The Rangers player making waves back home as a role-model as TV coverage begins

European football is not exactly awash with imports from Zambia. Rangers striker Fashion Sakala duly takes pride in being a trailblazer as the first from his country to play in the top flight of Scottish football.

Fashion Sakala of Rangers looks ahead to Wednesday night’s Premier Sports Cup quarter-final tie against Livingston at Ibrox. (Photo by Kirk O'Rourke)

In a summer transfer window which also saw his international team-mates Enock Mwepu and Patson Daka move to the English Premier League with Brighton and Leicester City respectively, Sakala is also aware of the responsibility which comes with suddenly enjoying a much higher profile in his homeland.

“Looking at where I have come from, I have been a role model to a lot of people in Zambia”, said Sakala.

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“People just didn’t think a (top) football player would come from there. But I have made it to reach this level, and I believe I am still going. And being a role model is something that helps me to keep going.

Rangers striker Fashion Sakala applauds the fans after being substituted in the 1-1 draw against Motherwell at Ibrox. (Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

“I believe I have to stay disciplined and I have to stay committed to the work – and work extra hard – so I continue inspiring a lot of people from my area in the country.

“That gives me more courage and confidence to work extra hard, to be that role model for a long period of time in my country.

“It’s a very big responsibility and I think it is helping me because if I didn’t have to consider it as a responsibility, then maybe I would have been acting badly and not committing myself to hard work or not being positive.

“Before I came here, we didn’t have TV coverage of the Scottish league in Zambia. But immediately when I signed for Rangers they gave us access to watch the Scottish league.

Fashion Sakala celebrates after scoring for his country in 2017. The Rangers striker hopes to be involved in Zambia's World Cup qualifier in Equatorial Guinea next month. (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

“So the responsibility I am carrying on my shoulders makes me stay on a positive straight line, keep going forward and keep working extra hard.”

Freezing point

Sakala’s journey from Nchanga Rangers in the copper-mining region of Zambia to the more famous Glasgow version in Govan has been one of big decisions and personal sacrifice.

He left his family behind to move to Spartak Moscow in 2017, surviving a shock to the system in terms of both culture and climate which saw others around him falter. Sakala’s perseverance earned him a transfer to Oostende in Belgium where his development over three seasons persuaded Rangers to hand him a four-year deal this summer.

“It’s all about the dedication, the discipline and the commitment to the work,” added the 24-year-old.

“Looking at my journey to reach here, I have gone through a lot. But I have always tried to stay positive and to keep working hard. It has been a tough journey.

“But at the same time I am very proud of it and things are bright and positive. I still have the belief that there is more to come in the future. I just have to keep on working hard and continue being positive.

“I just believed in the journey. When I went to Russia at a young age, it was very difficult just looking at the weather. In Zambia it is hot and in Russia at that time it was like minus 20 degrees. So it was hard for me to come from 40 degrees to minus 20.

“It was a very big culture change, but at the same time I tried to be very positive. I went there with three other players from Africa and the other players kept on complaining about the weather.

“But I kept it positive and I worked hard and made the move to Belgium and that was a perfect step.

“Going to Moscow toughened me up. I felt like it was the right time to go to Russia and maybe if I came to Scotland directly from Zambia, I would have been complaining about the weather as well!

“But I’ve been to Russia and coming to Scotland is a little bit easy compared to that.”

Settling in

Sakala scored his first goal for Rangers in their 1-1 Premiership draw against Motherwell at Ibrox on Sunday and feels he is adapting to the demands set out to him by manager Steven Gerrard.

“I’m trying to fit into the style of Rangers,” he said. “I’m also trying to bring in what I know. With the quality of the players we have here, I can become better. This is the process for me, to learn how Rangers play and how the coach wants me to play.

“The goal was the beginning of me getting my confidence. It was a good feeling but unfortunately we drew the game. And drawing at Ibrox is like a loss for us.

“As a striker, I know my mission and the mission is always to help the team. That’s something we always do in training. All the strikers are always working together to make sure that we deliver.

“From the time I came here, I have been very happy, very excited. Everything looks bright. I had an injury a few weeks ago. That’s the only problem that frustrated me a little bit. I’m back to full fitness and I’m getting my confidence again. I have a lot to offer the club.”

Sakala also hopes to add to his 14 caps for Zambia, having missed their World Cup qualifiers earlier this month.

“Looking at the situation now with Covid, it is a little bit difficult because Zambia is a red zone country,” he said.

“I can’t go to Zambia to play games there, but we have one game in Equatorial Guinea next month and I can go there because it is a green zone.

“I need to make sure that I am performing and working hard for Rangers. If I keep on working well here then it will be easier for me to play for the national team.”

Fashion Sakala was speaking at a Premier Sports Cup event. Premier Sports is available on Sky, Virgin TV and the Premier Player. Prices start from £12.99 per month.

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