Difficulties in securing a UK work permit blocked a huge Premier League opportunity for the then Warriors captain
Former Chippa United coach Norman Mapeza says he kept focused on the future despite the frustration of failing to join West Ham United following a successful trial in 2000.
Having already played in Poland and Turkey including Champions League football with Galatasaray, Mapeza impressed then Hammers coach Harry Redknapp but failed to obtain a work permit.
“In the end, they said they couldn’t get a work permit for me, even though they said they had tried their best to get one,’’ Mapeza told The Herald.
“It was disappointing, of course, because the manager told me they really wanted me to join the team and he told me I had done very well during my time with the team.
“The other players had also embraced me and were happy with my presence there because they felt I could add value to the team. However, such things happen, it’s the way football and life is, there are disappointments here and there, but the most important thing is to keep focused and looking ahead.’’
Another opportunity to play in the Premier League emerged the following year when Redknapp who was now at Portsmouth tried to bring Mapeza to Pompey from Austrian side SV Ried.
But again, the defender-cum-anchorman could not secure a work permit despite having played more than 50 games for Zimbabwe and captaining the Warriors.
At that time, Liverpool legendary goalkeeper Bruce Grobbelaar and Peter Ndlovu were the only Zimbabweans to have tasted Premier League football.
During the West Ham trial, Mapeza played three friendly matches against Swindon Town, Plymouth Argyle and Exeter City, with Rio Ferdinand his partner at the heart of defence.
Ferdinand rated the Zimbabwean as “good enough for the Premiership.”
“He is a very good player and all the players here are kind of surprised that he did not get signed,’’ Ferdinand told The Herald during that time.
“He is a great guy. He played three games for us and impressed everyone who saw him. He is good enough for the Premiership and he should have impressed other teams, or scouts, who saw him play in the pre-season matches and there should be one club that should take him.
“If that happens, there will be a lot of people, among the players here, who will be happy for Norman because we really liked him.’’
From Austria, Mapeza returned to Turkey to sign for Malatyaspor and then a brief stint at Ajax Cape Town before he retired due to persistent injuries in 2006.