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Kinshasa, Colchester And The Great Leopard Migration

March 29, 2011

As I have mentioned previously, and other posts may suggest, I have a certain fascination with how immigration, multiculturalism and social integration are changing the face of international football. Countries such as Belgium, Switzerland and Germany are seeing an increased prominence and influence of a generation of foreign born citizens and their children in their national football teams. It was well documented, in typically xenophobic tabloid terms, that the German squad at the 2010 World Cup consisted of several players who were not 100% indigenous.

The brilliant young squad was made up of players of Tunisian, Turkish, Nigerian, Spanish and Ghanaian stock, three Polish born men, a Bosnian and a naturalised Brazilian. The multinational collection of players played some of the most exciting football seen in the tournament, with a blend of power, pace, creativity, intuition, discipline and team spirit. This made a statement from German chancellor Angela Merkel shortly after the tournament both baffling and ill-timed to anyone that had witnessed the Nationalmannschaft earn a 3rd place finish in South Africa.

In an address to the Christian Democratic Union, she claimed the idea of people from different cultural backgrounds living happily “side by side” did not work, and that the multicultural approach had “utterly failed”. This followed one of her coalition members, Horst Seehofer, calling for a stop to Turkish and Arabic immigration. A policy that would have robbed the German team of Sami Khedira and Mezut Ozil, and any hope of a successful tournament.

Apart from the odd naturalised player appearing for their adopted countries, the first truly multicultural national side was the French vintage of 1998 – 2000. Including the likes of Zidane (Algeria), Desailly (Ghana), Thuram (Guadeloupe), Angloma (Guadeloupe), Karembeu (New Caledonia), Djorkaeff (Poland/Armenia), Wiltord (Guadeloupe), Vieira (Senegal), Henry (Guadeloupe), and Anelka (Martinique), a large portion of the players that won the World Cup and European Championships were immigrants, or sons of immigrants. Jean-Marie Le Pen of the French National Front called the 1998 team “artificial”, for containing too many non-whites. He echoed these sentiments in 2007 when 16 of a 23 man squad were non-white, and said France “cannot recognise itself in the national side” and that “maybe the coach exaggerated the proportion of players of colour and should have been a bit more careful”.

Looking at the current Belgian national team, some of their age group players and likewise with France, it seems that the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular, is the latest production line of raw talent that could be destined to lose its best players to their European hosts. Naturally this got me thinking. Why DR Congo? Why now? And what if? What if the DR Congo was able to pick an XI from all qualified players? Mouthwatering I think you’ll agree.

A brief look at the history of the country will give us the answers to the first questions. The country formerly known as Zaire was also formerly known as Belgian Congo from 1908 – 1960 due to it being a Belgian colony. The official language of DR Congo is French. The Second Congo War that began in 1998 was the catalyst for the migration of between 3 – 6 million people. The majority of those that chose Europe naturally headed for Belgium, their former colonial masters, or France due to the absence of a language barrier. With DR Congo being the 12th largest and 18th most populous country in the world (71 million), the chances are it will produce its fair share of athletes. With the mass exodus beginning around 13 years ago, we are now starting to see the former child refugees emerge as professional footballers.

Let’s look at Belgium first. Here is a rundown of Congolese qualified players to have represented Belgium at senior level.

Belgium

Emile Mpenza 32, Neftchi Baku, ex-Liege, Schalke, Hamburg & Man City. Born: Brussels 57 caps 19 goals Belgium

Mbo Mpenza 34, retired, ex-Liege, Sporting Lisbon, Galatasaray & Anderlecht. Born: Kinchasa, 56 caps 3 goals Belgium

Anthony Vanden Borre 23, Genk, ex-Fiorentina, Genoa & Portsmouth. Born: Likasi, 22 caps Belgium

Vincent Kompany 24, Man City. Born: Uccle, Belgium, 32 caps Belgium

Romelu Lukaku 17, Anderlecht. Born: Antwerp, 9 caps 2 goals Belgium

Dedryck Boyata 20, Man City. Born: Brussels, 1 cap Belgium

Christian Benteke 20, Standard Liege/Mechelen. Born: Kinshasa, 2 caps Belgium

Gaby Mudingayi 29, Bologna, ex-Lazio. Born: Kinshasa, 17 caps Belgium

Geoffrey Mujangi Bia 21, Wolves/Charleroi. Born: Kinshasa, 2 caps Belgium

The following list is of Congolese qualified players not yet capped by Belgium.

Olivier Mukendi 19, Anderlecht. Born: Kinshasa, Belgium U-18

Nill De Pauw 21, Lokeren. Born: Kinshasa, Belgium U19 & 21.

Joachim Mununga 22, Genclerbirligi. Born: Ottignies, Belgium U21

Landry Mulemo 24, Bucaspor. Born: Liege, Belgium U21 & 23.

Benjamin Mokulu 21, Lokeren. Born: Brussels, Belgium U17 & 21.

Jordan Lukaku 16, Anderlecht. Born: Antwerp, Belgium U16

Next is a list of Congolese qualified players to win senior French caps.

France

Claude Makelele 38, PSG, ex-Chelsea & Real Madrid. Born: Kinshasa, 71 caps France

Steve Mandanda 25, Marseille. Born: Kinshasa, 13 caps France

Charles N’Zogbia 24, Wigan, ex-Newcastle. Born: Harfleur, 1 cap France

Peguy Luyindula 31, PSG. Born: Kinshasa, 6 caps France

Rio Mavuba 27, Lille, ex-Villarreal. Born: At Sea, 6 caps France

Now, Congolese qualified players not yet capped by France.

Gaël Kakuta 19, Chelsea/Fulham. Born: Lille, France U16-20.

Eliaquim Mangala 20, Standard Liege. Born: Colombes, France U21

Chris Mavinga 19, Liverpool/Genk. Born: Meaux France U18-20

Neeskens Kebano 19 PSG. Born: Montereau, France U17-19

Steven N’Zonzi 22, Blackburn. Born: Colombes, France U21

Darnel Situ 18, Lens. Born: Rouen, France U16-19 Captain

Granddi Ngoyi 22, PSG/Brest. Born: Melun, France U19 & 21

Terrence Makengo 18, Monaco, ex-Clairefontaine. Born: Boulogne, France U17

Cedric Bakambu 19, Sochaux. Born: Vitry-Sur-Seine, France U18-20

Arnold Mvuemba 26, Lorient, ex-Portsmouth. Born: Alencon, France U21

Lynel Kitambala 22, Lorient. Born: Creil, France U21

Tripy Makonda 21, PSG. Born: France U19-21

Obviously, migration wasn’t restricted to these two countries. A number of Congolese qualified players are pursuing their careers in the UK. None have gone on to win senior caps for any of the home nations yet, but it’s only a matter of time. Leroy Lita has represented England at U-21 level, as has Fabrice Muamba of Bolton. Arsenal teenager Benik Afobe is highly rated and has played for England from U-16 to U-19 level. Aristote Nsiala of Everton and Vinny Mukendi of Macclesfield are both 18 years old and have trained with the Wales U-19 squad, but are eligible for England, Scotland and DR Congo.

UK

Fabrice Muamba 22, Bolton, ex-Arsenal. Born: Kinshasa, England U16-21

Leroy Lita 26, Middlesborough, ex-Chelsea, Bristol City, Reading. Born: Kinshasa, U21 England

Vinny Mukendi 18, Macclesfield Town. Born: Sheffield

Aristote Nsiala 18, Everton/Macclesfield Town. Born: Kinshasa

Kasenga LuaLua 20, Newcastle/Brighton. Born: Kinshasa

Bondz N’Gala 21, Plymouth Argyle, ex-West Ham. Born: Forest Gate

Benik Afobe 18, Arsenal/Huddersfield. Born: Leyton, England U16 – 19

Here are a few more notable players to have slipped through the net over the years.

Switzerland

Blaise Nkufo 35, Seattle Sounders, ex-FC Twente. Born: Kinshasa, 34 caps Switzerland

Portugal

Jose Bosingwa 28, Chelsea. Born: Mbandaka, 24 Caps Portugal

Ariza Makukula 30, Manisaspor, ex-Sevilla, Benfica & Bolton. Born: Kinshasa, 4 caps Portugal

Holland

Kiki Musampa 33, free agent, ex-Ajax, Athletico Madrid, & Man City. Born: Kinshasa, Holland U21.

Germany

Richard Sukuta-Pasu 20, Leverkusen/St. Pauli. Born: Wuppertal, Germany U17-21

Reinhold Yabo 19, Koln. Born: Aldenhoven, Germany U15-18 Captain U-17 Euro Win

USA

Danny Mwanga 19 Philadelphia Union. Born: Kinshasa

Even with Congolese emigrants worldwide producing international standard footballers, it’s still disappointing that a country of 71 million people isn’t able to make the breakthrough at international level. Facilities and funding are no doubt a huge factor, but club side TP Mazembe have recently reached the final of the World Club Cup, beating Brazilian champions Internacional in the process, won the last two CAF Champions League competitions, and CAF Super Cups. On an international level they have won only two African Cup of Nations, the most recent being 1974. It was 1974 that also saw their only appearance at the World Cup finals as Zaire. Unfortunately they will always be remembered for a comedy moment rather than their footballing prowess.

Nevertheless, all is not lost. They do have a handful of experienced players plying their trade at the highest level. Still pulling on the shirt for The Leopards are former Roma striker Shabani Nonda, Lomana LuaLua, Herita Ilunga of West Ham and Dieumerci Mbokani of Wolfsburg. The star man for DR Congo however is Tresor Mputu who still plays domestically for Mazembe. Described by Claude Le Roy as the next Eto’o and courted by the likes of Spurs, Arsenal, Anderlecht and Al Ahly of Egypt, he was nominated on the 2009 shortlist for African Player of the Year alongside Eto’o, Yaya Toure, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba. He’s currently serving a 12 month ban for aggressive behaviour towards a referee. Still only 25, he has enough time to be an integral part of a developing team. It may be slightly premature to hail a new generation, but it does appear that the tide could be turning with regards to losing players to other countries. There are a growing number of young players pledging their future to their homeland.

Youssouf Mulumbu of WBA has won caps at U-21 level for France, but now plays for the African side. Distel Zola of Monaco has appeared for France at U-16 to U-19 level, but has switched to DR Congo. Toko Nzuzi (Grasshoppers Zurich) & Eric Bokanga (Standard Liege) are two youngsters playing top flight European football committed to their country of birth. Possibly the most noteworthy players to turn their backs on European ambition are Cedric Mongongu of Monaco and Cedric Mabwati of Athletico Madrid. The former is a £6m rated centre back, and the latter is a goalscoring winger on loan at Numancia. Players of this calibre are required to compete with the traditional superpowers of African football.

Tresor Mputu 25, TP Mazembe. Born: Kinshasa, 22 caps DR Congo

Shabani Nonda 34, Galatasaray, ex-Roma, Monaco & Blackburn. Born: Burundi, 49 caps 32 goals Congo DR

Lomana Tresor LuaLua 30, Omonia Nicosia, ex-Colchester, Newcastle, Portsmouth, Olympiacos. Born: Kinshasa 27 caps 6 goals DR Congo.

Herita Ilunga 29, West Ham. Born: Kinshasa, 19 caps Congo DR

Dieumerci Mbokani 25, Wolfsburg/Monaco, ex-Mazembe. Born: Kinshasa, 14 caps 8 goals DR Congo

Steve Zakuani 23, Seattle Sounders, ex-Arsenal. Born: Kinshasa, 1 cap Congo DR

Gabriel Zakuani 24, Peterborough Utd, ex-Arsenal & Fulham. Born: Kinshasa, 1 cap Congo DR

Youssouf Mulumbu 24, WBA, ex-PSG. Born: Kinshasa, 8 caps DR Congo, France U-21.

Distel Zola 22, Monaco/Laval. Born: Paris, 2 caps DR Congo, France U16 – 19

Toko Nzuzi 20, Grasshopper Zurich. Born: Kinshasa, 2 caps Congo DR

Eric Bokanga 21, Standard Liege. Born: Kinshasa, 3 caps Congo DR

Jacques Maghoma, 23, Burton, ex-Spurs. Born: Lubumbashi, 3 caps 4 goals Congo DR

Cédric Mongongu 21, Monaco. Born: Kinshasa, 6 caps Congo DR

Cedric 19, Athletico Madrid/Numancia. Born: Kinshasa, 1 cap DR Congo

With the current FIFA rules stating that a player must decide on his nationality before the age of 21, if he is eligible for more than one country, it’s not entirely clear whether the likes of Gael Kakuta, Benik Afobe, Reinhold Yabo or Jordan Lukaku would be able to play for DR Congo in the future (should they remain uncapped at senior level). Eventhough the rule is clear, legal challenges are still possible.

They may not have the superstar names of the Ivory Coast, Ghana or Cameroon, but a steady improvement and consistency in the national team coupled with increased competition for caps in Europe should see more and more Congolese footballers choosing to play for the Republic. Whether the next Bosingwa, Makelele, Lukaku or Mandanda is kicking a ball around in Kinshasa, Antwerp, Paris or Colchester it may be that they’ll be more inclined to hear the call of Africa from within them.

Here it is then. The DR Congo fantasy XI. Two current Leopards make the team, and only 4 players born in Europe. I have also put together a strong second team to show that there would be a pretty decent depth to the hypothetical squad. They may be missing a Drogba, Yaya, an Eto’o or an Essien. But Lukaku, Kompany, Bosingwa and Makelele would grace any team on the international stage.

1. Mandanda (Marseille/France) Kinshasa

2. Bosingwa (Chelsea/Portugal) Mbandka

3. Vanden Borre (Genk/Belgium) Likasi

4. Kompany (Man City/Belgium) Uccle, Belgium

5. Mongongou (Monaco/DR Congo) Kinshasa

6. Makelele (PSG/France) Kinshasa

7. Kakuta (Chelsea/France) Lille, France

8. N’Zogbia (Wigan/France) Harfleur, France

9. Lukaku (Anderlecht/Belgium) Antwerp, Belgium

10. Mputu (TP Mazembe/DR Congo) Kinshasa

11. Mavuba (Lille/France) At Sea

2nd XI: 1. Makaba-Makalamby (Swansea/DR Congo) Brussels, 2. Illunga (West Ham/DR Congo) Kinshasa, 3. Mulemo (Bucaspor/DR Congo) Liege, 4. Boyata (Man City/Belgium) Brussels, 5. Mavinga (Liverpool/France) Meaux, 6. Muamba (Bolton/England) Kinshasa, 7. N’Zonzi (Blackburn/France) Colombes, 8. Luyindula (PSG/France) Kinshasa, 9. Cedric (A. Madrid/DR Congo) Kinshasa, 10. Mbokani (Wolfsburg/DR Congo) Kinshasa, 11. Benteke (S. Liege/Belgium) Kinshasa.

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