In his first interview as an Aston Villa player, Marvelous Nakamba was asked what type of player he is, which he responded with an almost predictable yet witty answer: “A marvelous player”, he said with a big shy smile. Nakamba looked a bit embarrassed, almost as if this sequence was pre-planned with his interviewer. The Zimbabwean international strikes as a humble and down-to-earth character, but that is the exact opposite of his persona on the pitch, which made Villa coach Dean Smith pay €12 million to Club Brugge for his services – and sending a whole nation into Premier League frenzy.
Nicknamed the “Vacuum Cleaner” in Belgium due to his impressive defensive midfield work, Nakamba has won a domestic championship in 2018 and then played in the Champions League group stage with his side. He ranked second in combined tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes in last season’s competition, with 8.4. Before his time in Brugge, the Zimbabwean was successful in an even stronger league, playing for Vitesse in the Dutch Eredivisie, capping his time with a KNVB Cup victory in 2017. Nakamba possesses a strong left foot and enjoys the occasional long-distance strike. However, his best qualities are in the manner which he dictates midfield play, controls the ball and gets into strong tackles when necessary. In that sense, he can fit well into the English style of football.
Back home, Zimbabwean football isn’t at its best state these days. The national team didn’t participate in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, due to an unpaid debt to former coach José Claudinei, which imposed a ban on the team’s activity. Additionally, “The Warriors” have never qualified past the AFCON group stage, including in the 2019 edition. Nakamba played only in the first game against host Egypt but was then injured and could not help the side avoid elimination with only one point. The nation, which is in internal turmoil and is facing a financial & severe hunger crisis, obviously lacks the resources to invest in sports. Therefore, it is rare to find many Zimbabwean footballers overseas, and Nakamba’s success creates a buzz and produces hope for the local people.
Before Nakamba, only three Zimbabweans have played in the Premier League. The most recent one is flashy forward Benjani Mwaruwari, who proved to be a major hit in Portsmouth, before being snapped up by the deep pockets of Manchester City. Prior to him, Peter Ndlovu was a steady goal scorer for 13 years in the UK, mostly memorable from his time at Villa’s biggest rival – Birmingham City. And last but not least, the legendary goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar, who probably needs no introduction.
Back to the present, Nakamba is part of one of the most intriguing sides in the new Premier League season. Aston Villa has spent almost €150 million on new signings after winning promotion back into the big stage, and they plan on returning to their old glory days. He wouldn’t be alone though, as a familiar face in Brazilian striker Wesley, who played with him in Brugge, was also bought to provide attacking pedigree. In midfield, Nakamba will find himself running around the energetic dynamo John McGinn and local favourite Jack Grealish. As of now, the Zimbabwean is still an unknown figure around Villa Park, but don’t be surprised if his drive and talents would make him one of the best signings made by The Villains this summer. With his price tag, that could prove to be an absolute bargain.