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Rangers striker Fashion Sakala promotes the Premier Sports Cup quarter-final against Livingston
SATISFYING the huge demands of the Rangers supporters has proved to be too much for players who have lacked the necessary mental toughness over the years.
Many experienced and gifted internationals have struggled to cope with having to win every domestic game and competition and have eventually moved on to less challenging surroundings.
Yet, Fashion Sakala, the Zambian forward who scored his first goal for the Ibrox club in the 1-1 draw with Motherwell on Sunday, is used to carrying the hopes of millions on his young shoulders and is unlikely to be fazed.
The 24-year-old, a summer signing from KV Oostende in Belgium, is one of just a handful of footballers from his country who play professionally at a high level in Europe and is a hero in his homeland as a result.
His compatriots started receiving broadcasts of Rangers matches on national television after he moved to Glasgow and now tune in to his outings for the Govan outfit religiously.
Sakala is determined not to let his fellow Zambians down and dedicates himself completely to his craft every day in an attempt to make them proud.
“I have been a role model to a lot of people from where I come from,” he said. “It is something that has helped to keep me going. People just didn’t think a football player would come from there.
“I have made it to this level and I am still going. 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.”
Sakala added: “It’s a very big responsibility and I think it is helping me. 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.
“So I think the responsibility I am carrying on my shoulders makes me stay on a positive straight line, keep going forward and keep working extra hard.”
Sakala, who is hoping to get the nod to start in the Premier Sports Cup quarter-final against Livingston at Ibrox this evening, has already come through a huge amount of hardship in his short career to date.
He left Zambia for Russia – where the temperature was 60 degrees lower – when he signed for Spartak Moscow at the age of 20 back in 2017. He was unable to force his way into the first team in the season he spent there. Still, he believes the difficult experience will stand him in good stead for life in Scotland with Rangers.
“I think, looking at my journey for me to reach here, I have gone through a lot,” he said. “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 young 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 very cold and 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 players from Africa. 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.
“I felt like it was the right time to go to Russia, because maybe if I came to Scotland direct 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. Moscow was a very good step to take.”
Rangers have had a disappointing record in the League Cup and Scottish Cup in recent years; in the three seasons that Gerrard has been in charge at Ibrox they have not managed to win either of them.
Their supporters are keen for James Tavernier and his team mates to build on their runaway Premiership triumph last term and win more trophies in the coming months.
Sakala, whose preferred position is striker, but who can be deployed as a winger as well, is keen to help them in any way he can and welcomes the expectation there is of Steven Gerrard’s side to land silverware.
“Even before I signed for Rangers, I knew Rangers and I was following Rangers,” he said. “Before I made the decision to sign, I knew that the challenge I was taking was the challenge of pressure. It is a very good pressure to win. This is something that I like. It gives me pressure to work extra hard.
“The manager is very positive about this game. The mission is always about winning trophies here, that is something we all really want. So I will be very happy if we can win the first trophy since I’ve come here.
“This is a very important game for us, but we are all very positive about it. We are looking forward to it and I believe we are going to get a good result.”
The draw with Motherwell helped Rangers to move one point clear of Hibernian and Hearts at the top of the cinch Premiership table – but Sakala understands that nothing less than victory is acceptable.
“I know the fans were disappointed, but we are very positive to give them what they want,” he said. “We know what they want. What they want is for us to keep winning. This is the love they have for the club. The only thing that can keep them happy is to win games. And I believe we are going to do it for them.”
“Fashion Junior 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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