Home Sports English Premier League Aston Villa’s Nakamba has had his chances

Aston Villa’s Nakamba has had his chances


Aston Villa’s Nakamba has had his chances. Juan Sebastian Veron was the most expensive transfer in British football history when he arrived at Manchester United in 2001. It’s a brutal league powered by heavy metal football, relentless pace and intense scrutiny where there isn’t any hiding place.

Now, he is remembered as one of the Red Devils’ all-time flops. Diego Forlan struggled with the physicality of the English Premiership and 10 goals, in 63 league games, was a pathetic return for a man who later won two European Golden Shoes and the World Cup Golden Ball in 2010.

Today, for millions of Zimbabwean football fans, the spotlight has fallen on midfielder, Marvelous Nakamba. Questions are now being asked if Nakamba, who has struggled to nail down a place in the Villa starting XI of late, has not played to expectations at this level of the game?

Others are now even suggesting the 26-year-old Zimbabwean international midfielder, who was blessed with a son on Monday, might not be good enough to play at this level of the game.

Aston Villa spent more than £130 million, in securing more than 12 players to try and keep their place in the English Premiership but, with just five league games left, the Birmingham club find themselves in a desperate battle for survival.

They have the second-lowest number of points in the league (27), the same as 19th placed Bournemouth, and only bottom-club Norwich has fewer points.

Ahead of last night’s round of league matches, Villa had the worst defensive record in the league, having conceded 62 goals. And, given Nakamba is one of the players brought in to provide cover in that rearguard, the statistics tell a grim story. Yet, in December, Nakamba was being praised for his solid performances.

‘‘The Zimbabwean, who has started each of Villa’s last six games in the Premier League, has earned rave reviews for his fearless and tough-tackling displays in the middle of the park,’’ noted writer Sayan Chatterjee on the Media Referee website.

“Moreover, the 25-year-old has also proven himself to be a tailor-made fit for the English game with his work rate, industry, composure in possession, intelligent distribution, ability to break up the play and flawless passing.

‘‘Nakamba averages 3.5 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 2 clearances per game in the Premier League this season, having managed to win 21 of his attempted 38 tackles so far.

‘‘Furthermore, Nakamba averages 37.8 passes at an accuracy of 86.8 percent, including 0.8 dribbles, 1 key pass and 1.7 successful long balls per game, figures which are a testament to his early promise in the Premier League.

‘‘Suffice to say, Marvelous Nakamba is proving himself to be an absolute gem of a signing for Aston Villa and his consistent run of form in the midfield could make a big difference to the Lions’ bid for survival in the top-flight.’’

Eight months later, things appear to have changed dramatically for the Zimbabwe international. Others might argue it’s all about the first-season syndrome.

And, while there is very little that can be fished from how his fellow Zimbabweans — Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari — fared in their debut campaign, given the duo are forwards, no one can complain that Nakamba hasn’t been given his opportunities.

Ndlovu arrived in English football as an 18-year-old in 1991 and, in his debut season, he featured in only 11 league matches and scored twice.

His debut came against Queens Park Rangers in August 1991, the same month he also scored his first goal, in a 2-1 win for Coventry City over Arsenal at Highbury.

His second goal came on September 28, 1991, in the home 1-0 win over Aston Villa. Ndlovu’s debut season saw him spend 509 minutes on the pitch, in the league, and Coventry City finished in 19th place, one spot above the relegation zone, as Luton Town, Notts County and West Ham went down.

Benjani’s debut season in the English Premiership came in 2005/2006 and saw him clock 16 league appearances, and one goal, clocking 1 281 minutes on the pitch. The striker failed to score, in his first 14 games for the Portsmouth, before he finally scored against Wigan Athletic on April 29 2006.

Pompey finished just one place above the relegation zone with 38 points as Birmingham City (34), West Bromwich Albion (30) and Sunderland (15) went down.

Nakamba has featured in 25 Premiership matches, so far this season, five wins and 15 losses with 30.44 passes per match, just four crosses, one shot on target, 31 clearances, 39 interceptions, 114 duels won and 103 duels lost.

Has the Zimbabwean failed?

It’s a tough question but the case of Nemanja Vidic, who arrived together with Patrice Evra, at the Red Devils in January 2006, suggests it’s not easy to adjust to the demands of the English Premiership. Vidic revealed, last year, how the duo initially struggled to match the pace and intensity of the league before transforming themselves into legends at the club.

“We really struggled to adapt to playing football forward always,” Vidic told the Manchester Evening News last year. ‘‘When you play European football, you always play sideways, around. But in England, it’s always forward and physical.’’

Vidic later became the United skipper and, together with Evra, they notched more than 300 games each, won five Premiership titles and the 2008 Champions League in eight-and-half seasons at Old Trafford.

George Weah scored just five goals in 15 appearances at Chelsea, Ricardo Quaresma lasted just four games, and without a goal to his credit, Gonzalo Higuain scored just five in 19 appearances and Fernando Morientes fared even worse with 12 goals in 15 games.

Falcao, Juan Cuadrado, Davor Suker, Jerome Boateng, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Angel di Maria, Robinho and Andriy Shevchenko all found the high-intense, pound-for-pound battles in the Premiership a different ball game altogether and melted in the heat of the moment.

Last year, at the AFCON finals, Nakamba went toe-to-toe against Mohamed Salah in the first match of the tournament before they clashed in the English Premiership.

The Zimbabwean could be comforted to know that when Salah first arrived in England, he was way off the superstar status he enjoys today. He started only six games in the league before Jose Mourinho loaned out to Fiorentina in February 2015.

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