When the then 22-year-old Alec Mudimu was called up to represent Zimbabwe for the first time, he described himself as "shell shocked", The prospect of representing the country of his birth in a four nations tournament was an amazing opportunity for the young midfielder who had plied his trade in the lower echelons of English non-league before signing for Welsh Premier League side Cefn Druids.
Little did Mudimu know he would play a key role in ensuring the Zimbabwe Warriors went on to win the tournament, utilizing his physical prowess at centre-back as his team earned a narrow victory over Zambia in the final.
Fast forward just over 12 months and Mudimu has taken his international career to the next level. He solidified his place in the Zimbabwe starting XI in a squad largely composed of South Africa based professionals but also featuring a few more illustrious names such as Nottingham Forest's Tendayi Darikwa and Club Brugge midfielder Marvelous Nakamba. Heady heights for a man who still plays his club football at a semi-professional level in the Welsh Premier League.
As recently as 2017, he was playing in the 10th tier of English football with North West Counties outfit Stockport Town, having also turned out for the likes of Stalybridge Celtic and Radcliffe Borough.
But it must have been a surreal experience for Mudimu when he found himself called up again for international duty, this time for the African Cup of Nations. And Zimbabwe's first game couldn't have been much tougher: Egypt were the opposition, with a squad led by Champions League winning sensation Mo Salah.
Mudimu, playing at centre back, was given the task of man-marking FIFA's 2018 Best Men's Player of the Year Finalist. But Mudimu and Salah may have as many similarities as they do differences. Perhaps they are a world apart in terms of reputation, pedigree and even wages but less than 50 miles separate their respective clubs.
At any rate, Mudimu did not disgrace himself in the face of his star-studded Egyptian opposition. Zimbabwe may have lost the first game of their AFCON campaign 1-0, but they should by no means be written off yet. And Mudimu will no doubt be looking to use the platform he has been granted to further his professional career.
Trials with professional clubs Rochdale and Fleetwood have not, as of yet, borne fruit, but Mudimu has built up quite the reputation in Welsh football circles, demonstrating his talent by helping his club Cefn Druids to qualify for the 2018 Europa League qualifiers, for only the second time in their history. Surely it is only a matter of time before Zimbabwe's secret weapon earns himself a move at least a few rungs up the footballing ladder.Published 27 Jun 2019, 09:57 IST