Takudzwa Chitsiga Sports Reporter
TEENAGE soccer star Chris Sainthomas is going against the trend in Zimbabwean football — plunging into a game that has been ignored by hundreds of white footballers — and making his mark in the Eastern Region Division One Soccer League.
And his handlers at Hartley Academy, a club that is owned by Phil Makekela, a Zimbabwean based in England, who dreams of creating a local version of his beloved Chelsea, believes they have a gem in the making.
Makekela, who grew up in Chegutu, has been investing quite a substantial fortune in running a proper academy which is based at Alex Sports Club in the capital, where his players train all day and are provided with meals and drinks during their sessions.
One of those players who have been attracted by the professionalism at Hartley Academy is 19-year-old Sainthomas, probably the only white player in the major leagues of Zimbabwe football, and is already making a name for himself.
Sainthomas has fitted into a team where he is the only white player and watching him train with his black teammates, one can see that he feels very much at home in their company.
They eat the same food provided by their Academy during their day-long training sessions, and the club’s officials say he is proving to be an inspiration to his teammates with his hard work and professionalism.
“He is 19 years and was attached with Barnet FC, a lower league side in England for a month and has also been in Portugal as part of the exercise to turn him into a professional football player,” Hartley Academy said in a statement.
“He is a former Peterhouse student and also trained with BN Academy owned by Bheki Nyoni, which shows that he has been having a proper development programme since he was a young boy because there is hope that he can make it in the game.
“He is playing for us at Hartley Academy, and he has been a good addition to the team with his work rate and professionalism and we believe that he also inspires his teammates with the way he conducts himself.
“From day one, he never felt out of place here, and that has helped because he is a man who is driven by his passion to succeed and he mingles very well with his teammates and feels very much at home.
“You can see by his built that he is a real athlete and we are working on him so that he becomes a better footballer and we are confident that he will, indeed, make it in the tough world of this game because he is committed.”
Hartley Academy coach Taku Shariwa also spoke highly of Sainthomas saying the attacking midfielder is a natural talent. “Our focus is on developing talent and to have a player like Chris on our books is a big boost because he loves to be taught how he can be a better footballer and, as a coach, that is very pleasing,” said Shariwa.
“He is only 19 and that’s a good age for us to work on him, especially in Division One football, but we believe that he has the potential of one day becoming a complete player.
“His dream is to be a professional footballer, who plays in Europe, and we can see that he has the dedication to achieve his dreams and, as coaches, our job is to try and help him get where he really wants to go.
“He is talented player, no doubt about that, and we are happy that he is part of our team and, crucially, he is also happy to be here with us and we are one family.
“We should not put pressure on him.”
Hartley Academy believe they have made the right start in their journey to identify and nurture talent, including players who will be good enough to play in Europe soon.
“The mission of our Academy is to identify and nurture talent and that is why all our players are very young and we teach them the virtues of respecting the game, their opponents and the officials,” the club said.
“We are confident that we are going to groom a lot of footballers who are going to make a difference in Zimbabwe football soon and we also want them to be exemplary human beings where they live.
“We want to produce players who can be role models in society, who can contribute to the development of Zimbabwe as a country, and we extend invitations to those who believe they can make it, the Under-10s, the Under-13s, the Under-15s, the Under-17s and the Under-20s to come and train with us.”
Hartley’s next league game is against Surrey in Ruwa tomorrow and the Eastern Region Division One newboys, who are unbeaten in their four matches so far this season, believe they will keep their decent start alive.
The Zimbabwe football landscape is slowly changing and, last year, the Warriors fielded Macauley Bonne, a 19-year-old who was born in England but chose to represent this country at international level, in a friendly match against Morocco.
Bonne, who had spells in the Ipswich and Norwich youth teams before settling at Colchester United, made a big impression in his first match for the Warriors by scoring against the Atlas Lions.
Sainthomas handlers at Hartley Academy believe their player could also make a big impact for his country at international level once they shape him into the forward they believe he can become.