was nicknamed ‘Nuddy’ by the Sky Blue Army who took the Zimbabwe international to their hearts.
‘’On Wednesday August 21st he became the first African player to play in the Premier League, paving the way for the likes of Yaya Toure, Kanu and Finidi George that have followed him.
‘’We start with not just one goal but three as he turned on the style at one of the most famous grounds in football.
Vs Liverpool (Hat-trick) — March 14th, 1995
‘’Some people would be daunted going into a tough away trip to Anfield. But not Ndlovu. He fired a hat-trick, the first by a visiting player since 1961, as City earned a famous win. His first goal was a real poachers’ effort, arriving at the back post and firing past David James. His second was a confidently taken penalty. But his last goal was something special. Picking the ball up from halfway he slalomed his way through the Liverpool defence before unleashing an unstoppable strike that drew applause from the Kop end.
Vs Aston Villa, September 28th, 1991
‘’In one of his first games for the club, Ndlovu became an instant hero as he scored the only goal of a passionate Midlands derby against the Villa. There did not seem to be much on when he picked the ball up, but his trademark dribbling offered him a sight at goal and he smashed the ball into the corner with the outside of his foot, sending Highfield Road into raptures.
Vs Arsenal, September 7th, 1991
‘’City made a habit of winning at Highbury in the early 90’s and Ndlovu announced himself in the top division of English football by scoring the winner on this occasion. He nipped in to dispossess the defender, before showing remarkable composure to fire the ball past David Seaman.’’