By Langton Nyakwenda
Twenty-five years ago he became the first English Premier League player to score a hat-trick at Anfield, and it was just over two seasons after he had made history by becoming the first African player to grace the world’s most popular football league.
It has always been difficult to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, let alone at their fortress, Anfield.
Only 10 players — including the legendary former Zimbabwe captain Peter Ndlovu — have managed that feat since the Premiership’s inception in 1992.
Ndlovu might be sweating over his future as team manager at South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns, but the man regarded as the greatest Warrior of all time had something to cheer about last week.
The history-making Highlanders product is reportedly in the firing line after Sundowns owner Patrice Motsepe hinted last month that heads would roll after a boob that saw Masandawana include suspended player, Tebogo Langerman, in their Nedbank Cup final squad.
Far away from Mamelodi Sundowns’ turmoil, Ndlovu’s name has been thrown back into the English Premiership spotlight after Aston Villa’s astounding 7-2 victory over Liverpool at Villa Park on Sunday.
Villa’s new boy, Ollie Watkins, who was handed the number 11 jersey by Warriors midfielder Marvelous Nakamba, became the 10th player to score a hat-trick against Liverpool, who suffered their heaviest defeat in 57 years.
Nakamba (left) during a match against Liverpool
Nakamba may have played a cameo 10-minute part in that famous triumph, but history will record that he was part of the match-day squad when Villa stunned the Premiership champions.
The midfielder’s involvement has been hailed by football analysts who spoke to The Sunday Mail Sport.
Some English newspapers relished Aston Villa’s accomplishment by reminiscing about the Premiership’s hat-trick heroes against Liverpool, who include Ndlovu.
Andy Cole (Newcastle 1993), Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton 1994), Ndlovu (Coventry City 1995), Fabrizio Ravanelli (Middlesborough 1996), Mark Viduka (Leeds United 2000), Kevin Lisbie (Charlton 2003), Thierry Henry (Arsenal 2004), Andrei Arshavin (Arsenal 2009), Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United 2010) and Watkins are the 10 players who have managed this master stroke since 1992.
However, Ndlovu’s accomplishment is much more special as he was the first away player to score a hat-trick at Anfield in 30 years when Coventry City stunned Liverpool 3-2 on March 14, 1995.
Alongside former Arsenal striker Arshavin, Ndlovu is one of two players who have scored a hat-trick at Anfield since the Premiership’s inception.
“That is a special record. “It’s good that one of us, our own legend Peter (Ndlovu), holds such records in a big league like the Premier League,” former Warriors’ star midfielder Ronald “Gidiza” Sibanda said.
“To some of us really, it is not surprising that Peter could do that. We always knew of his talent when we were growing up in Bulawayo,” added Sibanda, who played alongside Ndlovu when the Warriors took their Africa Cup of Nations bow at the 2004 finals in Tunisia.
“He was meant for greater heights. That guy was something else. He would come for the Warriors in the morning, play well in the afternoon and score.
“It was an honour to play alongside Peter and to be the one spraying those passes to him.
“But to score that hat-trick against Liverpool at Anfield stood out for me because many top strikers have failed to achieve that.
“And Peter is one of the 10 players to have done that. It shows that he is a quality player. It is good for Zimbabwe and it is good for Nakamba, who is also in the Premier League, as well as other youngsters.
“These kinds of records motivate Zimbabwean youngsters; it shows that we can produce good players and we can make it at the highest level,” he said.
Ex-Warriors skipper Ephraim Chawanda, who captained Ndlovu in Reinhard Fabisch’s Dream Team, described Ndlovu as a jewel.
“It was an honour to be captain of such a star in English football,” Chawanda told The Sunday Mail Sport from his base in Botswana.
“Peter was such a jewel of our football. He could turn a half chance into a goal in a flash. It is good that he is still being remembered in England.”
Former Kaizer Chiefs midfielder Tinashe Nengomasha feels Ndlovu’s achievements are a sign that Zimbabwe has the capacity to produce football gems.
“Peter Ndlovu was the first African to play in the Premier League and that should tell you something about his qualities,” Nengomasha, who made over 300 appearances for Chiefs, said.
“He was a rare breed and some of his records we still talk about up to this day. Even his age, when he joined Coventry, should tell you something about his amazing talent.
“Ndlovu’s records in England prove that as Zimbabwe we have the raw material, but we are not nurturing that talent well.
“If we could produce a big player like Peter back then, we could still produce another one today.
“Talent alone could not have taken him that far if he didn’t get proper mentoring from an early age.
“Having records set by a Zimbabwean player in England is good for our football. Our football brand like Zimbabwe grows when people across the world talk about these kind of records.
“We now need other Zimbabweans to also go to the Premier League and break records. The inspiration is there, our own Peter did it.
“One thing I respect about Ndlovu is that he has always remained humble. I was first called up to the national team as a 19-year-old, when I was still at Black Aces, and Ndlovu was never arrogant despite his grand status.
“His door was always open, he would give it all in training and he was never late on the team bus.
“He is still a good leader; he is manager at Mamelodi Sundowns, where he has won the CAF Champions League.
“I wish him all the best and I hope he grows to become a top football administrator,” said Nengomasha.
Chelsea legend and former Cote d’Ivoire captain, Didier Drogba, also shared his thoughts on Ndlovu via Twitter last month.
“Pioneer,” Drogba tweeted in recognition of Ndlovu’s record of being the first African player to feature in the Premier League.
Former CAPS United forward and 1996 Castle Lager Soccer Star of the Year, Stewart Murisa, recalls the day he got his first taste of Ndlovu’s “awesome” talent.
“My first appreciation of Peter was back in the late 80s when we were called up for a camp at Manyame Airbase meant to select players for both the Under-17s and Under-20s.
“It took the coaches, Ashton “Papa” Nyazika and Daniel Chikanda, less than 10 minutes to discover how good Zongo (Peter Ndlovu) was,” says Murisa.
“He controlled the ball with his chest and lobbed it over an opponent before volleying it into the top corner. He was immediately called to the bench by the coaches.
“Nyazika told him to sit down and help with selecting other players.
“Nyazika actually said, ‘young man, huya ugare padhuze titsvage vamwe vauchatamba navo’,” said Murisa, who played alongside Ndlovu at senior level.
Former CAPS United and Orlando Pirates defender, Edelbert Dinha, added his voice.
“Ndlovu will forever remain in the history books of the English Premier League,” said Dinha, who now runs a football academy in South Africa.
“Scoring a hat-trick at Anfield and becoming the first African player in the Premier League is no mean feat. Ndlovu was a brilliant, skilful and talented player.
“Yet he still remained a humble guy who loved to joke each time we met for national duty. He made sure everyone was at ease during camp and always led by example.
“He never doubted anyone and treated everyone the same.
“As for Nakamba, I think he has made history by being part of the Aston Villa team that beat Liverpool 7-2.
“Even though he came on in the 80th minute, Nakamba played a huge role in his team’s win and I am sure he will cherish that great game for the rest of his life,” Dinha said.
That huge win was a game-changer for Nakamba, whose future at Aston Villa was hanging in the balance amid interest from Galatasaray.
The Turkish giants were after Nakamba’s signature going into Monday’s Premiership transfer deadline day.
Nakamba’s father, Anthony, told The Sunday Mail Sport how Villa’s 7-2 win over Liverpool influenced his son’s future.
“I spoke to the boy both before and after the match. He was excited when we spoke immediately after the game.
“He told me his team had gained a lot of confidence from that victory.
“He was excited with the 10 minutes he played. He told me Galatasaray were interested in his services, but after the Liverpool game he felt like someone who had rediscovered self-belief.
“He told me he was feeling renewed and wanted to prove he can still play in the Premier League. We knew all along Galatasaray wanted him badly and were chasing him until deadline day.
“Marve was saying his chance will come. He said contrary to last season, when he only got into the team after nine games, this time around he has made a good start.
“We slept around 1am talking over the phone about that game and his future. He is excited and wants to fight for a starting berth,” said Nakamba’s father. The Sunday Mail