WALKING out of a Slovakia airport, on a bitter cold winter afternoon, wearing a light jacket and a tracksuit bottom, the then 18-year-old young footballer Enrique Ricardo Ndlovu (pictured above) felt like he was being shoved into a cold room, with the temperature set at minus degrees Celsius.
Still wet behind the ears to the matrix of international travel, Ndlovu had no idea he was walking into a cold blitz, a Slovakia winter, which he had never experienced before.
He had just landed in the Slovakia capital — Bratislava — en route to a small town of Trencín, home to less than 60 000 people, with a top-flight football team by the same name for trials.
“As I walked towards a gentleman carrying a welcome sign with my name, I could tell from the look on his face that he was concerned, for a moment I had no idea why but as soon as we stepped out of the airport building it dawned on me that I was in trouble.
“I have never been that cold in my entire life, the short walk to the car was unbearable and around me people were in huge coats and scarves. The chauffeur quickly ushered me into the car and turned on the air conditioner,” Ndlovu told B-Metro Sport.
The one-hour drive from Bratislava to Trencín turned into a silent affair, all thanks to the language barrier between chauffeur and passenger.
Fast-forward to two years later and the former Plumtree High School pupil is enjoying life at Trencín and in sync with life in Slovakia.
During the interview in Emganwini suburb, where he was visiting friends, Ndlovu draws parallels between the Slovak Super League and the local league.
“When we lose a match at Trencín, it’s not business as usual where the players go home and rest the following day. After a defeat we train the next day and even the fans don’t take lightly to the team losing because they pay a lot of money to watch games,” he said.
Slacking around resulting in a player gaining weight comes at a huge cost at Trencín.
“I’m at 70 kilogrammes and if ever I put on an extra kilogramme or more I will be fined 25 percent of my salary. The training methods are designed for 45 minutes to one hour periods for each day compared to spending long hours at training.
“We also do ice baths and sauna to condition our bodies, which helps in reducing injuries,” he added.
Before buying his first car back home, Ndlovu purchased a tractor for his father, who once worked in Romania for a couple of years in the 1970s.
“My dad is a farmer so I decided to buy him a tractor before I bought my first car, which I use during the off season back here at home,” said the former How Mine and Talen Vision player.
Since moving to Slovakia how is he coping with the official language, Slovak?
“It was a struggle at first as I could not even greet the staff at the hotel or request for a taxi to take me to training but I’ve improved a lot. I now comprehend when the coach, who is Slovak, is giving instructions at training or during a match or just a simple conversation with teammates.”
Ndlovu is part of the Zimbabwe Under-23 squad.