By Robson Sharuko
Zimbabwe will have a footballer in the glitzy world of the English Premiership next season, for the first time in five years, after Tendayi Darikwa’s Burnley stormed back into the world’s richest, and most watched top-flight league, following a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on Monday night.
The country hasn’t had a player in the English Premiership since Benjani Mwaruwari ended his highly profitable five-year dance in the league, which earned him a substantial fortune from spells at Manchester City, Portsmouth, Sunderland and Blackburn Rovers, between 2006 and 2011.
Benjani arrived at Portsmouth in 2006, becoming the club’s most expensive player after Harry Redknapp, the Pompey manager back then, paid £4,1 million to lure the Zimbabwe international from French club Auxerre, after Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recommended that the forward would make a big impression in the English Premiership.
The hard-working forward might have struggled to provide a glut of goals for Portsmouth but his incredible work rate and commitment to Pompey’s cause transformed him into a firm favourite of the club’s fans, who even composed a special song for him, with Benjani describing his spell at the club as the best times of his English adventure.
He scored in his first game for Manchester City at Old Trafford in the derby against Manchester United in his biggest contribution to the Citizens. Benjani’s arrival in the English Premiership saw him following in the footsteps of former Warriors’ captain Peter Ndlovu, who starred at Coventry City and, at his peak, even attracted the interests of giants Liverpool, who were ready to pay a fortune for his services.
Colourful goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was the trailblazer when he joined Liverpool from Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps and turned himself into one of the greatest ‘keepers to grace England’s top-flight league as he won six league titles between 1981 and 1994, three FA Cups, three League Cups, five FA Charity Shields and one European Cup.
During that glorious period, Grobbelaar played 627 first team games for Liverpool and his finest hour came in the 1984 European Cup final against Italian side Roma, with the Zimbabwean producing a masterclass which bordered on theatre, as he bit the nets and wobbled his legs to distract the focus of Bruno Conti and Francesco Graziani, who both missed their spot kicks.
Grobbelaar made history that night as the first footballer from an independent African nation to win the European Cup before this tournament evolved into what is commonly known today as the European Champions League, whose semi-finals for this season’s edition are due to be completed tonight.
Although Eusebio, Coluna, Santana Pereira and Aguas, who were born in Africa, won the European Cup before Grobbelaar, they did so when Mozambique and Angola were still under Portuguese rule while “The Jungleman” became a champion after Zimbabwe had attained its Independence.
On Monday night, Darikwa moved a step closer to joining that elite group of Zimbabwean footballers who have played in the English Premiership, when Burnley — the club that he joined at the beginning of this season on a three-year deal worth £500 000 – won their ticket into the top-flight league.
Darikwa, who can play either as a right back or in midfield, was an unused substitute when Burnley secured their Premiership place after a 1-0 win over Queens Park Rangers.
But the 24-year-old player, who was born in Nottingham to Zimbabwean parents and has expressed his interests to represent the Warriors in international football, has played a big part in the campaign with 21 appearances in the league and a goal that came in the 1-2 loss to Reading on September 26 last year.
He was called by Warriors coach Callisto Pasuwa for the 2017 Nations Cup qualifier against Swaziland, which the Warriors won 4-0 at the National Sports Stadium to take control of their group with just two games to go, but chose to be excused from that assignment.
However, he showed that he still loves the Warriors when he posted a congratulatory message for the team, on Twitter, following their win over Swaziland. “Well done @online_zifa on today’s result,” he tweeted and then inserted a Zimbabwean flag on the message.
He has been compared by the British media to Dele Alli, the young Tottenham Hotspur star who won the Professional Footballers Association Young Player of the Year Award this season, after playing a starring role for Spurs, whose impressive campaign to try and win the English Premiership title ended in that four-goal classic at Stamford Bridge on Monday night.
The mass circulating English tabloid, The Mirror, reported recently that Darikwa was being stalked by a number of scouts from Premiership clubs after his performance in Burnley’s successful season, catching the eyes of many teams in the top-flight league.
Burnley’s qualification for the English Premiership will bring a £200 million jackpot, to add to the £30 million profit the club declared last month, and the club’s chairman has already announced that they will strengthen their squad to stand the challenges of the English Premiership.
Darikwa also played in the FA Cup this season with Burnley losing 1-2 to Arsenal.
Darikwa’s league appearances for Burnley this season
Versus Leeds (1-1); versus Port Vale (0-1); versus Birmingham City (2-2); versus Ipswich (0-2); versus Brentford (0-1); versus Bristol City (1-2); versus Sheffield Wednesday (1-3); versus MK Dons (2-1); versus Derby County (0-0); versus Reading (1-2); versus Rotherham (2-1); versus Bolton (2-0); versus Nottingham Forest (1-1); versus Blackburn Rovers (1-0); versus Huddersfield Town (2-1); versus Fulham (3-1); versus Wolves (0-0); versus Brighton and Hove (1-1); versus Cardiff City (2-2); versus Preston North End (0-2); versus Middlesborough (0-1). The Herald