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Mehluli Sibanda, Senior Sports Reporter
TO many sporting fans in Zimbabwe, Gerald Sibanda is a rugby person, who has represented the country in the 15s as well as sevens version of the game at international level.

Sibanda is better known for his side steps, burst of pace and scoring magnificent tries for the Cheetahs from 2007 to 2012 and the Sables (2006-2016).

His rugby skills saw him playing for clubs in South Africa, Scotland and Romania.

It, therefore, came as a surprise when Sibanda’s sporting agency, Athletes Sphere Management secured a deal to open the first ever Real Betis Academy on the African continent in Zimbabwe. The Spanish club announced last Thursday that it had got into a partnership with ASM, whose founder and chief executive officer is the former rugby star.

The 34-year-old said football has always been a part of his life since he played the sport from a young age and feels he was one of the most gifted footballers of his generation until rugby took over his life. Sibanda did his secondary education at Milton High School in Bulawayo and Churchill High in Harare, which are traditional rugby playing schools and that is where he fell in love with the game.

“Football is my other life, I was born into football, I played football from a young age, all I knew was playing football up until I reached Form 1. When I went to Milton High School in 1999, I remember going for my first football session, I think I was one of the most talented football players in my time,” said Sibanda.

“Milton being a traditional rugby school I was convinced that for me to become a successful student I needed to try rugby after that I fell in love with rugby. It became a part of my life, but I never lost my touch with football.”

He is delighted that ASM has given him an opportunity to get involved in football, something he had always wanted to do.

“I am so happy that with Athletes Sphere Management, I am able to take up that great role to lead the Betis academy. To me this is something that is unbelievable, but something I envisaged since I was born into football.”

According to documents availed by Sibanda, the Betis Academy Zimbabwe project, which is meant to take off in Harare in October, is a nationwide grassroots football development initiative and a unique experience for Zimbabwean and African talented youth players to develop their football careers.

Exceptionally talented youth players have an opportunity to be scouted and use the Betis academy as a gateway to the world of professional football.

A group of at least 15 players will travel from Zimbabwe to Spain every season. During that week the players will have five training sessions, two friendly matches with local teams and Real Betis school teams, a stadium and city tour-training facilities tour and nutritional classes. — @Mdawini_29