Senior Sports Editor
THE mountains which Marvelous Nakamba must climb every week, to try and break into the Aston Villa starting XI, were drawn on Saturday when Douglas Luiz broke into an All-Star US$645.966 million Brazil first XI.
That Brazilian squad could even afford to leave talent worth a staggering US$171.218 million, featuring superstars from Liverpool, Manchester City and Real Madrid, on the bench, in their opening 2022 World Cup qualifier against Bolivia.
Manchester City ‘keeper, Ederson, Liverpool midfielder Fabinho, Everton forward Richarlison and Real Madrid’s Rodrygo could just get a place on the substitute’s bench as the five-time World Champions powered to a comprehensive 5-0 victory.
With Liverpool goalkeeper, Alison Becker, injured, Brazilian coach, Tite, went with Palmeiras ‘keeper, Weverton, one of the heroes of the team’s 2016 Olympic Games triumph.
But, it was the quality of the infield players, which caught the eye.
The Brazilians sent in Marquinhos (US$37,10 million); Danilo (US$43,72million); captain Casemiro (US$8,28 million); Coutinho (US$136,91 million); Firminho (US$37,91 million); Neymar (US$259, 90 million); Everton (US$23,62 million); Thiago Silva (US$49,60 million); Luiz (US$19,56 million) and Lodi (US$29,53 million).
And, it’s that All-Star first XI, into which Luiz forced his way, in what is yet another confirmation of his rapid improvement, which showed how the midfielder has come of age.
He has even forced his old club, Manchester City, to consider invoking a buy-back clause in his contract.
The 22-year-old Brazilian has been fighting a personal battle, with the 26-year-old Warriors star, for the holding position in the Villa midfield, with the former having established himself, in recent months, as the first-choice.
While Nakamba was the preferred choice for Villa manager, Dean Smith, before lockdown, things changed after Project Restart with Luiz taking full ownership of that critical position.
“The rise of Douglas Luiz continued on Saturday night as he made his first start for Brazil, who began their 2022 FIFA World Cup qualification campaign with victory over Bolivia,’’ Villa reported on their official website.
“The midfielder was one of four Villa players to start their respective fixtures over the weekend, along with Marvelous Nakamba, Conor Hourihane and John McGinn.
“The Seleção got their campaign off to the perfect start, beating Bolivia 5-0 at the Neo Química Arena.
“Douglas Luiz made his international debut as a substitute in November 2019, but this time he was in from the start for his competitive bow.
“Alongside Real Madrid’s Casemiro and Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho in midfield, the Villa star helped Tite’s side to control the game, completing 88 of his 93 attempted passes while creating two chances for his teammates.
“Marvelous Nakamba’s Zimbabwe travelled to Malawi for an international friendly on Sunday.
“The midfielder started the game to make his 16th appearance for his country but chances were few and far between, with the game ending goalless.’’
Luiz is such hot property, right now, that Manchester City were even reported to be interested in getting him back during the last transfer window.
“About Man City, I’ve been doing my job at Villa, I don’t really have conversations with City or Guardiola,” he told the Brazilian media ahead of the game against Bolivia.
“But it’s a job that went together, I had help from City with Villa to be able to play in the Premier League.
“It’s a very good thing to be able to play there without any difficulty.”
City’s buy-back clause is set at £25m this summer and £30m the season after.
But, if there was anything that could be picked from Luiz’s graduation into Brazil’s All-Star first team, then it’s the message it sends to us about the tough hurdles which now lie in Nakamba’s path as he tries to fight his way back into the Villa starting XI.
It will be a strange world where someone, deemed good enough to make the Brazilian first XI, will not be seen as good enough to make the Villa starting XI.
“He may not be Aston Villa’s sporting director anymore, but there’s no questioning that Suso’s work, in signing Douglas Luiz on a permanent basis, was a stroke of genius,’’ blogger, Vijievan Jeevathayalan, wrote on the Football Fan Cast.
‘’The Midlands club brought in the midfielder for £15 million in the summer of 2019, and he has gone on to establish himself as a key part of Dean Smith’s side, both last season and at the beginning of this new one too.
“Lining up in a midfield three alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona stars Casemiro and Philippe Coutinho respectively, Luiz controlled the tempo of the game, recycling possession and playing it with precision both short and long.
“As per Sofascore, he had a game-high 107 touches, and also boasted another game-high of a 95% passing accuracy. The key thing to note is that Luiz didn’t just try and keep things simple or play it safe.
“Instead, he always looked to probe and move the ball forward, delivering two key passes (only Casemiro had more with three), and successfully completing all five of his attempted long balls.’’
It’s also a measure of how much Nakamba’s game has developed that he now has such a gem of a player as the one he must fight to get into the Villa first XI.
Their worlds could not have been more different.
While Luiz can line up alongside the likes of Casemiro and Coutinho, and learn from them, in his country’s midfield, Nakamba had to line up alongside the likes of Tafadzwa Chimwemwe, Tanaka Chinyahara and Tafadzwa Rusike, in the Warriors midfield on Sunday.
Nakamba featured for the Warriors in their goalless draw against the Flames in Blantyre in a game that was, for long periods, such a big yawn, it could barely be described as a friendly international.
The Zimbabwe international midfielder left Harare yesterday, just a day after that match in Malawi, and it could not be established whether he was going home to Bulawayo or was already on his way back to his base at Aston Villa.