Unknown African Talents- Emmanuel Mbola
By Surya Solanki
Club: Porto (On-loan from TP Mazembe)
Age: 19 (May 10, 1993)
Height: 1.75 metres
Market Value: £500,000 (as per current transfer market)
In the third segment of Fotball.com’s ‘Unknown African Talents’ series, collaborated with Goal.com writer Ed Dove, we present you with one of the most promising modern-day full-backs- Emmanuel Mbola.
Primarily deployed on the left flank with versatile traits suitable enough to play in a slightly attacking role, Mbola came up through the youth ranks of Mining Rangers before eventually joining his current parent club TP Mazembe in 2010.
While he made his national team debut at the tender age of 16, Mbola holds the record for the second youngest participant in the African Cup of Nations and surprisingly enough, was also the first ever Zambian to feature in the prestigious UEFA Champions league.
Thus, it won’t come as much of a shock that hype created around him by the media vultures make him, to a very limited extent, a Freddy Adu-esque player, who was perhaps thrown ‘too much too fast’.
Equipped with a strong enough physique, Mbola is a robust left-back, with hard tackling abilities who can shut down the oppositions’ defence in a matter of seconds. Whereas, on the opposite end of the pitch, Mbola is notorious for venturing upfront and helping out his colleagues in the final third with pin-point crosses and overlapping runs.
However, unlike players like Rafael Da Silva and Aleksandar Kolarov, who form the backbone of the infamous ‘un-tracking and super-hyped full-backs’ breed, the 19-year-old possesses a desirable positioning sense and can be often seen receding back to fulfil his defensive commitments.
Dove cites a similar opinion about the lad.
“Mbola’s speed and fitness are his best attributes, but even for a young man, he is a fairly competent tackler and his defensive positioning is astute. The youngster has been credited with a good work rate, although the jury is out as to whether Porto will offer him a permanent deal or not.”
However, since his loan move to FC Porto at the start of the year, Mbola’s playing time has shrunk due to injuries and the heavy competition for a first-team berth and consequently, the player’s potential has not reached the height many expected to when the youngster first signed for the Portuguese giants.
“The youngster has been credited with a good work rate, although the jury is out as to whether Porto will offer him a permanent deal or not. It’s even hard to judge (and rate) his ‘stats’ and ‘attributes’ seeing as he hasn’t played regularly for a year or something, although he did come on as a sub against South Africa a few weeks ago,” Dove points out.
Moreover, as stated at the start of the article, Mbola’s performances have also suffered due to the fact that he was thrown into the international limelight just too soon.
Making the national team debut at 16 might be a phenomenal achievement, but the footballing world subsequently created a massive furore around the player, labelling his as the ‘next big thing’ of the beautiful game and burdening him with sky-high expectations.
It might be unfair to say that he has witnessed a ‘spiral downward’ in his talent and potential, considering he is yet to even turn 20, it can be still fair enough to claim that Mbola has been adversely affected by the overhyping antics of the media and the fans.
African Cup of Nations 2013- Possible Hit or Bust?
With Zambia qualifying as the reigning champions for the 2013 AFCON, may football critics have placed Emmanuel Mbola at the top of their ‘Likely Breakthrough Stars’ list.
However, Dove feels that although the player has the potential to take Africa’s most prestigious competition by a rough wave, but there are various factors that ‘could count against the youngster’.
“He certainly has the potential to be a breakout star at the AFCON, but there are other players who I would place ahead of him, and the fact he’s not played since moving to Portugal back in Feb may count against him. He’s also been injured, which has affected his ability to adapt to his new club and the lifestyle demanded of him in Porto. With the likes of Joseph Musonda, Davies Nkausu, and Francis Kasonde able to fill in in the full-back berths, it’s no guarantee that Mbola will have much influence in the AFCON.”
North London Links
If we click on the “history go back button”, one can find that around three years ago, two North London club, namely, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspurs, were heavily linked with a possible move for the then 16-year-old Mbola. Some transfer stations even reported that Spurs had signed the player for a reported fee of £1million.
However, as it has panned out the reports were far from true and in-fact, Arsenal and Tottenham never even made a formal inquiry about the player.
Nonetheless, looking back at the situation now in 2012, it is hard to suggest what might have happened to Mbola’s career had he switched allegiance to a North London club.
The former Pyunik Yerevan man, under the guidance of Arsene Wenger or Harry Redknapp, could have gradually transformed into one of the most daunting full-backs in the world by now, particularly at the Emirates Stadium as the Gunners are often billed as the best club for the development of youngsters, Spurs wouldn’t have done
Alternatively, Mbola could have struggled to adapt to the massive conjecture created by the English media and eventually turned out to be a transfer bust.
Unfortunately, we will never be able to pick out the right answer as the event never occurred and all the above stated theories are based on assumptions.
Although, the past few months at Porto have been relatively hard for Mbola, a return back to Africa, or as according to Dove, ‘due to his fairly slight physique... a Latin league might be a better pathway for him (Mbola).’
Considering his age, Mbola has at-least five years of development in front of him and that is ample amount of time for the player to realize his true potential, given, he gets the required opportunities on the pitch.
I personally, don’t see Porto extending Mbola’s stay Europe and the failed year could come as a blessing in disguise if the lad stays put at TP Mazembe for a season or so to regain form and fitness away from the public spotlight.