Stade de Reims’ Marshall Nyasha Munetsi plays his football 12,000km away from his hometown in Zimbabwe, but his mind, and money, are fully invested in the futures of children in Mabvuku, where he pays the school fees for 60 scholars.
Despite a starring role in last season’s 2-0 win against Paris Saint-Germain, the Reims midfielder has taken much of this season to cement his place in the side, but with a difficult year for everyone around the globe, his eyes have been focused homewards as well.
Munetsi’s foundation recently paid the school fees of 30 children at Zimbabwe’s Mabvuku Primary and has done the same for 30 more at Donnybrook Primary.
For Munetsi, who grew up in the Mabvuku area and attended Donnybrook Primary, this gesture was deeply personal. The 24-year-old has often spoken about a childhood spent in tough conditions and his concern over drug use in Mabvuku.
In his eyes, offering children a holistic education is the best way to shield them from such hardships. The bonus for him is that it helps him remember the lessons he learned on his gruelling journey from relative poverty to a life of luxury in Ligue 1.
He told ESPN that he was well aware that his career did not grant immunity to life’s potential pitfalls.
“You always see stories about footballers spending their money on other things… These are the stories that we grow up listening to,” the versatile Zimbabwe midfielder said.
“It [the Marshall Munetsi Foundation] keeps reminding me of the job that still needs to be done. Obviously, we live a life where we don’t have many years to live, but you can always leave a good legacy — especially for my fellow brothers and sisters, the young ones who are coming up.
“Most of them, when I go back home — you see the enthusiasm that they have. They want to make it one day as football players… I have also been helped by lots of different people who gave me a lot, for which I can never pay them back.”
As far as football goes, Munetsi has always repaid the clubs who signed him by improving steadily and refusing to buckle in the face of adversity.
FC Cape Town brought him to South Africa in 2015 after spotting him in Harare, and a year later, he was snapped up by Soweto giants Orlando Pirates.
Life did not start off smoothly for Munetsi at Pirates, and he spent the 2016-17 season on loan at Baroka. On the other hand, it was his first campaign in South Africa’s top flight and he played in nearly every match.
The following season saw him earn his Buccaneers breakthrough, but he only played a bit-part role. Nevertheless, Pirates played their best football when he was in the team. That trend continued in 2018-19 and Munetsi’s minutes increased, but he was also sent off in a shock League Cup final defeat to the very same Baroka.
Nevertheless, shining at centre-back as well as in midfield, Munetsi did enough to catch the eye of Stade de Reims, who signed him ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.
This was no surprise to Luvuyo Memela, who played alongside him at Pirates and told ESPN that Munetsi was a player of immense discipline and character who was destined to overcome his Soweto setbacks.
Marshall Munetsi made his Zimbabwe senior debut in 2018, and played in the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt in 2019, seen here against the hosts. JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images
Memela, now at AmaZulu, said: “I knew Nyasha was going to play overseas because he was too good [not to], even though at Pirates at some point, he was not playing his position. Whichever position we put him in, he excelled — centre-back or anchor.
“In life, at some point, we all go through things to make us strong, or it’s a way God tests how strong we are. Whatever outcome you might face in your life, the important thing is: do you stop or do you continue? Do you cry and sit at home? Nyasha is not one of those players.
“I’m so happy for him. Hopefully, one day, we will see him playing for one of the biggest teams in Europe. I know he can get there, because he’s still got legs on him and he’s still got age on his side.”
Upon signing, Munetsi was described by Reims director general Mathieu Lacour as “part of a logic of the future”. He earned his first Ligue 1 start against PSG on 25 September 2019 and provided the assist for Hassane Kamara’s opener.
Nevertheless, he still struggled to cement a regular starting berth throughout the rest of 2019-20. This battle, according to Munetsi, did not derail his mental state and actually helped him ease into life in France.
“Honestly, when I came in, the team was already doing well the previous season — they finished in eighth position. Me coming here was only to adjust for my first season.
“It [being benched regularly] helps you as a player to adjust. At that time, I felt I still needed time to adjust to the league and to learn a couple of things.”
Grounded as he is, Munetsi was over the moon following the win over PSG at the Parc des Princes — so much so that he was unable to recall any interactions with his household name opponents after the final whistle.
He said: “It was a great achievement for me personally. Growing up, you always want to play in those big games, so even if they would have tried to come to see me, I would not even have noticed. I was still celebrating after the win.”
Perhaps this offers some insight into who Munetsi is as a person. Games against the likes of Neymar and Angel Di María matter deeply to him, as they would to any football lover. However, he is unconcerned about whether the stars of the game offer him validation.
After all, long after his race is run in football, Munetsi will hope that the contribution he has made to the lives of at least 60 children in Zimbabwe will lead to something far greater than anything he could achieve on the field of play.