Chancel Mbemba: "Winning the Marc-Vivien Foé Prize was one of my goals"

Coming first ahead of the Ivorian Seko Fofana, defending champion and for whom he would have voted, the Congolese Chancel Mbemba is delighted to win the Marc-Vivien Foé prize. With RFI, he talks about his pride and looks back on his season at Olympique de Marseille, not to mention the Leopards and... his aunt Sylvie.

The Congolese international of Olympique de Marseille, Chancel Mbemba. AFP - FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI

Text by: Ndiasse Sambe Follow


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Interview by our special envoy in Marseille,

RFI: Chancel Mbemba, how do you feel after winning the Marc-Vivien Foé prize for the best African player in Ligue 1?

Chancel Mbemba: First, pride. Then I say thank you to all the people who voted for me. Already, being in the list is not easy, because there are many Africans in Ligue 1, I did not think I would win it. Today, it's done, I say: "Thank you!" As a Congolese, it's a pleasure. In addition, for my first year in France, I really worked, because there is a lot of talent in Ligue 1. But, thank God, I won.

There are a hundred African players in Ligue 1. Who would you have voted for?

I would have voted for Fofana [Editor's note: Ivorian midfielder Seko Fofana de Lens]. I would have voted for Bamba Dieng too, because he's my guy (laughs). There are a lot of African players in Ligue 1, and many would have deserved to win this trophy. Fofana won last year, it's a pleasure to be in front of him when I look at his performances.

Do you consider it a big achievement to be ahead of Fofana, when this is your first season in France?

Yes, because winning this trophy was also one of my goals. Fofana won it and, before him, it was Gaël Kakuta, a Congolese like me. When I arrived in France, I told myself that I had to work hard, show my qualities to everyone to do like them and make history. It was thanks to them that I won. I have a strong relationship with Gaël Kakuta. We are always together in the national team. It was an example to follow when arriving in France.

>> Read also: Marc-Vivien Foé Prize 2023: the Congolese Chancel Mbemba succeeds Seko Fofana

You come from the Portuguese league and you arrive in France in a demanding and mediatized club like OM. How doyou explain this almost perfect adaptation for your first year here?

For me, it was first and foremost a challenge. I had a good run in Portugal, but we had to turn the page. OM gave me this opportunity, I also wanted to come to France, because it's more publicized, it's a showcase, we look more at the French championship in the country. Afterwards, I played in several clubs, but President Longoria's call to bring me came touched me a lot. It was the first time a president called me to sign for his club. I also spoke with "Bakagoal", Cédric Bakambu, who was still at the club. After that, I had to adapt quickly, work for this new challenge, impose myself quickly and show that I was capable of playing in Ligue 1.

OM is also very much the s supporter. You have played in Belgium, England, Portugal, you expected such a craze from the Marseille public?

No! No kidding, I didn't know it was also... [he doesn't finish his sentence, Editor's note]. I did not expect to be adopted so quickly. My goal was just to show what I was capable of, my qualities. I started playing my matches and I felt the joy of the fans. When I happen to meet them, they encourage me a lot, say thank you for giving it my all. It's fun. It's a joy to play at OM, to give joy to the fans.

In recent weeks and the matches against Mauritania in the qualifiers of CAN 2024, we have the impression that you are marking time. In any case, you are no longer an indisputable starter in the eyes of your coach, Igor Tudor. Isit a physical problem, a choice of the coach?

First, it's a source of pride when you go home to defend the flag. I left and came back, even a day earlier than expected, because I love my job. Afterwards, if I don't play, it's the coach's choice. My friends, my teammates ask me if I have a problem with the coach, but there is nothing. He makes his choices, you have to accept them. I'm 100%, I'm here for the club. Do I find it unfair to no longer be a holder? I leave everything in God's hands. I am not forcing things. If I have the opportunity to play, I play. Otherwise, I'm behind the team and my teammates. I didn't talk to the coach, I'm here to work.

Speaking of work, there is a phenomenon that was born from one of your interviews, with the hashtag #boulot-palais, that is: "We do our job and we go home. No time for fun. The fact that the supporters, the young Congolese, convey this philosophy, "work-palace", what inspires you?

"Work-palace" is my motto, it's not something I ask of others. I have a career, I have an ambition. When I arrived in Europe, I said to myself: we have to go step by step. For me, to be good in my life and succeed, I do my job, I go home. I enjoy my children at home. I will enjoy the rest after my career. Right now, that's the job. It is because of my work that I am here. Work values you, it is through work that everyone can see what you are capable of. If you're not working... It's hot.

You talked earlier about the national team, we feel that it is important to you. What does it mean to wear the Leopards jersey?

It is a source of pride to carry the flag of one's country. When you have the grace to be called up to the national team, you have to be proud. I was called in 2012 for the first time by Claude Le Roy. I was in the Anderlecht reserves and he called me to come and train with the A team. I seized the opportunity and played my first match against Seychelles in Kinshasa. Nobody knew me, because I hadn't played in the big clubs in the country like Mazembe or AS Vita. People in my family would say, "He's our son." When I finished the game, I went back to the neighborhood, it was a party.

It seems that you are so attached to the national team that one day, on the eve of a match against Congo-Brazzaville, you were so motivated that you came to cry...

[Smiles] The derby is a crucial match. There are so many stories between the two Congos that, for us, it's a game not to lose. This match [quarter-final of the CAN 2015, Editor's note], it was necessary that each player gives his all to win. We started badly in the first half [0-0]. Then, in the second half, we scored 4 goals [4-2, final score, Editor's note].

Congolese fans call you "demigod", where does that come from? What does this mean?

[He blows.] I don't know. In Congo, we love music. It was a Congolese musician, Fabregas [Fabrice Mbuyulu, Editor's note] who dedicated a song to me, it was in 2013. I didn't even know about it. It was when I started playing my matches at Anderlecht, playing in the Champions League, scoring goals and being better known that the song came out and the nickname too. That's it, I didn't ask for anything, I have no choice, the supporters call me that. But today, I prefer to be called by my first name, Chancel, which comes from "luck".

You started playing football in Kinshasa. Do you remember your first steps in the neighborhood? Did you already imagine playing in Europe at that time?

At first, never! We start in the street, barefoot, with a balloon made, patched. I used to play like that in the street with my friends and one day my aunt, Sylvie, said to me: "I had a dream in which I see you playing football in Europe and people sing your name." I was six years old and it marked me. This sentence has accompanied me in my career. Because I told myself that it was no coincidence that my aunt, who knew absolutely nothing about football, told me this. It was a message. For me, I had a grace and so I had to go get it, focus on my work. From then on, I disciplined myself very early. I work, I don't go out, I train, I go home, I watch my films with my friend Georges. I've always done that. Today, my aunt laughs when she sees me and we think back to what she had predicted.

You have a special relationship with the Senegalese: Cheikhou Kouyaté at Anderlecht, Mamadou Ndiaye Loum at Porto, Bamba Dieng and Pape Guèye at OM. Which Senegalese player would you dream of seeing at OM soon?

Ah! I already talked about my guy [Iliman Ndiaye, striker who plays for Sheffield United, editor's note] in a recent interview and it made a lot of noise. I'm not going to say anything this time [laughs]. But I think that for the majority of Senegalese who play football, their first dream is to play at OM. My mother-in-law is Senegalese, I have cousins in Senegal who tell me that OM is unique there, it's like Real Madrid. I want all good Senegalese players to come to OM. I'm not going to name names, otherwise my phone won't stop ringing [laughs]. In any case, I say to the Senegalese players: if they have the opportunity to come and play for Marseille and feel the heat, it's a top club.

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