BARCELONA football legends Edgar Davids and his Dutch compatriot Patrick Kluivert made a surprise appearance at the Zanu-PF presidential youth interface rally in Gwanda yesterday in a bid to meet President Robert Mugabe.
President Robert Mugabe meets European football legends (from right) Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Rayco Garcia who were accompanied by Sports and Recreation minister Makhosini Hlongwane (left) at the Zanu-PF presidential youth interface rally in Gwanda yesterday.
The duo, who are accompanied by Barcelona Legends representative, former Spanish football great Rayco Garcia, have been in the country since Thursday evening as guests of Sports and Recreation minister Makhosini Hlongwane.
The visit by the three is likely to culminate in the establishment of a foundation to benefit young footballers in the country while an agreement has already been reached for the Barcelona legends to play Zimbabwean legends in the country later this year.
It is understood that the visitors had, during their stay in Harare, requested to meet Mugabe, but they were told to wait until next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Thus, they had no option but to travel to Gwanda with Hlongwane in order to meet Mugabe.
While in Gwanda, the trio attended the commissioning of a community-based information centre in Jahunda before making a brief appearance at the Zanu-PF rally.
Hlongwane said their visit was part of the sport diplomacy initiative that will see several sporting gurus coming to Zimbabwe.
“You know, we have suffered 20 years of battering by some media, which is very hostile outside and an important part of making sure that we reconstruct our image is through sport and that is exactly what we are doing. These guys are here to do that and they have done quite some work in Harare. They are now here in Gwanda in a rural setup and this should be something very important,” Hlongwane said.
Garcia told reporters that he hoped the visit by the Barcelona legends would help promote the image of the country globally.
“The idea is to do some projects in the country and to support the youth and to support the country internationally. My job is to bring all the legends of Barcelona here, the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Juliano Belleti, Kluivert, Davids, Gaizka Mendietta, Carles Puyol… and to play a team of legends from Zimbabwe,” Garcia said.
“I think that is going to give hope to the youth while promoting talent in the country and bringing a piece of Europe to Zimbabwe. We feel that this is a beautiful country and there are a lot of opportunities. There is a big market waiting there in Europe for this country and there is need to believe in it and to promote it.”
On Friday the European football legends toured the Heroes Acres and the National Sports Stadium before winding up with a visit to Vice -President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office.
Davids is a Dutch legend who played for Ajax, winning several domestic and international titles. He played in Italy for AC Milan and later enjoyed a successful spell with Juventus before being loaned out to Barcelona in 2004.
He went on to play for Inter Milan and Tottenham Hotspur before returning to Ajax.
Kluivert spent six years at Barcelona from 1998 where he formed a successful partnership with Brazilian Rivaldo and won the Spanish La Liga championship in 1999.
Garcia, who has a rich network of former and current international footballers, has a foundation that has academy projects in countries such as China, Panama, Tanzania and Uganda. He was also in Zambia last year, where he discussed prospects of establishing similar projects in that country.
In 2015 Garcia took Barcelona legends to Uganda where they played an exhibition match in which the former lost 5-3.
Apart from Kluivert and Davids, former Manchester United striker Andy Cole, John Barnes and another Barcelona legend, Luis Figo have visited Zimbabwe in the past.