Fashion Sakala has thanked Rangers manager Michael Beale for restoring his confidence and helping a new generation of aspiring Zambian footballers believe “nothing is impossible”.
Sakala’s Rangers career looked to be fading away when he only started one of their first 16 games of the season under Giovanni van Bronckhorst but he quickly established himself as a key player when Beale took charge during the World Cup break.
The forward started and scored in Beale’s first game against Hibernian and has never looked back.
The people of his home village, Chizimati, and elsewhere in his native country have been inspired by his story and there will be keen interest in the African nation on Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final when Rangers take on Celtic.
“It’s such a huge story,” the 25-year-old said. “I see myself as a role model to a lot of Zambian players, young players especially.
“For them looking at me playing for Rangers every week, it means a lot to them knowing that nothing is impossible.
“Because in the beginning of the season it looked as if ‘oh no, he is not playing, this and that, he might leave’.
“But I kept on working extra hard and they see now I am playing consistently. It’s something that has shown a very big impact and the people appreciate it a lot. Playing for Rangers is not easy, every player is fighting for a position, it shows how hard-working I am.”
Sakala maintains a key presence in Chizimati with the help of technology.
“They watch every game on Rangers TV,” he said. “Most of the time before games I have a FaceTime call with a lot of people in my village and we talk, preparing them to watch the game and making them more excited, watching the boy from the village where I was born.
“They are very proud of me and know what this means. They always say it will take years from a player to come from there and play in Europe again but there is nothing impossible.
“Obviously a lot of people are being inspired but the problem is now everybody wants to become a football player. They don’t want to go to school, they just want to play football.
“So it has become a very big challenge in my family, a lot of people have stopped school thinking they will be football players.”
The former Oostende player kept faith despite a difficult start to the season.
“In the beginning it was such a frustrating season but I really thank God that I recovered from it,” he said.
“I think it was 10 games without playing. I was really frustrated but at the same time I just kept my patience and kept on working extra hard, and kept my motivation that one day I would get my chances.”
He gradually got more game time but Beale’s return to Ibrox proved the catalyst.
“We had a meeting when he came in and he told me the role he wants me to be playing in the squad,” Sakala said. “What he said was exactly what has been happening in the last few games.
“It meant a lot. Obviously I appreciate the former manager. I have nothing to blame him about, I learnt a lot from him. But the current manager has added more confidence to me, the motivation.
“I am just a totally different player to the player I was when Gio was here. Having a meeting with me and starting me in his first games, (Beale) has played a very big role in my career.”
Sakala is now looking for Hampden glory but he will sacrifice his own status for the good of the team against Celtic – and will have further enhanced his reputation with the Rangers fans with his description of their city rivals.
“I know how important the game is when you play against the other mob,” he said. “It’s all about the badge. I don’t really think about my performance, the most important thing is the win for the fans and the club.”