BY HENRY MHARA
MARSHALL Munetsi couldn’t hold back his smile when NewsDay Sport asked him how it felt to rub shoulders with a global superstar like Brazilian Neymar Jnr in the French Ligue 1.
The Warriors midfielder sealed his move to Stade de Reims from Orlando Pirates in June, and life has been bliss since he moved to France.
He has already featured in eight of his new team’s 12 matches in the French top division, starting three of them.
But of course the 23-year-old’s highest moment in the short period that he has been in France was when Reims, one of the most successful clubs in French football history, having won six Ligue 1 titles, two Coupe de France trophies, and five Trophée des champions titles – faced giants Paris Saint Germain.
Part of his job on the day was to shackle Neymar, and not only did he manage to pass the test, which many falter at, but also provided an assist for the opener as Reims shocked the champions 2-0 in their own backyard.
It was PSG’s first defeat in the league this season.
“I was not afraid of meeting Neymar, or any other big star on that team. All I wanted to do on the day was to play well, and try to win the match,” Munetsi said. “When you dream about playing in Europe, you have to dream about playing with and against the big names. You have to be able to handle the pressure.
“I remember when we were going to play PSG, there was a lot of talk about us losing the match with a big margin. Some were saying we would lose by 5-nil. And it was my first time to be playing on the big, big stage. I have played in big matches before, but this one was huge for me, and to be able to enjoy the moment and to express myself was very massive.
I just want to thank God and the people that have supported me so far, to make this dream a reality.
“Playing against Neymar made me popular, a lot of people here in Zimbabwe were talking about it and congratulating me. I have had a lot of support from the supporters and it means a lot to us the players knowing that you are representing the country very well.”
The former Orlando Pirates midfielder initially came close to joining a club in Belgium before Reims gazumped the deal, and snapped the defensive midfielder on a five-year deal.
He is still adapting to the biting European cold temperatures, but it’s something that he can live with.
To help Munetsi settle in, the club has also provided a tutor helping him with French lessons.
“I’m settling really well. It’s a young team that has good players, and good management. It’s a young team, but with a rich history, it has won some cups so it’s a good learning curve for me as I started my career in France. I have some minutes under my belt, and I have learnt some couple of things through the players I’m playing with and the technical team. It’s been a good stay so far.
“The club organised a French tutor for me, so I have been having a couple of classes so my French is getting better, but it’s still a long way to go.”
“For now, I just want to settle in. The conditions are difficult, like the weather. It’s very cold, so there are a lot of things that I have to adjust to, but once I settle down I will start looking at having a chance to play for bigger clubs. But for now, it’s all about adjusting to life in Europe.”
Munetsi is happy to be playing in France at the moment, but just like any other ambitious football player, his dream is to play for one of the big teams in Spain and England.
“I will go wherever they want me. As players, we have our dreams of playing for teams like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester City. But for me to reach that stage, I will have to work very hard so hopefully if I progress well in France, I might get offers from bigger clubs. That is what I’m hoping for.”
His rise, together with that of Warriors teammate Marvellous Nakamba, who also joined English Premiership side Aston Villa, at the start of the season, has motivated their local counterparts as well as inspiring the national team.
“For me and Nakamba to play at the level we are, it gives other Zimbabwean players the enthusiasm. They will feel that if these guys can do it coming from Zimbabwe, coming from the same situations that they are in, they can also do it. It gives them hunger that they can pursue their careers everywhere they dream of. It also helps us as the nation, because we would add the quality and the experience that we get playing at our teams in Europe. Playing at the big stage gives a lot of exposure and so it helps the national team.”
The two have built a strong partnership in the heart of the Warriors midfield, and carry the hopes of the nation who are bidding to qualify for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Stade de Reims coach David Guion has been impressed with what he has seen in Munetsi so far, and is tipping him to become a very great player.
“He will become a very great player,” Guion told a French football website butfootballclub.fr last month.
“We are happy to have Marshall, he comes from the end of the world, at the bottom of the globe, (he’s) always smiling and listening. I think he will become a very great player. He has never disappointed me, every time (from the time) he came in, he has conducted himself well. I place a lot of hope in him. In the coming years, he will become a player who will count for the Stade de Reims,” he added.