The Sunday News
Langton Nyakwenda, Harare Bureau
MARVELOUS NAKAMBA’s mother has become a prayer warrior for Aston Villa and her son as the Claret and Blue resume the English Premier League survival battle with a home fixture against Sheffield United on Wednesday night.
The world’s most popular soccer league will make a return after a 100-day Covid-19-induced break, which to many football-crazy fans has seemed like eternity. Premier League clubs gave “Project Restart” the green light last month and all is now set for the return of the championship race in which giants Liverpool are also eager to end a 30-year wait for the title. But for many Zimbabweans, and Nakamba and his family in particular, it has been an anxious wait as Villa are in the relegation zone.
The Warriors’ midfielder would have to play his part in the club’s fight for survival. Nakamba’s Villa play Sheffield United in the first of the Premiership matches at Villa Park on Wednesday (Kickoff 7pm Zimbabwean time).
Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Manchester City and Arsenal have 10 fixtures remaining, and to bring them in line with the other teams — who are left with nine games — they will play in the first of the fixtures. Manchester City host Arsenal at the Etihad later on at 9.15pm on the same day.
But for Zimbabweans locally and across the globe, the focus will be on Nakamba’s Aston Villa whose stay in the top flight now hangs by a thread. Villa are second from bottom on the 20-team Premier League table with 25 points, two below the safety zone. AFC Bournemouth, who occupy the last relegation slot, have 27 points and are tied with Watford and West Ham.
Three teams are relegated at the end of the season and Nakamba’s mother, Charity Ngwenya, has not been taking any chances at all during the lockdown.
She has been praying daily for his son’s team while the football star’s father, Antony, has also been psyching up the midfielder on the phone.
“Obviously, as a family we don’t want his team to get relegated so we are expecting nothing short of a win on Wednesday,” Nakamba’s father said from the Bulawayo family home yesterday.
Nakamba earns about £55 000 pounds per week at Villa but chances are high the Birmingham-based side will not afford to pay such huge figures if they are demoted back to the Championship.
“I have been speaking to the boy and I can tell he is very jovial. He is very excited with this return to action and he is eager to play again.
“He tells me his teammates are psyched up; they know this is a must-win game for them. He has been sounding very confident. As usual, the boy’s mother has been praying a lot, she knows what’s at stake now. But the good thing is that Marve (Nakamba) is sounding confident and we can only hope for better fortunes,” said Antony Nakamba.
Aston Villa were thrashed 4-0 at Leicester City in their last Premier League match on March 9, a few days before the competition was stopped due to the coronavirus. Nakamba played 90 minutes in that match and the Warriors central midfielder is once again expected to start for the Claret and Blue on Wednesday.
Birmingham Live, who cover Aston Villa extensively, stressed Nakamba’s impact in the Villa team in their probable line-up for the match against United.
“The common thought is this: For Villa to do well, they need Jack Grealish to do well. It’s a bit of a fallacy though. Grealish can do all he wants, but if Nakamba isn’t on his toes, all of Villa’s hard work can be undone in an instant.
“Without Nakamba, Villa’s midfield lacks defensive energy, and is far too forward-thinking.
“There is no back-third to play in, and the pitch is a bit limited,” wrote Birmingham Live last week.
“Villa have other roles to deploy deeper in midfield but both Conor Hourihane and Douglas Luiz only really want to aid in the attack, whereas Nakamba excels in defence.
“Nakamba would be one of the first names on the team sheet if it wasn’t for his star-studded colleagues in front of him.”
Aston Villa’s manager, Dean Smith, still has to think about where to fit in Danny Drinkwater, but according to Birmingham Live, Nakamba “has this one on lock”.
The 26-year-old Nakamba has made 21 appearances for Villa – 18 starts and three as a substitute – since making his Premier League debut against West Ham on September 16 2019.
He has missed only seven of Villa’s 28 league games.