‘He used the ball well, sometimes I have to remind myself it’s his first game in the Premier League’

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
ASTON Villa manager Dean Smith says Marvelous Nakamba produced such a fine shift on Monday night it was difficult, at times, to believe he was only making his English Premiership debut.

An English journalist, who covers the club for its hometown newspaper, described the midfielder as a ‘‘smooth operator.’’

And Nakamba’s Scottish teammate, John McGinn, said the Zimbabwean midfielder was everywhere on the pitch.

Such was his impact the English Premiership club shortlisted him among the four players from whom the fans had to choose their man-of-the-match.

After finally making his Premiership bow on Monday night, in a high tempo battle against West Ham United, in which he played for 80 minutes before being pulled out, Nakamba was, expectedly, the dominant subject in Zimbabwean football yesterday.

His debut came before 42 010 fans at Villa Park, the biggest crowd, to watch a Zimbabwean player making his first appearance in the English Premiership.

The King himself, Peter Ndlovu, the first African to play in the English Premiership, made his bow in the rebranded league for Coventry City on August 19, 1992, at White Hart Lane in London, before 24 388 fans, in a game the Sky Blues won 2-0 through a brace by John Smith.

Ndlovu replaced Smith in the 70th minute of that match.

A week later, on September 26, 1992, Bruce Grobbelaar, who had initially lost his place to David James, made his bow in the rebranded league at Anfield in a 2-3 defeat for Liverpool at the hands of Wimbledon before 29 574 fans.

And, Benjani Mwaruwari played the full game of his English Premiership debut at Fratton Park on January 14, 2006, before 20 094 fans, but could not help Portsmouth avoid a 0-1 defeat at the hands of Everton.

Thirteen years later, Nakamba made his bow on Monday, after being preferred ahead of Brazil’s Douglas Luiz, and Villa manager Smith felt the Zimbabwean gave a good account of himself.

‘‘I thought he did well for 65 minutes,’’ Smith told his club’s official website.

‘‘He broke up play well. He used the ball well. I thought he tired, which was understandable.

‘‘Sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s his first game in the Premier League.’’

Nakamba’s teammate, McGinn, probably the game’s best player, said the Zimbabwean performance was excellent.

“Marvelous was excellent tonight,” McGinn told Aston Villa TV.

“He was everywhere. You see him winning second balls and feeding us lads up the pitch, so it was a great debut for him and, hopefully, we can see much more from him.”

But, the biggest compliment came from journalist Ashley Pearce, who covers Aston Villa for the Birmingham Mail, the local newspaper in the English city where the club is based.

‘‘I liked the look of Marvelous Nakamba, the Zimbabwean who was finally handed his Premier League debut by Smith against West Ham,’’ Pearce wrote.

‘‘The 25-year-old sat in front of the back four and enjoyed a lot of early touches of the football which would have no doubt calmed his nerves. He looks a really smooth operator, all left foot but ice-cool on the ball, often pivoting in the anchorman role while keeping it simple with his range of passing.

‘‘He looks – and is – more defensively-minded than Brazilian Douglas Luiz. The summer signing has a spring in his step as well and looks mobile.

‘‘He faded in the second half which is understandable given his last outing came against Crewe Alexandra in the cup a month ago. Smith admitted he tired before he was replaced by Douglas but the early signs are good.

‘‘Villa look much more balanced with him in the side – gave (Jack) Grealish and McGinn more of a licence to get forward, too. I’ve done well to resist a Marvelous pun in this mini review, by the way! Oops, too late.’’

Pearce gave Nakamba a rating of seven out of 10.

The statistics showed the midfielder completed five tackles in his shift, including a crucial one in the area that won the praise of his teammates, and also managed a pass completion rate of 81 per cent.

Villa named four players – Nakamba, Bjorn Engels, Tyrone Mings and McGinn – as possible contenders for the man-of-the-match award and asked their fans to use the club’s social media platforms to vote for the player they felt impressed them the most.

It’s a credit to the Zimbabwean’s performance that his club, after going through all the statistics, decided to shortlist him among the candidates for the man-of-the-match award.

And, a sizeable number of fans were going for the Zimbabwean.

‘‘It’s a toss-up between Engels, Nakamba and Freddy for me,’’ said Barry Hughes.

‘‘Can’t separate them for passion and desire. Nakamba really impressed me though.’’

Brett Mitchell Wilton said ‘‘Nakamba bossed it for me!! He’s got to start next game.’’

However, the two top national British tabloids, The Daily Mirror, and The Sun, were not as complimentary as they targeted the way Nakamba gave away possession twice in the first half.

‘‘Gave the ball away cheaply on his Premier League debut but improved,’’ said The Daily Mirror who gave Nakamba a 6 out of 10 mark while The Sun, while giving him a six, felt he should have done better.

‘‘Might need a new name. Started nervously and gave the ball away too easily,’’ said The Sun. ‘‘Played a nice one-two off Mike Dean for a drop-ball in the first half. Improved after the break.’’

Other Ratings

Eurosport – Heaton 7, Guilbert 7, Engels 7, Mings 7, Taylor 7, Nakamba 7, Grealish 7, Jota 6, McGinn 7, El Ghazi 7, Wesley 6. Subs: Elmohamady 6.

SkySports – Heaton (7), Guilbert (6), Engels (6), Mings (7), Taylor (6), Nakamba (7), Grealish (7), Jota (6), McGinn (7), El Ghazi (6), Wesley (5).