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Diaspora puzzle needs extra care

WHEN Gordon Igesund was Bafana Bafana coach, he went on a talent-scouting mission for worthwhile European-based players of South African origin willing to play for their country of origin.

Sports Panorama with Enock Muchinjo

On his return to South Africa, Igesund would remark how he had decided against calling up a certain player because he was “too English”, he said, adding that the England-based star had lost attachment of any kind to his homeland as a result of being assimilated into British society at a very young age.

Igesund’s remarks opened up a new angle on the debate over the impact of Diasporans in some African national teams.

Such misgivings as Igesund’s towards the commitment of the player in question to South Africa are a cause of great concern to a number of national associations on the continent too.

Many that have gone this route — not least the Francophone African countries — face this predicament in a big way.

Passion and patriotism are not automatically hardwired in the psyche of the players from the European diaspora returning “home” to represent the land of their ancestry.

For us here in Zimbabwe, the Diasporan question is a new problem we have to deal with, with care and ingenuity, a very unfamiliar situation before us.

Interim Warriors coach Norman Mapeza seems to have taken a liking for some players of Zimbabwean origin based abroad in his bid to get off to a flying start in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualification competition and perhaps impress enough to land the job on a permanent basis.

The two players at the top of Mapeza’s wish list, Tendayi Darikwa and Brendan Galloway, do not appear to be firm favourites among the Zimbabwean football-loving public.

This is due, it appears, to how they are perceived to have played hide and seek with Zimbabwe when the previous Warriors coaching staff wanted to include them in the Gabon 2017 squad.

Yet it might not have been the players’ fault, but that of our national association, Zifa, known for spectacular botches and disregard for due process when it comes to such important matters as national call-ups particularly so when it involves the professionally run clubs in Europe where the player is the most valued asset.
But that is beside the point.

Whatever the case may be, let us face it — Darikwa is as English as they come; an Englishman through and through. For goodness’ sake he was born there.

Ask some of us in Zimbabwe who trace our roots elsewhere. It will be folly to expect this lot to owe allegiance first to the land of our forefathers ahead of the country that gave us life, upbringing, education, pretty much everything we know and have.

That cannot possibly change.

The catch, when you select someone like Darikwa, is simple. If you are going to call him up, make the most of it, reap the benefits.

He might not know the words of the national anthem, but get the best out of him, tap into his bags of talents, the professionalism, the work ethic and attitude — basically all the good qualities gained from playing in the best league in the world. Let it rub off the rest of the team.

I have not, for a moment, become oblivious to the fact that Darikwa is only a fringe player at English Premiership side Burnley. But I also appreciate that a player who goes through the varied professional training regime at an English top-flight club, one who experiences the daily intensity at the training grounds of the English professional set-up, the quality of life on and off the field, is far ahead in awareness than, say, Elisha Muroiwa. I am not picking on Muroiwa.

To me, these are the advantages you are going to draw from going the Diaspora route.

Nigeria’s FA took this deliberate route quite tactically after being alarmed by how their national side, once the continent’s number one side, was fast on the downward slide.

The Super Eagles were not even at the 2017 Afcon edition in Gabon. Now, with the help of several “returnees” from abroad, they are flying again, comfortably on the path to the next World Cup in 2018. Nigerian football is alive again due to visionary and strategic administration.

Let us take a cue.

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