Finally! For the first time in its history, the Marc Vivien-Foé Prize rewards a defender. The pillar of Marseille's central hinge, 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 award – André Ayew won it in 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 Award, 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 drawn up by RFI's sports services and France 24.
Arriving 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 Velodrome and all Marseille fans, scoring seven goals in his 43 appearances. A full season rewarded with a place in the Ligue 1 team during the UNFP trophies.
Very honored to be in the typical team of the season. Thank you to all those who voted for me, my teammates because football is above all a team sport and thank you to all the fans of OM and DRC, my country, for your support 🇨🇩 pic.twitter.com/ZrXWMjGPVy
— chancel mbemba (@mbemba22) May 28, 2023
The eldest of nine siblings, Chancel Mbemba was born and raised in Kinshasa. He sees himself becoming an electrician, but at MK Waterproofing where he plays football, his talent is noticed. With this 1m80 defender, the team never takes the water, so much so that he is nicknamed "Axis": "Like deodorant, a tribute to clean defenders", he explains in the Team.
"Axis", "Maestro", "Cafu", "Demi-Dieu", the Congolese collects nicknames, but the one who sticks to his skin in spite of himself is "the man with four birthdays". Indeed, Chancel Mbemba is regularly the target of jeers on his date of birth. For FIFA, Chancel was born on August 8, 1994. But its first licenses indicated August 1988 while the Congolese federation presented it as November 30, 1991. To add to the confusion, in an interview, he already stated that he was born in 1990. An "example" in spite of himself of the age fraud that is too often common in African football
Still recently asked 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, to distract me. But my goal was always clear and it didn't bother me at all. People keep [talking about him], I'm doing my job."
If he claims to have as a model among his models the French world champion of 98 Marcel Dessailly, it is 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 Royal Sporting Club Anderlecht like Vincent Kompany, another of his idols.
From Belgium to Canebière via Portugal
He spent four years there, two with the hope team and two with the first team. He impresses with his physical maturity and solidity. It attracts the attention and interest of foreign clubs. Newscastle hired him for six million euros in 2015. Unfortunately, the first season ended with relegation to the second division and a loss of his place as a starter.
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 Cup winner in 2020 and 2022), the Champions League and especially 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 Pepe.
"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," he said upon his arrival at the Marseille club.
An established Leopard
In terms of national selection, his heart has a time swung between DR Congo and Belgium, his adopted country. He finally made the choice of his native country and won his first cap on June 7, 2013 during a DR Congo – Libya (0-0) in World Cup qualifiers. He helped qualify the Leopards for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations and played all the matches until the small final. DR Congo finally finished on the 3rd step of the podium.
The 2018 World Cup qualifiers remain a beautiful and tragic memory for Chancel Mbemba. In the stadium of the Martyrs of 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 high African qualifiers. But Mbemba comes out on injury. The turning point of the match for the coach at the time, Florent Ibenge: "Chancel was magnificent, he hovered over the match. And he goes out on injury at 2-0. Within minutes, Tunisia came back to 2-2. His absence created a huge void in the team, physically, mentally, the opponent rejuvenated." DR Congo will not go to Russia. Tunisia does.
Then begins a crossing of the desert of the DR Congo at the international level. The CAN-2019 in Egypt ended in a failure in the eighth final against modest Madagascar (2-2, t.a.b. 4-2), despite a goal from Mbemba. Then the Leopards failed to qualify for the CAN in Cameroon, as well as for the World Cup in Qatar. Nevertheless, the now captain of the Leopards remains exemplary.
The Marc-Vivien Foé prize should put balm in the big heart of the Leopard, in slight loss of speed since April. Igor Tudor took him out of his typical team due to a lack of physical cutting edge lately. A bad dynamic in the spring that does not detract from the rest of his season. And the Congolese, from the height of his experience, knows it: his time will return.
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