Aston Villa have successfully taken chances on experienced African players about to enter their primes in the transfer market. Villa’s African influence has been instrumental in their success back in the Premier League. With their Summer 2019 signings of Marvelous Nakamba, Mahmoud Trezeguet, and Anwar El Ghazi, the Birmingham side have found a backbone in center midfield and a wing pair that electrify their attacking transitions.
The African trio would have been on the headlines had it not been for the heroics of another African, Sadio Mane, who stole the show with an assist in the 87th and a goal in the 94th minute to give Liverpool a 2-1 win at the death, maintaining the Reds undefeated start in the Premier League.
Marvelous Nakamba, who was signed from Club Brugge in August after his performances at the 2019 African Cup of Nations, held the Villa midfield together defensively and progressed attacks in the absence of captain Jack Grealish. He man marked and shut out Liverpool and Egypt hitman Mohamed Salah (the second time the CAF Player of the Year has been shut down by a Zimbabwe player in the past five months).
Trezeguet and El Ghazi provide width during defensive and build-up play, and they possess the blistering pace and end product to spearhead counter attacks and in Trezeguet’s case, score against Liverpool. Trezeguet’s first goal in England has been a long time coming for the 25 year old. He finally earned a move to a top five European league this summer after playing for three teams in three years after leaving Al Ahly in 2016.
Immediate success has never come easy for the midfielder born in Kafr El Sheikh (a city in the Nile Delta of Lower Egypt that also produced Feyenoord, Tottenham Hotspurs, and Al Ahly central midfielder Hossam Ghaly). Loan transfers from Ahly to Nottingham Forest and OGC Nice fell through because of instability at Ahly. The Egyptian club rejected offers from Celtic for the winger as early as December 2013. Almost five years later, he’s found himself scoring in Great Britain. Even after joining Villa, he struggled to earn a spot in the first team until the Liverpool match.
On the right wing, Moroccan and Dutch winger Anwar El Ghazi has had a career resume that makes more sense in reverse. Starting his professional career at AFC Ajax, El Ghazi made 99 appearances for the Dutch outfit, scoring 23 and assisting 16 goals. In 2015, he played twice for the Dutch national team, cap tying him to the Netherlands team that he would not play for since.
His decision to play between Morocco and the Netherlands was influenced by Cristiano Ronaldo. El Ghazi met Ronaldo during the summer break, and as a player who he looked up to, he asked him whether he should represent the Netherlands or Morocco. Ronaldo advised him to choose the Netherlands, for their status in World Football.
Looking for more consistent playing opportunities, he moved to LOSC Lille in December 2017 for $7.98m.
He didn’t hit it off in Ligue 1, and seemed to be at a stagnant point in his career before a loan move to Villa inspired a resurgence in form.
Marvelous Nakamba was never really in the spotlight before moving to Villa. Having played in five countries by the age of 25, the Zimbabwe international has done a fair bit of travelling in his career. At 18, trials at Ligue 2 side Nancy earned him a move from the recently formed Zimbabwe PL side Bantu Rovers to the Nancy second team. Nakamba finally broke through to the first team and made his Ligue 1 Debut in May 2014, now aged 20. Despite being offered a new deal at the end of the season with just two first team appearances under his belt, Nakamba wanted to keep climbing up the European ladders, and trialed at Dutch side Vitesse: a side in a worse league where he would have more importance and be able to develop more. He quickly won his spot as a first team regular, and quietly developed in the cover of the Dutch league, away from the spotlights that characterize top-five league football. In Summer 2017, Nakamba took another leap and moved to Club Brugge, giants of the Belgian First Division who are known to nurture and develop African players.
El Ghazi, is only one of a few players from the Championship side that earned promotion that still starts after the influx of new signings. On loan from Lille, he started in 31 and played in 38 games for Villa in the Championship. With 11 goal contributions, he was a key member of Dean Smith’s team that would challenge for promotion in the three game playoff, where four teams battle for the highly lucrative, final Premier League spot.
El Ghazi became a hero for Villa fans on loan when he scored the opener in the playoff final against the Frank Lampard managed Derby County that Villa won 2-1. El Ghazi’s performances earned him a permanent move to Villa this summer. It appears El Ghazi has staged a renaissance of his career.
Trezeguet has had a steady rise to success, a move to Europe’s top leagues was always a question of when instead of if. His time in Belgium was unsuccessful, likely because the difference in football between Egypt and Belgium was too significant to overcome without any stepping stones. A loan move to Royal Excel Mouscron from Anderlecht was not fruitful, and it was not until he moved on loan (and then permanently) to Turkish SuperLig side Kasimpasa that he started finding the net at will.
In Turkey, he scored 25 and assisted 18 goals in 71 games. Not only was he one of the best players in the league, but his highlights were extraordinary, with countless freekick and long rage strikes accompanying slaloming runs through defenses filling up his highlight reel. It was almost certain he would move to Inter Milan last summer but the move fell through at the last minute. Looking at where he is now, it is probably best that he landed at Villa Park.