Chancel Mbemba, the quiet force of OM and DR Congo

The Congolese from Olympique de Marseille, Chancel Mbemba, won on Tuesday the Marc-Vivien Foé prize awarded by France 24 and RFI to the best African Ligue 1 player of the season. A consecration for the rock of the Marseille defense.

Published on : 30/05/2023 – 07:30

Finally ! For the first time in its history, the Marc Vivien-Foé prize rewards a defender. The central hinge pillar Marseillaise, Chancel Mbemba, wins the 2023 edition of the Marc-Vivien Foé prize awarded by France 24 and RFI.

Chancel Mbemba is both the second Marseillais to receive the prize – André Ayew won it during the 2015 edition – and the second Congolese after Gaël Kakuta in 2021.

He is ahead of Ivorian midfielder Seko Fofana (RC Lens), winner of the 2022 Marc-Vivien Foé Prize, and Nigerian striker Terem Moffi (OGC Nice). He was appointed by a jury of nearly 100 people specializing in French and African football (journalists, consultants, former players, etc.) from a list of 11 players previously established by the sports services of RFI and France 24.

Arrived free at OM in the summer of 2022, he confirmed all the confidence placed in him by president Pablo Longoria and coach Igor Tudor who made him an essential cog in his system. A sunny and endearing personality, the Congolese has conquered the hearts of the Vélodrome and all Marseille fans, even scoring seven goals in his 43 appearances. A full season rewarded with a place in the standard Ligue 1 team at the UNFP trophies.

Electrician training

The eldest of nine siblings, Chancel Mbemba was born and raised in Kinshasa. He sees himself becoming an electrician, but at MK Etanchéité where he plays football, his talent is noticed. With this 1m80 defender, the team never takes on water, so much so that he is nicknamed “Axe” : “As deodorant, a tribute to clean defenders”, he explains in the Team.

“Axe”, “Maestro”, “Cafu”, “Demi-God”, the Congolese collect nicknames, but the one who his sticks to the skin in spite of himself is “the man with four dates birthday. Indeed, Chancel Mbemba is regularly the target of jeers on his date of birth. For Fifa, Chancel is neither on August 8, 1994. But his first licenses indicated August 1988 while the Congolese federation presented him as November 30, 1991. To add to the confusion, in an interview, he has already declared that he was born in 1990. An “example” in spite of himself of the age frauds that are too common in African football

Still recently questioned about this controversy, he dismisses it by promising to answer on the ground: “I do not calculate that. I am straight. These are little things, people who talk to discourage me, distract me. But my objective has always been clear and it did not bother me at all. people continue [de parler de lui]I’m doing my job.”

If he claims to have as a model among his models the world champion French of 98 Marcel Dessailly, this is not not in France that the young Chancel will try his luck in 2011 but a little further north, in Belgium. In the flat country, he joined the Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht like Vincent Kompany, another of his idols.

From Belgium to La Canebière via Portugal

He will spend four years there, two in the hopeful team then two with the first team. He impresses with his physical maturity and solidity. It attracts the attention and the interest of foreign clubs. Newscastle hires him for six million euros in 2015. Unfortunately, the first season ends with a relegation to the second division and a loss of his starting place.

When his contract expired in the summer of 2018, he joined FC Porto. A club where he will know everything: the titles (Portuguese Champion and winner of the Cup in 2020 and 2022), the Champions League and above all recognition. In the 2021-2022 season, he is the most used player in the squad with 47 appearances. Simply unstoppable in central defense alongside the veteran Pépé.

“In Porto, we won titles but I had to turn the page. Here, it’s like a second challenge. I watch OM on TV, I’m going to learn and I’m happy to be here”, declared- he upon his arrival at the Marseille club.

An established Leopard

In terms of national selection, his heart swung for a time between the DR Congo and Belgium, his adopted country. He ended up choosing his native country and wearing his first cape on June 7, 2013 on the occasion of a DR Congo – Libya (0-0) in World Cup qualifiers. He helped qualify the Leopards for the 2015 African Cup of Nations and played the whole matches until the small final. DR Congo finally finish on the 3rd step of the podium.

The 2018 World Cup qualifiers remain a beautiful and tragic memory for Chancel Mbemba. In the Martyrs stadium in Kinshasa, the defender scored a goal as well as his brother-in-law, Paul-José Mpoku, allowing the Leopards to lead 2-0 against Tunisia, their main competitor in the very readings African qualifiers. But Mbemba out on injury. The turning point of the match for the coach at the time, Florent Ibenge : “Chancel was magnificent, he hovered over the meeting. And he went out injured at 2-0. In a few minutes, Tunisia returned to 2-2. His absence created a huge void in the team, physically, mentally, the adversary has perked up.” DR Congo will not go to Russia. Tunisia yes.

Then begins a crossing of the desert of the DR Congo at the international level. CAN-2019 in ANDegypt ends in a failure in the round of 16 against the modest Madagascar (2-2, t.a.b. 4-2)despite a goal from Mbemba. Then the Leopards fail to qualify for the CAN in Cameroon, just like for the world in Qatar. Despite everything, the now captain of the Leopards remains exemplary.

The Marc-Vivien Foé Prize should put balm to the great heart of the Leopard, which has been losing momentum since avril. Igor Tudor l’a sorti de son crew type due to a lack of physical edge lately. A bad dynamic in the spring which does not detract from the rest of its season. And the Congolese, from the height of his experience, known : his hour will return.


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