LIVERPOOL legend John Barnes arrived in the country yesterday for his maiden visit to Zimbabwe, a country he said he heard a lot about from his “good friend” Bruce Grobbelaar.
As our sister paper NewsDay Sport exclusively revealed on Tuesday, the Jamaican-born former England star, who currently works as a football commentator and pundit for ESPN and SuperSport TV channels, touched down around midday at the Harare International Airport.
Barnes, who was accompanied by the Standard Chartered Bank’s corporate affairs manager, Africa, Dan Mobley, was welcomed by the Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe Limited’s head of corporate affairs, Lillian Hapanyengwi.
Barnes had the opportunity to interact with and motivate up and coming players from the famed Aces Youth Soccer Academy (Aysa) at the Harare International School.
Standard Chartered Limited Zimbabwe was also scheduled to host a variety of events including a client cocktail with the affable star last night.
Barnes told NewsDay Sport in an interview soon after his arrival that having been to South Africa on a number of occasions he was delighted to finally come to Zimbabwe.
“I’m very happy to be in Zimbabwe, I’d never been here before so it’s a wonderful feeling to finally be here. One of my very good friends — Bruce Grobbelaar who played for Liverpool (LFC) and Zimbabwe’s national team has told me a lot of good things about Zimbabwe. I also know a couple of Zimbabwe players, I know Peter Ndlovu and Benjani (Mwaruwari).” he said.
“I always go to South Africa regularly, but had never been to Zimbabwe, unfortunately it won’t be for long as I leave tomorrow, but will relish the moment. Hopefully I will come again in the future to spend a bit more time.
“I’m here with Standard Chartered Bank, the sponsors of Liverpool Football Club so I will meet a lot from the Standard Chartered. I will also have a chance to visit a local academy and see their kids playing football.”
Aysa founding director, Nigel Munyati said their academy was very proud to have been graced by someone of Barnes’ calibré.
“This is very exciting for us as Aces Youth Academy. It’s not always that you get a legendary personality like that coming to watch you play. So for the kids it’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity to show what they can do so it’s a fantastic feeling for us as an institution,” Munyati said.
Standard Chartered Bank has been the main sponsor of LFC since July 2010.
The partnership allows the bank access to some of the most successful players in football, past and present, in order to create a host of unique experiences for customers and clients around the world.
Ralph Watungwa, chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe earlier this week told NewsDay Sport Barnes would go a long way in ensuring that the young and upcoming soccer stars are inspired to reach the heights the former Liverpool star reached.
“The club has a similar heritage to us — over 100 years of history, strong values and a determination to give back to the local community,” he said.
“The visit by John Barnes to Zimbabwe is important in ensuring that the young and upcoming soccer stars are inspired.”
Standard Chartered has partnered with LFC on a number of community initiatives. For example, over 2 000 children have been taught football and life skills via joint soccer clinics around the world, thousands of people heard the bank’s “Living with HIV” messages when they teamed up with the club for World Aids Day 2012, and millions of dollars have been raised for “Seeing is Believing (SiB)” via the Bank’s Perfect Match campaign, whereby LFC swopped the Standard Chartered logo on their shirts for the SiB logo for two matches.