Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
THE recent move by Marvelous Nakamba to English Premiership side Aston Villa has added another feather in the cap of Bantu Rovers’ football development project. Nakamba smashed the record for Zimbabwe’s biggest international transfers after agreeing to a deal worth more than £11m.
The move could see him rub shoulders with some of the best players in Europe for the next five years, with a weekly wage of £55 000, easily making him Zimbabwe’s best paid athlete.
There is something special about the project that was started by Methembe Ndlovu a few years back to groom young football talent in Bulawayo. The club might have been relegated from the Castle Lager Premier Soccer League four times, in the last 10 years, but their grassroots thrust will live for many years to come.
The results from this academy have been phenomenal. Bantu Rovers celebrated another success story last month when defender Teenage Hadebe made the breakthrough into Europe by joining Turkish side Yeni Malatyaspor.
Considering that the towering defender is only 23, this could be a huge stepping stone to greater things ahead.
He has since featured in the UEFA competition with his new club helping them to the Europa League third qualifying round courtesy of a 3-2 aggregate win over NK Olimpija.
Hadebe is also a product of the Bantu Rovers nursery which has churned out the likes of current Warriors players Kuda Mahachi, Danny Phiri and Tafadzwa Kutinyu. The pair of twins, Elvis and Kelvin Moyo, who recently moved to South Africa after helping FC Platinum bag back-to-back Castle Lager Premiership titles in the last two seasons, also at some point passed through the club’s system.
The turning point for Bantu Rovers was when they decided to shift focus to development in the early stages of the club’s formation.
The club had close ties to Grassroot Soccer (GRS), an international NGO that uses the power of soccer to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS in Africa by empowering young people with the skills and knowledge to make life-saving decisions.
Bantu’s founder and president is Ndlovu, one of the founders of GRS.
He used his international contacts and strong football background to spearhead his project. Ndlovu attended Dartmouth College in the United States and played for Highlanders and the Zimbabwe Under-23 team. The Bantu youth team, which featured the likes of Nakamba, Mahachi, Hadebe and Nqobizitha Masuku, participated in the prestigious Dallas Cup, the oldest international youth soccer tournament in the United States in 2012.
They played against some top youth teams like Manchester United, PSG and Chelsea. It was from that tournament that scouts started hovering over their talented players with Nakamba getting an invite to Cercle Brugge in Belgium at a tender age of 18.
The same year he signed his first professional contract with French side Nancy II.
In 2014 he played for the Nancy senior team and was snapped up by Vitesse Arnhem in Netherlands and won the Dutch Cup with the side for the first time in their 125-year history.
Then he moved to Club Brugge in 2017 on a £4 million deal and two years later he is one of the world’s top leagues after signing at Aston Villa.
“Our players are role models in their communities; the younger kids look up to them,” Ndlovu told the GRS website ahead of their inaugural tour of the US for the Dallas Cup in 2012.
“We have decided to leverage that by using the language of soccer to break down barriers, build trust, and educate young people to adopt healthy behaviours.”