When Rangers and Celtic lock horns at Hampden on Sunday, to an audience watching all around the globe, Zambia will be part of the collective.

Eyes in the village of Chizimati will focus specifically on Fashion Sakala. The boy from their town who realised his dream of becoming a professional footballer and looks in line for a first cup final career start.

Far from forgetting his foundations, Sakala makes a connection with back home a priority and this weekend will be no different. Even if an Old Firm final will always be an exception to the norm.

“They’re able to watch every game. They see every game on Rangers TV so before most games, I have a FaceTime with a lot of people in my village,” he says speaking in the week leading up to Sunday’s Viaplay Cup final.

“We talk and I help prepare them for the game so they’re excited and happy to watch the boy from the village. They always say it would take years for a player from there to come and play in Europe but there is nothing impossible, as we believe.”

For a time this season, Sakala was not looking at the upcoming match with quite so much anticipation. He didn’t make a league start until the ninth game of the season and appeared on the fringes until Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s final days at the club.

“In the beginning, it was such a frustrating season,” he adds.

“I thank God that I recovered from it. I think I went 10 games without playing, I was very frustrated but at the same time, I kept my patience, kept working hard and kept my motivation that one day I will get my chance. In the first game [back after the 10-game absence] I got five minutes, the second 15 and then 30. That was very good progression for me and showed how hard I worked to get back in the squad.

“For my village looking at me playing every week for Rangers, it means a lot for them to know that nothing is impossible. Because at the beginning of the season, they saw I wasn’t playing and it looked like I might leave.

READ MORE: Why Fashion Sakala represents Rangers' key change under Michael Beale

“They have seen that I’m now playing consistently and it has had a big impact on the people. They appreciate it’s not easy to get a position at Rangers as every player is fighting for it so to get it shows how hard I’m working.”

Rangers Review:

Since Sakala arrived from Belgian outfit K.V. Oostende in the summer of 2021, conversations have often focused on what he lacks and not what he brings. Despite only Alfredo Morelos recording a better goal contribution per 90 (goals and assists) total in the league last season (0.73 to 0.68), Sakala remained a peripheral figure under Van Bronckhorst and few saw him at the forefront of Michael Beale's Rangers revolution. 

Of course, he has not always been involved for a reason. There are limitations to his game which negate the goal threat. But Beale’s trusted him, focusing on what the forward can provide and as a result, with confidence boosted and consistent selection rewarded, Sakala has enjoyed his best spell by some distance at Ibrox, starting 11 of 14 matches. 

Able to provide a goal threat, bring pace to the front line and form increasingly promising partnerships with Malik Tillman and James Tavernier on the right, Sakala is finally starting to consistently show what he can offer.

“I had a meeting with the manager when he came in when he told me the role he wants me to play in the squad. It’s exactly what he said and that’s what has been happening. I think he has added value and confidence to me," he continues. 

READ MORE: Why Rangers' Nico Raskin must start against Celtic at Hampden

“That meant a lot. I appreciate the former manager, I have nothing to blame him for. I learned a lot from him but the current manager has added more confidence and motivation. I’m just a totally different player from the one when Gio was here."

And now, with confidence restored and a roadmap relaid, Sakala can focus on doing what he loves, playing football. While a start is by no means guaranteed this weekend, it is highly likely.

“Obviously I know how important the game is when we play against the other mob," he says.

"I know my potential and I can still do better than what I am doing. To keep on doing well it’s important for me to keep playing. I am just working extra hard and I hope to keep adding value to the team.

"The impact I brought into the last [Old Firm] game was good for the squad but I'm looking for more great performances. We are going to give everything and fight for the win to get the trophy."

If he does loft the League Cup skywards on Sunday, Sakala will do so with knowledge of the celebrations unfolding back in Chizimati, reflecting on a paradoxical campaign that's turned for the better.