> Robson Sharuko
HARARE-WHEN Senegal rocked world football, at the turn of the millennium, which included a sensational victory over defending champions France in the opening game of the 2002 FIFA World Cup finals, the Lions of Teranga were powered by a group of professionals who had largely horned their skills on French football fields.
El-Hadji Diouf, the showman of that team and its irresistible star, was born in Dakar, Senegal, but left the country at an early age to settle in France where he slowly turned himself, with the help of very good coaches and state-of-the-art training facilities, into a very good footballer who would explode on the big stage of the 2002 World Cup finals.
Lamine Diatta, a defensive rock, was also born in Dakar but moved to France, when he was only one-year-old and, in his adopted homeland, he grew up to be a very good footballer who would provide the quality that his fatherland needed, when the time came for him to play at international level, at the World Cup finals.
His talent was fine-tuned at major French clubs, Toulouse, Olympique Marseille, Olympic Lyon and St Etienne.
Three of the players who were part of that Senegalese team, which captured the imagination of the globe at the 2002 World Cup finals, Pape Malick Diop, born in Cherif-Lo, Sylvain N’Diaye, born in Paris, and Habib Beye, born in Suresnes, were actually born in France but chose to play for their fatherland.
That Senegalese team reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup finals where they eventually fell to a cruel golden goal, in extra-time, to Turkey.
A number of African nations have, of late, been turning to their Diaspora footballers, to help them, with Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was born in Sarcelles, France, and holds French, Algerian and Moroccan citizenship, playing a very big part in the resurgence of the Algeria Desert Foxes and turning them into a formidable side.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi is one of the young footballers making a big impression in world football and, although he was born in Lagos, he moved to England at the tender age of four and was eligible to play for the Three Lions but chose to play for his fatherland and has been part of the revolution powering Nigeria’s bid for an appearance at the 2018 World Cup.
Iwobi scored in his first competitive game for Nigeria when the Super Eagles beat Zambia 2-1 in Ndola before Victor Moses, who left Nigeria at the age of 11 when his parents were killed to seek asylum in Britain, was the star of the show as the Nigerians beat Algeria 3-1 in their second game in the qualifiers.
Even Bafana Bafana have turned to their Diaspora players with 25-year-old Dutchman, Lars Veldwijk, who was born in Uithoorn, The Netherlands, being called into the team for the World Cup battle against Senegal, which the South Africans won 2-1.
Veldwijk’s father was born in South Africa.
“We’ve been monitoring Lars when he was still with Nottingham (Forest in England,” suspended Bafana Bafana coach, Shakes Mashaba, told the South African media.
“A good striker, big boy, busy in the box, who can hold and score as well.”
For Zimbabwe, it was only a matter of time before a number of talented footballers, born outside the country, started making their presence felt around the world.
With a number of Zimbabweans having left the country in the 1990s, and at the turn of the millennium, to settle in South Africa, Canada, United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand, many of the children they raised are now teenagers and a number of them are starting to make a mark in the game.
Tristan Nydam, a highly-rated box-to-box midfielder, has just signed his first professional contract at English Championship side Ipswich Town after impressing manager Mick McCarthy as a long-term prospect.
He turned 17 recently, the age when he was able to sign a professional contract.
Born in Zimbabwe, he moved to England at a very young age with his mother and joined the Ipswich academy at the age of 10 where he has now risen to the brink of making the first team, something that manager Mick McCarthy says is just a question of time.
“Tristan Nydam is a good player. He’s the one that has stood out for us,” McCarthy told local media.
Pundits even say that, soon, a Zimbabwe Select XI, made up of teenage Zimbabwean players – either born outside the country or who left as kids – who are showing a lot of promise in the game around the world, could be assembled.
Leicester City’s teenage sensation Admiral Muskwe is 18 and was voted the club’s Academy Player of the Season for the 2015-2016 campaign.
He has already caught the attention of Warriors’ coach Callisto Pasuwa.
“I have always said that as long as a player is Zimbabwean and is eligible to play for us he has an equal chance of being considered for the Warriors. We have a number of talented players out there and Muskwe is one such player whom I would want to assess closely in the national team,’’ Pasuwa told The Herald newspaper in Zimbabwe.
Muskwe wants to play for the Warriors one day, which he describes as an honour, and says he has been learning a lot from the likes of Mahrez who are the stars of the Leicester City team.
Teenage forward Tinashe Chakwana was born in Wigan, England, and recently also signed a professional contract with English Premiership side Burnley who have another player, Tendai Darikwa, who has Zimbabwean roots but was born in England.
Darikwa was considered by Pasuwa recently to play for Zimbabwe’s Warriors but he has to sort out his documents first as he still travels on a British passport and will need a Zimbabwean passport to play for the team.
Recently, the player, who has been struggling to break into the Burnley team, attacked ZIFA for their alleged lack of professionalism on social media but later pulled down the post.
Tinotenda Chibharo has captained the Manchester City Under-21 team while Munya Mbanje, who is 20, is part of the Leeds reserve side.