'Chelsea here I come'

HARARE - Aspiring teenage footballer Joseph Mandevani yesterday fought back tears and could barely speak after he was selected the winner of the Chelsea-Shield talent search competition at Belgravia Sports Club yesterday.

Mandevani will now get a chance to travel to England later this year and will be part of the Africa XI side that will get a chance to train at Chelsea’s Cobham Training Centre.

The 19-year-old utility player and his colleagues will get a chance to play against a Chelsea Legends side and in the hope that any of them impresses the Blues coaching staff; they might be offered a place at Cobham.

Mandevani, who hails from Harare’s Glen View suburb, came out tops after beating the challenge of 33 other local players, who were part of the training squad in the Unilever-sponsored competition.

The talent search contest began two months ago when local coaches Kalisto Pasuwa, Cosmas Zulu, Naison Muchekela and Alois Bunjira held trials in both Harare and Bulawayo.

After the trials, 34 players were picked for the final boot camp which began last Friday at Belgravia Sports Club.

Two days ago, Chelsea development coaches Laurence Griffin, Steve O’Reilly and Antony Myers arrived in the country as the competition intensified.

The three Chelsea coaches with their local counterparts then took the participants through their paces for two days while identifying their strength and weaknesses.

In the end, the coaches all settled for Mandevani after they all concurred that he was the best player out of the group because of his technical ability and understanding of the game.

An emotional Mandevani could not believe his luck after his name was called out as the winner and when it was time to say his congratulatory speech, he froze for a second.

“I’m delighted to be afforded this opportunity. I’m really grateful to the coaches for selecting me. I hope this is the beginning of good things to come in my career,” was all an ecstatic Mandevani could say.

Griffin, who is the football development officer for the English Premiership giants across Asia, said the 19-year-old possesses quality they were looking for in an individual to succeed at the highest level.

“We were looking for a rounded individual, who possesses a number of different qualities such as the technical ability on the ball, the ability to pass, dribble, turn, shoot; what they can  do as an individual,” Griffin said.

“We were also looking for tactical understanding of the game, how they can read the game, how do they adapt to different scenarios, situations, formations, systems of play. We were looking for a person as well.

“It was not just about the football ability, it’s about how they support themselves; look after themselves on and off the pitch. And Joseph has these qualities.

“Of course it was not easy and I hope all of these boys will go and inspire other people in their communities.”

Former Warriors coach Pasuwa, who won four consecutive league titles with Dynamos, is hoping most of the players, who were in camp, would get an opportunity at various clubs to pursue their careers.

“The talent we have seen from these young men on the field has been impressive and I’m excited to see them continue to pursue their dreams,” said Pasuwa.

“The boys have lived up to the challenge and Mandevani has made it to go and train with one of the biggest teams in the world. It was always going to be a difficult task and these youngsters never made it any easy for the selectors.”

Shield representative Hillary Muzondiwa said: “We are so honoured to offer this experience to this talented group of players. Our hope and aim are to provide a platform where they can showcase their skills and passion for the game.”

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