(BBC) On Friday, thirty years ago, Peter Ndlovu contributed significantly to African Premier League history.
The former Zimbabwean international scored for Coventry City in a 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday on September 2, 1992, when he was still a teenager, being the first African to do so in the newly renamed English top flight.
When the winger replaced John Williams in Coventry’s Premier League away triumph at Tottenham Hotspur on August 19, 1992, he had already reached the milestone of 100 international appearances. He had joined Coventry from Highlanders a year earlier.
Ndlovu is honored to be recognized as the first African to compete in the division and believes his continent has made a significant contribution to the league’s popularity and attractiveness on a global scale.
“I’m sure I was told then, ‘Do you know that you’re the first African to play in the Premier League?’. I probably just said ‘OK’ and didn’t give it anymore thought,” Ndlovu, 49 and now based in South Africa, told BBC Sport Africa.
“The thing for me was that I was just playing football.
“But when you see now after all these years, it’s very special when you’ve started something for African players to come after me.
“I’m just so proud of all of them that they have made [the Premier League] better and we can see that many of the big money players (English clubs) are buying now are Africans.”
Ndlovu, who was born in Bulawayo, played football in England for more than ten years. He began by forging a lethal partnership with Micky Quinn and stayed at Coventry until making a £1.6 million transfer to Birmingham City in 1997.
In addition to playing for Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town on loan, he spent 16 years as a member of the Zimbabwean national side, including appearances at two Africa Cup of Nations finals.
“It’s history, great memories and all good times. I appreciate that people always remember the good things and the first time an African played in the EPL,” Ndlovu, now the team manager of South African champions Mamelodi Sundowns, said.
Approximately 300 Africans have joined Ndlovu in what is regarded as the strongest league in football since he made his Premier League debut at the old White Hart Lane.
“What I like about all the 300 that have come after me, you can say they’ve even added value and represented the continent very well,” he said.
“You can see how much the standards have gone up compared to the time when I started. It’s a very good league and we support it all the time.
“Also, with the large number of players playing in the Premier League, as well as all over the other leagues, it shows that Africa is the provider of some of the best players in the world.”
Ndlovu claims that his stay in England helped to shape who he is as a guy.
“Well, when I went there first it was just like, ‘I’m going to play football’.
“Then I realised how much it had changed my life, changed my perception about the football, changed the way that I would act.
“It made me a better person, it made me understand what success was all about, what football is all about. And when I started concentrating, I became a better person, not only a better footballer, but a better person in life.
Ndlovu scored 34 Premier League goals, all for Coventry, and is still the highest-scoring Zimbabwean in England, but the list of all-time African goal scorers has since far exceeded him.
Mohamed Salah of Liverpool is in first place with 122 goals, followed by Didier Drogba of old Chelsea and Sadio Mane with 111 and 104, respectively.
But the player who sticks out for Ndlovu as Africa’s best export to the Premier League is a former Ivory Coast teammate of Drogba.
“Yaya Toure represented Africa with pride,” Ndlovu said.
“He was an all-rounder. What I liked about him was he could score, head, dribble and do everything. He was a complete player.”
Despite having a little gray in his hair, Ndlovu, who will turn 50 in February, still appears to be as trim and trim as he did when he was playing.
He has spent more than ten years at Sundowns, first as a player at the end of his career and then as a member of the club’s management.
Ndlovu will always be remembered for his role in the Premier League’s history, even if many athletes from all across Africa aspire to play there. (BBC)