Ayr United’s Frankie Musonda is the boy from Bedford swapping the Scottish Championship for the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia; in this exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Musonda reflects on what this means to his family…
Image: Frankie Musonda will swap the Scottish Championship for the Africa Cup of Nations
Frankie Musonda signed off with Ayr United by scoring the equaliser in their 2-2 draw with Dunfermline at Somerset Park. A significant goal for the 2,022 supporters in attendance. But it is the demands of 20 million Zambians in his thoughts now.
Musonda, the 26-year-old boy from Bedford, son of an English mother and Zambian father, has been named in Avram Grant’s Zambia squad for the Africa Cup of Nations. His relatively quiet life in Scotland’s Championship is transformed once in national colours.
“It is really strange coming from playing in Scotland and going over there, just how many people seem to recognise me,” Musonda tells Sky Sports. “It feels a bit overwhelming at times. I cannot describe the feelings when I pull on that Zambia shirt.”
Ayr United’s Frankie Musonda discusses swapping the Scottish Championship for the Africa Cup of Nations with Zambia
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He adds: “When we go back, it is special. A lot of the team play in Europe so they don’t see us regularly. I don’t put myself in this category but some of the bigger stars are the heroes of the country. Just walking through the airport, everyone wants to meet us.”
Musonda does not take it for granted. The opportunity to play for Zambia has strengthened his connections to the country – and to his family. Visits to Kabwe, the city where many of his relatives still live, had been infrequent prior to his international call-up.
“One of my uncles, I had not seen since I was eight years old. I have two cousins who are similar ages to me. When I would go over, we would play football on the streets. For them to see me playing for Zambia is surreal for all of us. It is probably a lot crazier for them.”
Image: Zambia won the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012 with a shock victory in Gabon
Musonda was 14 when Zambia shocked a continent by winning the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012. The might of Ivory Coast were beaten on penalties in the final and Musonda remembers it well. “Didier Drogba is one of my heroes,” he recalls.
“To watch him lose to my country, to watch them do that, was something that I just thought was incredible. My dad was in Zambia at the time as well so we were on the phone and I could hear the parties going on in the background there. It was crazy. Unbelievable.”
Zambia have not built on that success. Indeed, they have not won a game at the tournament since their unlikely triumph, failing to qualify on the last three occasions. “It has not been as good for us as it probably should have been. But there are still expectations.”
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A 3-0 summer win over Ivory Coast, this year’s hosts, has increased those hopes once more. “It felt a bit surreal.” But further tests await them. Their group-stage opponents at AFCON 2023 will include Morocco, semi-finalists at the 2022 World Cup.
“For my club, I have played against a few stars. But for Zambia, It is incredible the players I have played against and been able to share a pitch with.” Who stands out? “Yves Bissouma at Mali and Wilfried Zaha for Ivory Coast. When he gets on the ball, it is special.”
Image: Musonda during his time at Braintree Town in 2017
But it is another player who best illustrates the journey that Musonda has been on. Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu was the man he replaced when making his professional debut for Luton as a substitute against Mansfield Town in League Two in January 2016.
Eight years on and Luton are in the Premier League and Mpanzu, incredibly, is still playing for the Hatters. The pair were set for an AFCON reunion when Zambia drew the Democratic Republic of Congo in Group F but Mpanzu did not make the final squad.
“What he has gone on to do has been remarkable,” says Musonda of his former team-mate. “He is in the history books now.” Nobody is enjoying Luton’s rise more than their old academy player. “I am still a huge fan. I watch them on TV every weekend.”
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Musonda is an inspiration in his own right. He started his own coaching business in Bedford before moving north of the border and even has a business degree, something he started when he was a teenager playing for Luton. It reflects a maturity beyond his years.
“I felt I had time on my hands and I had seen other players around me who did not manage to forge careers out of the game. I could see how quickly careers can end. It is another string to my bow. I just want to keep learning. I want to be a bit more bulletproof.”
He is learning a language too. Bemba is the language of choice among his Zambia team-mates when they return to play for their country. “I am picking up more and more. I want to speak it fluently. On the pitch, I am speaking a mix of both Bemba and English now.”
The only question is how long his AFCON adventure will last. In Leicester City striker Patson Daka, Zambia boast a potent attacking weapon but much will depend on the organisation, discipline and unity of the supporting cast. Musonda is optimistic.
“We are a team who are a bit more under the radar but there is a lot of belief. The aim is to get out of the group and after that you just have to take it game by game. We are not there to make up the numbers. We are there to make the people back home proud.”
Millions of Zambians will be cheering on the Ayr United defender. “All my friends and family will be following. Maybe a couple will come out to see us. They are all very excited about it.” And for Musonda? “I just don’t want it to end. Each game is a blessing.”