WHEN Marvelous Nakamba joined Aston Villa in August, the Zimbabwean international midfielder was asked how he was feeling and his simple answer was bang on point.
“Marvellous,” said Nakamba with a smile that warmed hearts from Villa’s home city of Birmingham to Zimbabwe’s border town of Beitbridge.
Zimbabweans, millions of them disciples of the English Premiership, had waited for a long time to have one of their own sons doing business in the EPL.
There was Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Ndlovu, Benjani Mwaruwari before.
And now there was Nakamba.
Suddenly, a team we cared very little about — minus those who are into sports betting — found itself into our hearts.
Watching Villa play became a must and, on the days the club included Nakamba on the man-of-the-match nominees the Zimbabwean Twitter brigade made it a no contest.
We all felt marvellous.
But 25 EPL appearances later, it’s fair to say Nakamba has not sparked a marvel at Villa.
However, very few people set the stage alight in their debut EPL seasons.
Bruno Fernandes is making it look easy at Manchester United but that’s him, a genius.
Nakamba has put in a shift each time he has taken to the park, running his socks off, and picking four yellow cards.
He cannot be blamed for not putting his shoulder to the wheel in a bid to breathe life into a club that often looks lifeless in colourful shirts.
Aston Villa’s claret jersey is full of life but that’s as far as it goes, watching them hurts.
With a Zimbabwean in the club’s dressing room, it’s easy to appreciate why Nakamba’s countrymen would like Dean Smith’s squad to avoid relegation this term.
Villa, with 27 points from 33 games, are staring relegation in the face and their Zimbabwean Warrior, with boyish looks, has lost his place in the starting XI.
It’s difficult to imagine this is the same Nakamba the Villa fans were singing about when he made his EPL debut in the goalless draw against West Ham on September 16 last year.
It’s often argued that one is as good as his last match.
And, if that is true, where does this leave Nakamba — an unused substitute in Aston Villa’s 0-2 defeat at champions Liverpool on Sunday?
Nakamba started the 0-1 defeat to Wolves, in the last match day, but could not make the starting XI at Anfield, a place where Villa needed to be the unmovable object that sought to stop an irresistible force.
Maybe, just maybe, the 26-year-old is at a place where he may be asking himself whether the decision to move from Belgium to England was the correct one.
After the defeat to Wolves, Nakamba was described by the Birmingham Mail, a publication that devotes pages to Villa news each day, as nervous.
“Nervous on his return to the XI. Loose in possession playing on the left-hand side of Villa’s midfield diamond. Recovered after a nasty head clash with Matt Doherty.
“Arguably at fault for Wolves’ crucial goal, allowing his man — Dendoncker — in to pick up the loose ball before the Belgian fired home,” charged Ashley Preece.
Patriotism would spur one into cursing at Preece but the football mind would counsel us into taking a deep breath and having another look at the game in question.
Indeed, our boy has moved from marvellous to nervous!
It’s now nine games without a win for Villa but Smith reckons his team is playing with the stuff Nakamba is lacking at the moment — confidence.
“We’ve been playing with confidence since the start of Project Restart. We haven’t got the points we would have liked but, to out-shoot the champions, was pleasing.
“There’s only been a few wins down the bottom six with Brighton beating Norwich. We deserve more points from the games we played. We have to keep believing,” said the Villa coach after the defeat to Liverpool on Sunday.
So what’s next for Nakamba, who is contracted to Villa, until June 2024?
Getting back into the starting XI is the immediate priority but a long term path has to be envisaged and worked towards.
Should he do a Musona — chicken out and find solace in a less demanding league?
Warriors’ skipper, Knowledge Musona, moved back to Kaizer Chiefs in 2013, on loan from German club Hoffeinheim, when the going got tough.
However, doing that would thrust Nakamba into some unfashionable company. It will see him go down in history as the guy who got there, couldn’t stand the heat and retreated into a shell.
On the other hand, taking it on the chin, and staying put, will give him a chance to prove to the world he is a real Warrior.
Moving to Villa was a dream come true for Nakamba but staying put is no longer the stuff of dreams.
It takes guts.
And the time has come for Nakamba to prove he has the talent that deserves to be showcased at a grand stage.
What if Villa fail to pull a Houdini Act and get chopped back into the Championship?
“If he has character; he should give it a go with Villa in the Championship — he’ll be better for the experience,” reckons sportscaster Mike Madoda.
True Warriors are judged, not buy the number of times they fall, but the times they get up and fight on.
And, in moving from Hwange to Birmingham, Nakamba fell countless times and, crucially, got up after each of those falls.