From facing Sholing in the Hampshire Senior Cup to lining up in the Africa Cup of Nations, Jordan Zemura has come a long way in a short space of time.
It was March 2019 when Zemura, recently released by Charlton Athletic, was handed an opportunity to revive his career during a trial spell with AFC Bournemouth.
Despite tasting defeat in his first run-out in the quarter-final of the county cup in front of a crowd of 160 at Sholing’s Universal Stadium, Zemura did enough to impress.
The buccaneering left-back started out in Shaun Cooper’s development squad before he was soon elevated to the first-team ranks under Eddie Howe.
Five months after playing Sholing, Zemura featured in a pre-season friendly against Lyon before he scored in a penalty shootout on his first-team debut against Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup in September 2020.
All the while, his exploits with the Cherries were being monitored by Zimbabwe, Zemura winning his first two caps in Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers against Algeria in November 2020.
A barnstorming start to this season saw Zemura firmly establish himself under Scott Parker, the 22-year-old one of the mainstays of the Cherries’ rise to the top of the Championship.
And although injury threatened his chances of adding to his tally of four caps, you get the impression Zemura would have moved heaven and earth to ensure he would be available for the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon.
Discussing his Zimbabwean heritage in an interview with afcb.co.uk, Zemura said: “I was born in North London and raised on the Isle of Sheppey. My mum and dad were both born in Zimbabwe and moved to England when they were in their 20s.
“I was very young when I went there for the first time. My mum was finishing her university degree and my dad was working. I stayed with my grandparents for a couple of years.
“Growing up there was amazing and that’s when I fell in love with football because my uncles used to play a good standard. I remember going to watch games in a van with my cousins.
“My beautiful grandma, my dad’s mum, the Honourable Lilian Zemura is an MP in Zimbabwe. I wish she lived in England because I know we’d be super close. We’re close now but she’s in Zim and I’m in England. Hopefully, she can get to Cameroon but I know she’ll be cheering from Zim if she can’t.
“I’ve got a lot of love for back home and I am very proud of my heritage.”
Zimbabwe qualified for the finals as runners-up to Algeria in Group H and lost their opening game against Senegal when Saido Mane netted an injury-time penalty on Monday. Their second game is against Malawi on Friday (4pm) before they face Guinea on Tuesday (4pm).
Zemura, who also started two World Cup qualifiers against Ghana in October 2021, said: “I’ve played in some hard games against some of the top teams in Africa.
“It’s been good experience for me playing against Premier League players and some of the top European talent.
“The internationals have helped me mature and understand that this is the level you want to reach. If you want to play against the best, you have to be at it from minute one. I’m just going to take it one game at a time and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity.
“We have played Algeria, one of the best teams in Africa, and Ghana and gave a great account of ourselves. This time, we want to try to make our nation proud.”
Several ex-players have hit back at criticism of the Africa Cup of Nations with former Arsenal and England striker Ian Wright suggesting the competition was being “disrespected” by some adverse media coverage.
Asked for his thoughts, Zemura said: “I 100 per cent agree on this. Sebastien Haller was asked whether he would rather stay and focus on his club football with Ajax because of how well he was doing.
“It was a ludicrous question to ask someone like him because he’s going to represent his country on the biggest stage. I know some of these countries play in the World Cup but only five teams from Africa get to go.
“When you qualify for the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, it’s like ‘wow, what a football tournament’.
“It’s a major tournament with some great players and you can’t say no.
“The young players in Zim will look up and watch our national team and think ‘wow, that could be me soon’.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer. I’ve got to go and perform to the best of my ability. I’ll miss Bournemouth very much because this is my second home but I’m sure the boys will be alright.
“I want to go as far as I can with Zim and then I’ll be ready to come back and fight for my place back in the team.”