Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
MARVELOUS NAKAMBA became the first Zimbabwean footballer to play in an English League Cup semi-final in 10 years, but his dogged show on Wednesday night has predictably drawn mixed reactions.
The Warriors midfielder battled for 86 minutes in the 1-1 draw at the King Power Stadium, just weeks after he and his Aston Villa teammates were badly exposed in a 1-4 thrashing at the hands of Leicester City in a league match at Villa Park.
Villa manager Dean Smith, without a number of first-team regulars because of injuries, chose to go for containment against the Flying Foxes rather than a bloody and reckless blow-for-blow battle.
The result saw Villa enjoy just 30 percent of the possession, with the match played virtually in their own half, and the hosts having 21 shots on goal compared to just three for the visitors.
There were six Leicester shots on target, with Villa only having one from which they scored on the break, while the corner kick count read 11-0 in favour of the Flying Foxes.
Villa were always up against it as they faced a side revitalised by Brendan Rodgers, a manager who arrived for the match on the back of an impressive 30-match unbeaten run in domestic League Cup matches over five years at Liverpool, Celtic and Leicester.
The Flying Foxes had also lost only once at home this season, to steamrolling Liverpool, and pounded the Villa defence with waves of attacks on Wednesday night.
Nakamba was thrown into the deep end, in a 3-4-3 formation where all that Villa did was to try and hang on, which would require the defensive shield in which he features prominently, to work overtime on the night.
Not since Benjani featured in the League Cup semi-final for Manchester City against Manchester United in 2010, had a Zimbabwean player played at this level of the game. Peter Ndlovu also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup with Sheffield United in January 2003, but after winning the first leg 2-1, the Blades were beaten 2-0 at Anfield to crash out, with the Reds going on to win the trophy.
Nakamba’s performance on Wednesday drew a mixed bag of reaction.
“Not Marvelous Nakamba’s best outing in a Villa shirt,” tweeted sports caster Mike Madoda. And Collin Simms was in agreement.
“Truth is Nakamba is overrated by Zimbabweans, especially the media,” Simms thundered on Twitter.
“The likes of @Chakariboy go overboard when writing about him.
“Villa have now brought in (Danny) Drinkwater. You can only see Nakamba being replaced in the team soon.”
However, others disagreed.
“I feel defensive midfielders in England play according to the book,” argued Emmanuel Mberi on Twitter.
“They don’t have freedom to manoeuvre upfront . . . only those of the top 4-5 (clubs) have the luxury to do so because of the quality around them.”
Former Zimbabwe international Cephas Chimedza, one of the cool heads when it comes to analysis in this game, also added his voice to the debate.
“He is too passive at times, inasmuch as there are team tactics and all, I feel he can get more involved in possession,” said Chimedza.
“He has played for Vitesse, a team that is capable of finishing in the Top 4, then Brugge, a team that plays for the championship, now at Villa, it’s a team fighting relegation, never favourites in any match, that might be a big factor, I felt it when I moved to Belgium.”
But, what do the voices that really matter – especially the English media who have a front row view of his performances – say?
An analysis of their response to his performance on Wednesday shows a different world to the one in which Nakamba finds himself the subject of some poor ratings at home.
Is it that they, just like the manager Smith who continues to throw him into the deep end week-in-and-week-out, read the game differently?
Are there technical aspects of the game which they find to be rich, in terms of his performance, which would be dismissed as poor by the analysts back home?
The Birmingham Mail is the newspaper that matters when it comes to Aston Villa and they even have pages and a journalist dedicated to just covering the club.
The Mail gave Nakamba 7 out of 10 for his performance on Wednesday night, which represented a good shift for his team.
“Nakamba recovered well from an early error in high presented (Jamie) Vardy with a very good chance,” the Mail said.
“He put himself about in midfield and fed Villa’s ball players and when he retrieved possession.”
Goalscorer Frederick Guilbert was given an 8 out of 10, just a point better than Nakamba, Egyptian winger Trézéguet was given 7 out of 10, same as the Zimbabwean, while talisman Jack Grealish also received just a point better than the Warrior.
Douglas Luiz, who has fought battles with Nakamba for the same role after arriving from Manchester City in the summer amid a hype of expectations, was given 6,5 out of 10.
The Daily Mail gave Nakamba 6 out of 10, while Trézéguet received a similar rating of 6 out of 10, with goalkeeper Orjan Nyland leading the way with 8 out of 10.
The opposition Nakamba was dealing with on Wednesday, led by James Maddison, one of the five best performers in the English Premiership this season, was of a very high quality.
When Villa tried to go toe-to-toe with the same opponents in a league match earlier last month, they were blown away in their backyard as they conceded four goals.
This meant the manager Smith, without Wesley, Tom Heston and John McGinn, had to go for a conservative approach and the work load was always going to be lumped on the likes of Nakamba.
The Daily Mirror tabloid gave Nakamba 7 out of 10, and rated him higher than Maddison (6) and Vardy (6), while his teammate Luiz got a 5 out of 10.
“Worked hard, but his distribution could have been better in midfield,” said the Daily Mirror in their analysis.
While there appears to be some appreciation for the shift he put in on Wednesday night from the British media, the same cannot he said about the analysis coming from his home country.
Which then begs the question, do we see football differently here to how it is seen, let’s say in England?
The chorus back home is that Benjani was just a lucky boy to make it all the way to play for a club like Manchester City, while those in England say he had the right qualities needed for such a grand stage.
Ten years after Benjani last played in the League Cup semi-finals, a feat matched by Nakamba on Wednesday, the difference in opinion as to what makes a good player, and a good shift, is still worlds apart between those in England and those back home.