Robson Sharuko — Senior Sports Editor
HE was overshadowed by Khama Billiat, when they went head-to-head, in an explosive battle of their countries’ talismans, at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, just two years ago.
But, four months ago, Patson Daka got his revenge, scoring twice in Harare, to power Chipolopolo to a 2-0 victory over the Warriors.
Billiat, still battling an injury, did not feature in that 2021 AFCON qualifier, whose result had no bearing, in the battle for a place at the finals in Cameroon.
However, some important people were watching, from a distance, analysing every move Daka was making, at the National Sports Stadium, the two goals he scored and his overall contribution, to his team’s cause.
Those prying eyes, who were taking notes from their hidden bases in England, were in the final stages of their assessment, of Zambia’s most exciting football prospect.
Their mission was to provide the correct data, to help Leicester City manager, Brendan Rodgers, make a sound decision on whether Daka could be added, to his squad, with the expectation of bringing value to his team.
On Wednesday, a five-year deal was struck, when the 22-year-old Zambian international completed his move to the Flying Foxes, in the most expensive transfer, involving a Southern African footballer.
The English Premiership side, who won the FA Cup last season after a shock final victory over Chelsea, will fork out about £23 million (about US$31,6 million), to his former club, Austrian side, Red bull Salzburg.
It’s the biggest amount ever exchanged by two clubs, for the services of a footballer, from this part of the continent.
And, its significance is put into focus, by the reduced capacity to spend among the clubs, whose resources have been hit hard, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As if on cue, Daka completed his mega bucks move on the same day Billiat’s contract, with Kaizer Chiefs, expired, triggering a media frenzy, on the future of the Zimbabwean.
However, the Amakhosi quickly moved in to resolve the issue by triggering the option, in Billiat’s contract which allowed them to extend the deal.
Of course, with Billiat set to turn 31, on August 19, this year, he was unlikely to feature in the equation, as clubs like Leicester City, seek to improve their squads, for next season.
But, Daka’s move to the Foxes will once again provide a reminder, of the great opportunities which lie out there.
And, in a way, it will once again trigger debate about how, and why, a player, as talented as Billiat, didn’t even end up moving to Europe.
Two years ago, Billiat and Daka went head-to-head, in a 2021 Nations Cup showdown, at the Heroes Stadium in Lusaka, as they both tried to breathe life into their countries’ campaign.
Chipolopolo had started their campaign on the back foot, with a 0-5 hammering at the hands of African champions Algeria.
The Warriors had flattered to deceive, in a goalless home draw, against Botswana.
The odds still favoured the hosts, who had never lost an AFCON qualifier at home to the Warriors but, with Zimbabwe skipper, Knowledge Musona in inspired form, the visitors ticked all the boxes, and were deserved 2-1 winners.
Billiat was the hero that night, striking twice, either side of the interval, on both occasions feeding off Musona’s assists, the first with a looping header, the second with a composed finish.
He broke the deadlock, in the 10th minute, when his header kissed the underside of the crossbar, and went home, after meeting a ball swung in from a corner, by Musona.
Then, seven minutes later, he forced Zambia’s ‘keeper, Mwenye Chibwe, into a wonderful reflex save, to tap away his connection, from another of Musona’s deliveries, into the hosts’ box.
Daka hit back for Chipolopolo, using his searing pace to race clear of the visitors’ defence and then showing remarkable strength, after his surging run, to blast a screamer into the roof the net.
However, Billiat settled the contest, 12 minutes from time, with his second of the night, after excellent work down the channel by Musona.
But, it’s Daka, who scored all his country’s three goals, in their two 2021 Nations Cup qualifiers against the Warriors, who is now stepping into football’s big time, following his dream move to Leicester City.
While Daka’s 68 goals, in 125 appearances, for RB Salzburg, demonstrated his good goal-scoring instincts, at club level, the Foxes were also happy he could score, among the big boys, in international football.
“Today, Daka has 25 international caps to his name, and seven goals, most recently a brace in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying against Zimbabwe in March 2021,” the Leicester City official website noted, as they welcomed him, into their fold.
His five goals, in the 2021 AFCON qualifiers, came only in three matches for his country.
Daka scored 34 goals, in 34 appearances, in all competitions, for his Austrian club, last season.
“To the Leicester City fans, I’m so excited to be a part of this great club. I have received thousands of messages already from the fans,” he told Leicester City TV.
He will find two Zimbabweans – Admiral Muskwe and Tawanda Maswanhise – at the Foxes after the duo, who are largely seen as players still being developed, had their contracts extended.
Maswanhise, a midfielder who is expected to develop into a very good player, was even included in the enlarged squad, for the FA Cup final, and received a winner’s medal.