The EPL returns 25 years after Peter Ndlovu made history

By Robson Sharuko

HARARE – The Silver Jubilee of the English Premiership, which commands a massive support base across Southern Africa running into tens of millions of fans, roars into life this weekend under the shadow of Brazilian forward Neymar’s mind-blowing world-record transfer move to Paris Saint-Germain of France.

Neymar finally completed his £198 million transfer from Spanish giants Barcelona to the French side last week to eclipse the £89 million, which Manchester United paid Italian powerhouse to bring back French midfielder Paul Pogba to Old Trafford.

Reports suggest the Brazilian superstar will eventually cost PSG about £450 million – once wages are taken into consideration – after he completed his five-year deal at the French side.

Estimates suggest that Neymar will take home about £28 million, which translates to about £2,5 million per month and about £53 a minute and slightly above £3,197.44 an hour from his weekly salary of around £537,000. Neymar’s transfer shadow will hang over the English Premiership, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this season, and which only last year had pride of place in smashing the world-record transfer fee after Pogba was lured back to Old Trafford.

The return of the English Premiership this weekend will see millions of football fans, across Southern Africa, starting their traditional nine-month romantic flirtation with a league that has converted some into virtual disciples.

A BBC Sport survey just two years ago revealed that Manchester United are the most popular English Premiership club in Southern Africa, supported by 23 percent of football fans in South Africa where 21 percent support Arsenal and 18 percent support Chelsea.

The Red Devils were also found to be the most popular side in Zimbabwe supported by28 percent of football fans with 19 percent supporting Chelsea while 17 percent are in Arsenal’s corner.

Manchester United also ruled the roost in Zambia with 30 percent of the fans in their corner, 27 percent supporting Arsenal while 18 percent were supporters of Chelsea who are the current English Premiership champions.

Only in Malawi did the trend change where Arsenal were the most supported club with 29 percent of the supporters in their corner, Manchester United in second place with 26 percent of the fans and Chelsea in third place with 16 percent of the fans.

The start of the 2017/2018 English Premiership season this weekend, under the shadow of Neymar’s world-record breaking transfer deal, brings into perspective how football has changed in the past 25 years.

Zimbabwe international footballer Peter Ndlovu made history on August 19, 1992, when he became the first African soccer player to grace the English Premiership in the colours of Coventry City.

Ndlovu went on to score 43 times in 176 appearances for the Sky Blues between 1991 and 1997, including a spectacular hat-trick against Liverpool on March 14, 1995.

Although goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar was already at Liverpool back then, he wasn’t in the team which the Reds fielded in the first game of the 1992/1993 English Premiership after David James took his place.

Ndlovu went on to make a big impression at Coventry City with the club rejecting a £4 million bid from Arsenal for his services while Liverpool also came with a bigger offer but failed to lure the Zimbabwean from the Sky Blues.

“My first salary at Coventry was £800 per week but after two weeks they called me into the office and say they were going to change my contract because some other clubs were increasing their interest in me,’’ Ndlovu said.

“After that they improved my contract immensely within two weeks of me scoring that winner at Highbury. I can tell you that they improved my salary by more than 10 times.

“When you play well you deserve to get that kind of money.”

Journalist Ian Hawkey published a fascinating piece on Ndlovu in June 2013.

“From the vantage point of today’s Premier League, in which almost every team has at least one African in its line-up, it seems remarkable that in 1992, when the Premier League began, the two established African stars of the top-flight of English football were both Zimbabwean,’’ Hawkey noted.

“Peter Ndlovu, quick, surprisingly sturdy in possession and a nimble opponent for many English centre-halves, had been spotted by Coventry City when they toured Zimbabwe as part of pre-season training.

“Bruce Grobbelaar’s route to the dominant English club of that era, Liverpool, from his beginnings at the same Highlanders club as Ndlovu later joined, had been more circuitous, via South Africa and Canada in the late 1970s.

“His relationship with his national team was complicated, and resolving it would provide an element of suspense in the prelude to the Dream Team’s adventure.’’

It’s a measure of Ndlovu’s lasting impact at Coventry City that 20 years after he left the club, the team hasn’t forgotten him and on the occasion of his 42nd birthday, two years ago, decided to honour him by relieving some of his best Sky Blue goals.

“Peter Ndlovu’s goal against Norwich City, during a one-all draw in late September, was a signature piece of Ndlovu flair which earned him the Match of Day ‘Goal of the Month’ competition,’’ the club said.

“Some people would be daunted going into a tough away trip to Anfield. But not Ndlovu. He fired a hat-trick, the first by a visiting player since 1961, as City earned a famous win.

“His first goal was a real poachers effort, arriving at the back post and firing past David James.

“His second was a confidently taken penalty. But his last goal was something special. Picking the ball up from halfway he slalomed his way through the Liverpool defence before unleashing an unstoppable strike that drew applause from the Kop end.’’

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