Fashion Sakala represents a new wave of Zambian footballers who have experienced success in youth football, winning the U20 African Cup of Nations and embarking on a successful U20 World Cup campaign in South Korea.
He parlayed his exploits at International youth level into a move to Spartak Moscow’s youth team, excelling before embarking on a sojourn to Belgium with KV Oostende looking to make a step up to professional football.
His side have experienced relegation and financial misfortune as they have just been acquired by new ownership as Sakala will be looking for a move in the summer. He continued his upward trajectory in Belgium, growing into a key attacking force in more than one position while showing tactical growth.
Sakala represents a new generation of highly talented Zambian footballers, plying their trade in Europe in their burgeoning careers as their enjoyment of their game shines through in the smiles on their faces as they play the game.
He was raised in Chipata, approximately 500km from Zambia’s capital, Lusaka and was coached by his father who carefully wrapped makeshift balls together using plastic bags.
His father was a player himself and raised him with Christian values, calling him before the start of every game as the 23-year-old initially moved to Russia with Spartak Moscow, becoming a consistent goal scorer with their youth team.
He scored 3 goals with the Zambian U20 side at the U20 Africa Cup of Nations as the year before, he won the Zambian Super League with powerhouses Zanaco, pitching in with 10 goals as a teenager.
At the U20 World Cup in 2017, in the opener against Portugal, he shouldered the attacking burden with Conlyde Luchanga as he was constantly a threat in the early stages of the game.
He took on a brilliant Enock Mwepu through ball to go through on goal and have his shot saved. The duo then linked up again with Sakala utilizing rapid step-overs to beat his marker before working a pass to Mwepu whose shot was saved for Edward Chilufya to latch onto the rebound and open the scoring.
He then had a strike that veered far and wide of the goal before he went through on goal to despatch a shot at the near post, doubling the score.
Since the early days of his career, Sakala has been effective playing from the left, cutting inside on his stronger right foot or using his jaw-dropping dribbling ability in the centre of the pitch.
Three days later against Iran, he was Zambia’s best attacking outlet with his pace and skill, consistently beating his man and driving his team forward.
Zambia had a break as Mwepu played through Emmanuel Banda who spread the ball for Sakala but the Belgium-based forward shot high and wide from range.
Zambia seemed to have better sequences when they managed to get Mwepu and Sakala on the ball in the same sequences as the current KV Oostende forward, sent a Shemmy Mayembe cross onto the post with his head.
In the second-half, Sakala trapped a long-ball to volley in his second goal of the tournament at the near post. With the scores tied at 2-2, Sakala drove to the byline and cut back for the ball to bobble around the box before Banda tapped Zambia into the lead.
In the first two games of the tournament, Sakala showed his importance to his side by being involved in four of his country’s five goals.
Against Iran, Zambia scored all of their goals on target but had six shots to no avail against Costa Rica as Sakala played through Patson Daka who sent the best chance of the game wide.
Against Germany, he had one of moments of the tournament as he bagged his third goal, striking from an impossible range to score. In the later stages of the game, Sakala went off with an injury as the young attacker who had been dominant at the beginning of the game was now reduced to tears.
However, he would return for the game against Italy in the Quarter-Finals, starting the game by playing through Daka to score.
Sakala continued the game as he had a shot saved before Daka nodded in the rebound but was flagged offside.
With Zambia level, he had a strike from range saved before beating one man, driving into the box to cut past another defender to have his shot saved.
He then scored with a strike from inside of the box as he matched Josh Sargent, Ricardo Orsolini and Sebastian Cordova as top scorers at the tournament.
He had opportunities to add to his tally as he headed over a Chilufya cross then dribbled into the box and cut-back a cross for Harrison Chisala to shoot wide from the top of the box.
Chisala then played in Sakala who sent his shot into the side netting as Zambia lost to Italy to go out of the tournament.
Sakala has continued his exploits at U23 level and National Team level as he was the top scorer in Olympic Qualifying, trading the central striking role with Daka.
However, in a National Team victory against Algeria at Lusaka’s Heroes Stadium, he was sent off.
As Sakala trudged off with tears in his eyes, simultaneously trying to wipe his tears and cover his face with his shirt, the raucous home crowd showed support in him by giving him a standing ovation and stomping their feet to encourage one of their own.
It was beautiful show of togetherness that spurred Zambia on to a victory with a man down against one of Africa’s powerhouses.
Even stalwart goalkeeper, Kennedy Mweene showed him support in a post-match interview encouraging Zambian fans to continue backing him.
“He is a youngster, such mistakes are normal, but we don’t have to crucify him. We have to talk to him and encourage him,” said Mweene to the Zambian media after the Algeria game.
“Such mistakes are bound to happen when playing strong teams like Algeria. Most of the youngsters gave us what we wanted. We had a lot of positive energy. We need to put in a lot to help the youngsters gain experience. With team spirit, hard work and cohesion you can win any game.”
Since his move to KV Oostende, he has played both as a left winger and central striker in a side that faced relegation this season, as well as dealing with financial strife and has just been bought by a new Chinese owner.
Sakala has hired Wasserman Sports Agency as his new representation in the last few months in the hopes of earning a move to a bigger league.
Sakala is more than a player with pace and strength as he has added a dimension of game intelligence in the nine space as well as on the left flank.
On the flank, he can receive the ball with through balls into the channels, facing the opposition goal as his preferred move is to cut past a defender and fire a strike at goal on his right foot.
However, he has improved with his back to goal as he can work combinations with his fullback, using subtle flicks to release a marauding fullback or receiving the ball in deeper areas and using elaborate one-twos to drive his team forward and transition into attacks.
This season, he did not only play as a natural winger as he played as a second-striker in a 4-4-2, lone striker in a 5-4-1 and in his natural left-wing role.
If the ball was in the deeper areas, he would move into the nine space as his first touch was exquisite at controlling high long-balls with his feet while holding off centre-backs before laying off a pass to a teammate.
If he was playing as a lone striker, he added another dimension to his side’s play by receiving the ball in the channels to go in behind or working elegant flicks to play teammates in behind.
Sakala offers a wide range of diversity to an attack as at home to STVV, Oostende won a turnover on the right flank as he received a flick-on by the touchline to lay a back-pass into a teammate.
He then moved into the half-space to turn and work a one-two with a teammate, so he could turn and make a run into the half-space to receive the ball and work a cross with his left foot for a teammate to have his shot saved twice before Sakala sent a shot into the side netting.
The Zambian will normally cut inside on his right foot but can also drive to the by-line on his left to cross with his left.
Sakala can also receive the ball in the half-space to work a flick-on for an overlapping fullback before moving into the nine space. He will need to improve at watching the opposition defensive line as he can make runs just a fraction too early to be caught offside.
The 23-year-old has also improved at making inverted runs into the nine space to take on through balls as he can finish with both feet, adjusting his body to strike the ball with intent.
He can use his quick feet to work stepovers and earn himself a yard of space to fashion shots on goal as he could be integral attacking asset to whichever teams he joins in the summer.
It will be interesting to see if he plays through the middle as a central striker or in a wide role as his directness and link-up play could be transformational as a cost-efficient option in the summer transfer window.
Sakala is impressive as he was on way to scoring double digits in goals before the Belgian season was cancelled.
His 9 goals and 3 assists are made all the more impressive as he plied his trade with a side that would face relegation as he played in a left-wing to central striker hybrid role.
His side would also play a counter-attacking style but with a focus on modern day pressing and counter-pressing ideals, giving him an education for the modern European game.
Moves to the English Premier League, La Liga and a bigger team in the Belgian first Division have been touted as he would suit the latter two with his current attributes.
He will be a player to watch in the summer transfer window as well as for the development of the Zambian National Team going forward.