Eddie Chikamhi Senior Sports Reporter
A SPYING mission by Aston Villa manager Dean Smith in Africa might have provided him with the sniper, whose late flurry of goals, helped secure their Premiership status.
It also probably convinced him secure a player who, when it mattered on Tuesday night, was thrown into the fray to supplement the defence.
The cost of relegation from the world’s most valuable domestic football competition is estimated at around £200 million.
Smith was in the stands at the Cairo International Stadium on June 21 when Egypt hosted Zimbabwe in the opening 2019 AFCON finals match.
Trezeguet scored the only goal of that match, to give the Pharaohs a 1-0 win, while Marvelous Nakamba featured in his only AFCON game before being ruled out by injury.
Both players, including Ahmed Elmohamady, who captained the Pharaohs that day, featured in the priceless 1-0 win over Arsenal at Villa Park on Tuesday.
“Dean Smith’s trip to Cairo last June could prove to be one of the best he has ever made,’’ The Guardian newspaper reported yesterday.
“Accompanied by the Aston Villa sporting director, Jesús García Pitarch, the manager was in the Egyptian capital to run the rule over Trezeguet one last time before handing him the opportunity of a lifetime.
“The winger had been starring for the Turkish club Kasimpasa and outshone Mohamed Salah by scoring in the hosts’ opening victory at the Africa Cup of Nations.’’
It was Trezeguet’s third goal, in the past three games, after scoring a double in the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace last week.
This means Villa have their fate in their hands ahead of their final game of the season, a visit to West Ham on Super Sunday.
It will be the biggest weekend for Zimbabwe’s £55 000-a-week football star Nakamba since his arrival in the English Premiership.
Nakamba is one of the few Zimbabweans playing football at the highest level in the world.
His progress has been followed, with interest back home, given he is the only Warrior in the English Premiership.
He played the last 17 minutes of the game when Villa beat Arsenal to take control of their destiny.
“What a massive win tonight for the team and our fans,’’ Nakamba tweeted. “Nothing is impossible, there are ways that lead to everything.
“Our focus now turns to the weekend.’’
The Zimbabwean, who has come under criticism for his style of play and lack of adventure, will need to keep grinding for another possible adventure with English football next year.
Nakamba has been overlooked by Smith in the starting eleven, of late, and he was a 73rd-minute replacement for Conor Hourihane on Tuesday evening.
Villa switched places with Watford, who were trounced 4-0 by Manchester City on the same evening, and dropped into the red zone because of the heavy battering.
The two relegation fighters are now level on 34 points, but a superior goal difference of one goal, hands Villa a slight advantage.
A win in Sunday might be enough while, a defeat, might not spell doom as long as Watford, who face Arsenal on Super Sunday, also lose.
Villa will just have to better the result of Watford.
“It was a great performance but an even better result because the result was what we needed against a good team who’ve just beaten two of the best teams in Europe,” Smith told the club’s website.
“We knew we had to show a lot of courage, heart and work-rate, and I thought it was a real team performance.
“We kept them at bay for long periods and I can’t really remember Pepe Reina having to make saves.
“We defended the box well and he came to claim crosses when he needed to.
“We’d love to have supporters here and getting us over the line, but you could hear enough of the subs and non-playing staff on the sideline to get us over the line.
“I felt our shape was good and we were restricting them. I thought we got up to the ball really well and made them go backwards at times.
“We’ve been much better over the nine games (since lockdown), defensively.
“The players were really engaged in the video coaching sessions we did, and they came back wanting to be a better team defensively.’’
Smith feels the depth of the squad has come in handy.
“With the likes of Jack (Grealish), John McGinn coming back, I feel we look good going forward as well,’’ he said.
“Our biggest win was probably Everton, our first win in the Premier League. But, this is the biggest win now because we needed it.
“We’ve got to go and do the same sort of performance against West Ham on Sunday. It’s a huge boost, that’s for sure.
“We needed to get that win to catch Watford up, and now we have, we’ve got the season in our own hands. That’s all you can ask for.”