BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
ZIMBABWE international Marvelous Nakamba (pictured right) has made 28 appearances so far in his first season in the English premiership for relegation-haunted Aston Villa.
The 26-year-old midfield maestro’s stats also include five cup competition appearances, one of which was the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City in February.
But today Nakamba is set to feature in easily his most important Aston Villa assignment when they travel to London Stadium to face in-form West Ham in the final match of the season.
It is the most important match in his career because a defeat will mean relegation for Villa and uncertainty for Nakamba’s career.
The 12-million euro switch to Villa was Nakamba’s biggest career move as he became only the fourth Zimbabwean player after legend Bruce Grobbelaar, Peter Ndlovu and Benjani Mwaruwari to play in the lucrative English league.
And once Villa’s status in the English top-flight league expires today, it may also signal the end of Nakamba’s year-long flirtation with English football.
Already Nakamba’s future with Aston Villa is already under scrutiny after an underwhelming season under coach Dean Smith’s watch, having been relegated to substitute appearances since football resumed following the Covid-19-enforced break.
Relegation could also be a blessing in disguise for Nakamba who is reportedly being watched by Turkish top club Trabzonspor as a possible replacement for Nigerian veteran star Mikel Obi who left the club about four months ago.
While Trabzonspor dangle the carrot of UEFA Champions League football for Nakamba, they may not be able to afford the player’s salary as well as the glamour and glitter of the premiership.
There also could be Premier League clubs watching the development with keen interest, but one scenario Nakamba would not fancy is to play in the second-tier Championship next season.
Thus the West Ham clash becomes the biggest match of Nakamba’s career. Whether in the starting line-up or coming on as a substitute as he has done in recent weeks, Nakamba knows fully well that he will be fighting for his own future.
“What a massive win tonight for the team and our fans. Nothing is impossible; there are ways that lead to everything. Our focus now turns to the weekend,” Nakamba wrote on his Twitter handle following the momentous mid-week victory against Arsenal.
Villa, who spent almost 150 million pounds following promotion from the Championship last season, are desperate for survival and could face what chief executive Christian Purslow described as a “£200 million catastrophe” if they fail to beat the drop.
They will almost certainly lose talisman Jack Grealish as well as defender Tyrone Mings and midfielders John McGinn and Douglas Luiz, among others.
But coach Smith believes billionaire owners would protect Villa from the dual effects of the coronavirus pandemic and a substantial loss of television income.
“We are very fortunate as a club that we have two billionaire owners who we are reliant on and have been fantastic for us. Each club is different and if we were to get relegated, we are still in a good position in terms of the ownership we have,” he said last week.
“The short-term future of the club is not in jeopardy at all. We are in great hands with the owners we have got. If we get relegated it’s one of those things we have to deal with, but we all want to keep our Premier League status,” he said.
But what kind of results would save Villa from the dreaded chop in a nerve-wrecking final day?
Villa are in 17th place in the league with the same number of points as Watford, but enjoy a superior goal difference by just one goal which they have fate in their own hands.
As such, Villa will be safe if they draw and Watford lose while they will also be safe if they win by the same or a better margin than Watford.
If all three teams including Bournemouth in 19th place lose by the same margin, Villa will be safe, and if Villa win, Watford need to better their result by two goals to avoid relegation.
The only way Bournemouth can survive is if they win and both Villa and Watford lose.