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Soccer stars itch to play for Zimbabwe

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England-based Zimbabwe youth footballers have expressed their desire to don the national team jersey.

Since the turn of the millennium, the influx of Zimbabweans into Britain in search of greener pastures has seen a few young boys joining various clubs in the UK.

Zimbabwe youth teams have on many occasions failed to qualify for continental youth tournaments and in the few cases they qualified, failed dismally.

This has exposed the country’s slack junior football developmental programmes.

Two years ago, cash-strapped Zifa withdrew both men and women’s Under-17 and U-20 teams from continental tournaments as well as the Under-23 and Mighty Warriors from Olympic qualifiers citing financial constraints.

Continental football powerhouses like Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal, have achieved tremendous results in international soccer tournaments with their youth in European football academies. Zimbabwe’s foreign-based youths could be the answer to the country’s problems.

This week, NewsDay caught up with Stevenage reserve team central defender Farai Hallam, Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Cecil Nyoni and 16-year-old Mikaeel White who plays for the developmental team of League Two side Barnet.

Hallam (18), knocking on the door of Stevenage’s senior team, is also captain of his club’s youth side and was born to a Zimbabwean mother and an English father.

Stevenage plays in the same league as Onismor Bhasera’s Plymouth Argyle and Hallam said he was processing his eligibility to play for Zimbabwe and was dying to put on the green and gold jersey.

“I have not been contacted by anyone from Zimbabwe. Yes, I would love to represent the country whether it be Under-19s or U-21s. I am looking into the possibility of clearing up my eligibility for Zimbabwe,” said Hallam.

With Zimbabwe’s junior football structures currently malfunctioning, Hallam, coached by former West Ham player and gaffer Paul Hilton, reckons the experience he has gained through passing various developmental stages has moulded him into a ripe player.

“I think for my age I have benefited from playing in England and being at a professional club. The coaching I have received has benefited me greatly so have the experiences I have had.

The quality of coaching I have had is top class. Being trained by ex-professionals who have coached at top clubs gives me great experience and is priceless to my development.”

19-year-old Nyoni, whose Sheffield Wednesday is in League One — just two tiers below the English Premiership League — also declared his readiness for the Young Warriors.

“Yes I’d love to play for my country and I think I’d be a success in the team,” said Nyoni.

His enthusiasm for a national team call-up grows as he sees some of his teammates being called for national duty by their respective countries. He said a chat about Zimbabwean football with former Reading and Young Warriors midfielder Trevor Mutero amplified his zeal to represent his country.

“My teammate Liam Palmer plays for Scotland and Reda Johnson for Benin.

“When they talk they always seem to enjoy it and I always wondered why I could not do that for my country as well. I keep in touch with Trevor Mutero and he told me about what it’s like playing for the national team — the atmosphere how people treat you — and the standard of football,” he added.

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