FIFTEEN years ago, a teenage footballer whose Congolese father had arrived in Belgium as an immigrant in the late ‘70s, embarked on a professional career which, with the passage of time, would see him rise to captain the Belgian national team and Manchester City.
He was only 17 and, in his first season as a professional at Anderlecht, he helped the club win the Belgian championship while he was also honoured with the prestigious Golden Shoe, an award that is given to the best footballer in that country’s top-flight league.
He stayed at the club for the next two years, winning another Belgian league championship in his final year in 2006, before leaving for the Bundesliga in Germany where he joined SV Hamburg en-route to breaking into the English Premiership at Manchester City.
Today, Vincent Kompany has become the most successful Manchester City captain in history, winning three league championships with the club, an FA Cup and three League Cups and becoming the face of the club during its stunning transformation, thanks to the financial muscle of their Abu Dhabi owners.
Kompany is also a multi-millionaire, with a net value of over US$45 million, some thriving businesses in his Belgian homeland and last year he graduated from one of the world’s most rigorous Global MBA programmes at the Alliance Manchester Business School.
But things were not always this rosy for Kompany who revealed how he used to be called a “dirty n***er’’ by racist parents of opponents, during his days as a youth footballer in Belgium, and how the quest to prove those racists wrong, by going all the way, including captaining his country, provided the fire that fuelled his determination to achieve greatness.
He also had to deal with both his mother and sister being diagonised with cancer, which would claim the life of his mum while his sister lived to fight another day, his parents splitting when he was still young and a very bad injury that sidelined him for an entire season just after he had made the move to Germany.
“Suddenly I went from being one of the biggest talents in Europe to being the great failure in Europe,” he recalled. “It had nothing to do with my footballing qualities or games I played, I was just injured a lot.
“In such circumstances it’s difficult to say ‘look, I’m good, but I’m not playing.’ Football is a sport that involves rhythm, but you are always going to be judged in the present moment.’’
Three years after Kompany’s departure from Anderlecht, another teenage footballer, with an identical African background whose Congolese father had arrived in Belgium as an immigrant, signed his first professional contract with the club in May 2009.
Romelu Menama Lukaku Bolongoli was only 16 when he joined Anderlecht and made his professional debut while still being a schoolboy and, in that maiden season with the club, he helped them win the championship while also ending as the top goal-scorer.
Soon, he was on his way to Chelsea, where things never worked out, but he never gave up and subsequent stints at West Bromwich and Everton showed his true quality and last summer he was traded to Manchester United in a club record transfer of £75 million.
He has thrived in the English Premiership where he is one of only five players to have scored 50 goals in the league before their 23rd birthday and is the fifth youngest to have scored 100 goals in the league while he now has more than £20 million in net wealth.
His 33 goals for Belgium is a record for the country, but things were not always this good at the start when he grew up in grinding poverty in Antwerp in Belgium.
“I used to run to school with my brother Jordan. It was two or three miles there and back. We’d do it every day. My parents didn’t have the money to buy us bikes,’’ he recalled last year.
“We didn’t have a TV or even electricity at home. We were then evicted from our flat, and we moved to Antwerp. In the beginning we didn’t even have curtains on the windows. We slept on the floor, with my mum, brother Jordan and me upstairs and my dad on the ground floor.
“My mother is the boss, she is my source of inspiration for everything else, she worked her fingers to the bone for us. Despite her illness she would work as a cleaner in homes and cafés. On my sixth birthday I told her I would play for Anderlecht, so I could help her with money.”
Lukaku’s mother, Adolphine, also remembers the tough times back in the days.
“Our living conditions were no better than in the Congo, where I had grown up. The heating didn’t work, and I had to work all hours to provide my children with a hot meal,’’ she said.
“They were mocked by the other kids at school because their shoes were falling apart and their clothes had holes in. You can’t disguise poverty.”
SEVEN YEARS AFTER LUKAKU LEFT ANDERLECHT, A SMILING ASSASSIN ARRIVED
Seven years after Lukaku left and a dozen years after Kompany bade farewell to Anderlecht, a Smiling Assassin — who just like them has African roots — arrived at the club on Wednesday.
Knowledge Musona, the man who has been the Warriors talisman for the best part of the past half-a-dozen years, signed a four-year deal with 34-time Belgian champions who also have won the Belgian Cup nine times and 13 Belgian Super Cups.
They are the most successful the Belgian team in European competitions after having won two UEFA Cup Winners Cups, a UEFA Cup and two UEFA Cups.
Unlike Lukaku and Kompany, Musona isn’t arriving at Anderlecht as a teenager, but he knows Anderlecht, unlike KV Oostende where he had been playing his football, provides him with a club with a bigger profile to show the world what he is really made of.
Like Lukaku and Kompany, Musona also found himself facing prejudice during his early days when life was tough for him growing up in Norton.
“I did not want to play football at first because I was meeting big boys and did not have (football) boots,’’ he revealed. “My father worked at ZESA while my mother worked in a restaurant.’’
Like Lukaku, he drew a lot of support, as he was growing up, from his mother and just like the big Belgian forward, who struggled when he made his first break into the big time at Chelsea, Musona failed to make an impact when he joined TSG Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga.
And, like Lukaku, the Smiling Assassin refused to give up, his conviction that he could make it at the top refusing to be washed away by this setback, even as many seasoned analysts went around saying he probably didn’t have the quality to make it at the big stage.
Lukaku went from being someone whom Chelsea had invested a little fortune in, hoping he could explode into the next Didier Drogba, into a reject at the Blues and, in search of regular football to regain his confidence and show those doubting Thomases he could play at this high level, he even went to West Bromwich Albion.
Musona also went from being someone whom TSG Hoffenheim had handed a five-year deal, in the hope he could explode in the German Bundesliga, into a reject at the club and, in search regular football to regain his confidence and prove those doubting Thomases wrong, he even returned to Africa for a dance with his old club Kaizer Chiefs.
Lukaku’s never-say-die spirit saw him flourishing at West Brom, including scoring a hattrick in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final match as Manchester United manager, and then being bought by Everton where he continued to impress with his strength and goal-scoring ability.
The irony of his success was that even his old club Chelsea, who had rejected him, were now in a queue to try and buy him back only for Manchester United to flex their financial muscle and break their transfer record by splashing 75 million pounds for him.
Musona’s never-say-die spirit also saw him flourish, once he started getting regular time at the obscure clubs he joined after being dumped by TSG Hoffenheim, and one just needs to watch a YouTube video of his final goal for KV Oostende last weekend to appreciate his true quality.
When the ball was swung from a corner, there appeared to be little danger for the opponents as it floated over the penalty area to the other side where a teammate headed it into the box and Musona appeared isolated among a number of defenders.
He also had his back to the opponents’ goal.
But, what followed, was pure genius, the Zimbabwean forward having the presence of mind to realise, in that split second, he could conjure something special if he tried an outrageous flick with his heel, letting the ball pass until it was in a position where he could strike it with his heel.
And, still with his back facing goal, caressing it with the touch of a genius, and turning it into a goal.
If the goal had been scored by one of the world’s top players, or for one of the world’s top teams, it would have been making headlines across the globe because it was a beautiful piece of art and showed why those who believe Musona is something special have a case. The problem is that it was scored in a game that the world certainly didn’t care about, for a team that the world doesn’t care about, against a team that the world doesn’t care about, AS Eupen, and Musona’s artistic production was lost in the haze of a globe that has little time for what happens in football’s backwaters and produced by the game’s backbenchers.
Some sources say it was that cheeky execution that influenced Anderlecht to make a move and prize the Smiling Assassin from the jaws of Standard Liege who had appeared in pole position to get his signature. And, on Wednesday, after years of toiling at some obscure clubs, Musona put pen to paper on a four-year deal at Anderlecht, the club synonymous with the best of Belgian football, where he is guaranteed the big platform he has been looking for to show he can play at a very high level again.
Some say age isn’t at his side anymore, because he will be 28 next month, but the same people conveniently choose to ignore that Alexis Sanchez signed the biggest deal of his career — £450 000 a week in basic wages, £100 000 a week in image rights, £75 000 for every game he plays for United, £7,5million a year signing-on fee for four years — in January this year just days after turning 29.
No one knows what the future holds, after all American singer Justin Timberlake told us in his hit song Mirrors that, TODAY IS HISTORY AND TOMORROW IS A MYSTERY, and Musona has every right to even dream bigger now that he has made a huge leap in his career to a club that will provide him with the chance to showcase his talent to a wider audience.
He will be told by the coaches at Anderlecht that even Lukaku was doubted, when he first left the club to move to Chelsea, and that there was a time, in the first year after Kompany left them for Germany, when the defender also doubted if he was as good as some people claimed.
“SUDDENLY, I WENT FROM BEING ONE OF THE BIGGEST TALENTS IN EUROPE TO BEING THE GREAT FAILURE IN EUROPE,’’ Kompany famously said after his first year in the Bundesliga.
You see, Warrior, impossible is nothing!
IT COULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED TO A NICER GUY
And, just as well, this big move couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, a bigger patriot, a footballer who has done more for the cause of this country than any other player in the last eight years and who, since King Peter retired, has overshadowed everyone who has represented our Warriors.
A man we have learnt to trust, the guy who takes responsibility into his stride when we need salvation for our Warriors and, more often than not, usually delivers, the one whom we handed a huge national responsibility, even when he was a kid, as the spearhead of our Warriors attack, and never let us down. Between 2010 and 2014, he was the only man who scored for the Warriors in an away game either in a World Cup or Nations Cup qualifier with his four goals on the road, in nine matches, the only thing we could show for our troubles away from the comforts of home.
He scored when we drew 1-1 with Liberia in our opening 2012 AFCON qualifier in Monrovia, scored our goal in the 1-2 defeat at the hands of Cape Verde in the same qualifiers in Praia, scored our only goal in the 1-2 defeat away in Burundi in a 2013 AFCON qualifier and scored our only goal in the 1-2 defeat in a 2014 World Cup qualifier against Egypt in Alexandria.
His four goals on the road were the best performance, by a Warrior, in matches away from home in a decade with King Peter second on two goals while Benjani, Malajila, Nengomasha and Nyandoro were on target once.
And, while his national teammates flood the social media space with pictures of their fine and expensive clothes, big and expensive cars and trendy lifestyle, Musona is never part of that fake show as he prefers to live a humble life away from all this razzmatazz.
He married his childhood sweetheart, providing an example for all the kids to follow, and you have never seen his name being dragged into the sleazy controversies which dominate the tabloid newspapers about local footballers losing their way with multiple girlfriends and extra-marital affairs.
His family call him Knojo.
“Knojo is just cool like that, he doesn’t shout, but when he says something you have little option, but to listen because he is the father of the house. Our father is late and we all look up to Knojo for leadership,” revealed his younger brother Walter who plays for Polokwane City in South Africa.
“I have learnt a lot in terms of football and life in general from my brother. You see, Knojo has always been a leader and as a family we are convinced he will perform his captaincy duties with diligence because leadership is within him.
“He is always telling me to believe in my capabilities, to have faith in my abilities. ‘Everything becomes easy when playing’, he is always saying.”
The historic AFCON hattrick against Liberia last June took his tally in Warriors colours to 20, just 18 behind the benchmark set by King Peter, the greatest Warrior of all-time.
Still, he remains stuck in the humility he carried when he was still a schoolboy at Lord Malvern in Harare.
To God Be The Glory
Come on Warriors!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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