WARRIORS striker Tino Kadewere says his move to Olympique Lyonnais made “Zimbabweans proud” and wants to use the opportunity as a springboard to even better things.
BY HENRY MHARA
The 24-year-old joined the French giants in January from Le Havre in a reported £15 million transfer deal and was immediately loaned back to the Ligue 2 side until the end of the season.
Speaking to a French publication Normand on Monday in an interview which traced his football career from an academy in Highfield, Harare, to the bright lights of Lyon via Sweden, Kadewere believes he is moving in the right direction.
“I’m very honoured to have signed there (Lyonnais). But above all, I am happy to make Zimbabweans proud. At home, there has been a lot of talk about my transfer. They are proud that one of their players joined one of the biggest clubs in Europe,” he said.
The striker signed a four-and-half-year contract, and will reportedly earn over £45 000 a week at his new club, simply known as Lyon.
Le Havre took a huge gamble when they broke their transfer record by paying £2,5 million to get the former Harare City man from Djugardens in Sweden.
But it has paid off spectacularly as the £15 million they paid has transformed into the biggest pay cheque in the history of Ligue 2 transfers. The record was previously held by Sebastien Frey, a goalkeeper who was transferred to Inter Milan from AS Cannes for £14 million back in 1998.
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Kadewere revealed the main reason why he chose Le Havre ahead of other potential suitors including Knowlege Musona’s former club Kv Oostende of Belgium who were also said to have solicited for his signature at the time.
Some clubs in the United States, according to the article, were also jostling for the forward’s signature.
“I looked at the history of the club (Le Havre) and I saw all these big names who came out of it. I said to myself, why not me?” Kadewere said.
Some of the big names that came through Le Havre mill include Manchester United superstar Paul Pogba, former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra, Benjamin and Ferland Mendy, who play for Manchester City and Real Madrid, respectively and Marseille captain and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda.
Manchester City and Algeria wing wizard Riyad Marhez also came through Le Havre ranks.
Kadewere said since his childhood, he had a dream to play in Europe and it was realised in 2015 when he joined Djugardens in Sweden on loan from Harare City.
Before moving to Sweden, he had a two-week trial stint with French Ligue 2 side Sochaux, while Oostende had also made a good offer.
He, however, chose to go to Djugardens, a team that had compatriot Nyasha Mushekwi in their books. The choice, however, still surprised many.
“At Sochaux it was quite difficult to communicate because very few people spoke English, while in Sweden, almost everyone is bilingual,” he explained.
“At the end of my trial at Djugardens, the director general said to me, “you are not going back to Zimbabwe. We need you now,” said Kadewere who admitted that he was surprised by the decision since he had trained with the team for just one week.
“I was told that it was simpler like that, that the club will take care of everything. They bought me everything I needed.”
Despite facing some problems including home sickness which saw him subsequently struggling to get game time during the period, the club still exercised the purchase option. They will not regret the decision as the striker has established himself into the team and become a key player in the squad.
“When I arrived, I was playing like a child. In Sweden, I learned to play like a man,” he said.
The career trajectory since moving to Sweden will see Kadewere play for one of the European giants Lyon next season, who had to gazump a host of other big teams including Tottenham to land his coveted signature.
“I’m going to join a club that is competing in the UEFA Champions League. It is still in the quarterfinals and will play the second leg against Juventus in Turin. Like I have said, I am very honoured to have signed there.”
He is hopeful that Le Havre will gain promotion into Ligue 1 next season.
The team is currently sixth on the log table, one rung below the promotion play-off spot, thanks to the 20 goals that he scored for them this season.
He is the current leading goalscorer and barring any miracles in the remaining matches, will scoop the golden boot award and possibly the Ligue 2 Player of the Year.
But that will depend on the season resuming after it was suspended indefinately last month due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Le Havre are six points off a team sitting on fifth with six rounds of matches to go.
“It would be so great to come back here at The Oceane Stadium next season to play against Le Havre, to see the people who contributed to who I am today.”
Ligue 1 and 2 seasons are expected to resume mid-June.
Kadewere also paid tribute to the people who helped shape his career including his late father Onias, the founder of the Highfield Academy, an institution he had since inherited.
He also thanked his former coach at Harare City, Moses Chunga and former Warriors and Manchester City forward Benjani Mwaruwari for their contributions in his career development.
“When I was 14, Moses Chunga, a legend in my country spotted me. He said that one day I would be one of the greatest Zimbabwean players.”