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Chancel smiles at the bold / France / Olympique de Marseille /

On July 15, Chancel Mbemba became the second recruit of OM’s summer transfer window. The Congolese defender thus comes to satisfy for three years the need for experience within a collective which must be on the best track to get back on the train of the Champions League. Portrait of a solid player, hardworking and determined to ignite the Velodrome.

Usually intended to measure the hardness of a stone, the Mohs scale could just as well have helped recruiters to classify the solidity of the defenders they would have in their sights. On this same scale of ten levels, the place of Chancel Mbemba would undoubtedly have been between the hardness 8 of the topaz and the hardness 10 of the diamond. Even if his arrival at OM was not the most publicized, there is no doubt that the international with 66 caps with the Democratic Republic of Congo will be able to meet the demands of the Marseille people in the defensive sector. Free after his contract with FC Porto expired – and a salary disagreement according to In Bola -, Mbemba did not lack solicitations. Liverpool, Milan, Naples, Betis and even OL had all shown a more or less insistent interest in the player.

Porto can say “thank you for this Mbemba”

The path before being on the shelves of the most prestigious European clubs was however winding, for Chancel Mbemba. After a few amateur clubs in Kinshasa, the man with four birthday dates joined the Anderlecht academy in 2011. Belgian companies were not the only ones to have mining interests in the DRC, Royal Antwerp, Standard and thus Anderlecht will also pick up some rough diamonds on the banks of the Congo River. Among the Mauves, Mbemba meets Rolando, loaned by FC Porto in 2015. “Off the pitch, he was a really good little one. Someone calm and shy” , testifies the Portuguese international. Four years in Belgium, including two full seasons in the Jupiler Premier League, the Congolese impresses with his physical maturity and his solidity in duels. Enough for Steve McClaren’s Newcastle to hire him in 2015 for 6 million euros. In England, Mbemba is faltering. Despite a promising first season, the latter ended in relegation to the Championship. The following, under the orders of Rafael Benítez, slows down his progress. The latter, who judges that his defender does not learn English quickly enough, dismisses him from the eleven. Mbemba will never really regain the confidence of the coach of the Magpies. Not enough to break his own though. When his contract expired in the summer of 2018, he joined FC Porto.

Chancel Mbemba’s arrival in Portugal is under the auspices of Sergio Conceição, who personally requests his recruitment. The four seasons of their collaboration will amply satisfy the Dragons coach. After a season of adaptation marked by a knee injury, Mbemba played an important role in winning the Portuguese title in 2020 as well as the National Cup the same year, where he scored a header brace against Benfica finally. His duo with Pepe becomes irremovable, and the next two seasons will only be better. Placed in the central right axis of the four-man defense of Sergio Conceição’s 4-4-2, he is the immovable pillar of the central hinge. While the eternal Pepe had to deal with some physical glitches in 2021-2022, no questions came to threaten Mbemba. So much so that from the top of his 47 games played last season, he became the most used player in the squad, ahead of the Portuguese international goalkeeper Diogo Costa or Otávio, considered the best player in the squad. portista. In national and European competitions, Mbemba was able to conquer Porto, which he ended up leaving for an adventure in Marseille. Two cities that Rolando does not hesitate to compare: “Marseille is very similar to Porto. These are big cities that are passionate about football and where everyone is behind the city club. »

A pivotal year, for him and for OM

Just inducted as the new coach of OM, Igor Tudor was quick to make his playing intentions known. His football, wanting to be “offensive, intense, organized, courageous” , should correspond in all respects to the player that is Chancel Mbemba. Especially since during his first press conference, Tudor had taken to heart to add that this football should not be put in place “to the detriment of the defense” . ‘Offensive’ wouldn’t be the first adjective that comes to mind for the defender, even though he was decisive in big moments. “Intense”, Mbemba is without a doubt. “His biggest assets are his great speed, his quality in the individual duel and his versatility” , attests in particular Rolando. “Organized”, Chancel Mbemba learned to be with an intransigent Sergio Conceição in this respect. The latter insists with his players on notions such as positioning or anticipation, two notions perfectly assimilated by the strong Congolese. This good organization, Mbemba was also able to assimilate it through his European experience. At 27, officially, he has played 24 matches in the Champions League and the Europa League over the last two seasons. An experience which will be fundamental in a defensive sector where he will be able to act as a mentor – with Luan Peres – with players such as Leonardo Balerdi, Samuel Gigot or Isaak Touré, still novices at such a level. “Courageous” finally, because Mbemba does not hesitate to give the best of himself for his people.

It now remains to be known the exact role that Tudor will entrust to Mbemba. If the pattern with three defenders is confirmed, Mbemba could occupy the central place. His solidity, widely praised, but also his role as a framework for less experienced players should make him the favorite for this position. It will nevertheless be necessary to surround him with players who are comfortable with the recovery and tall, because the Achilles heel of the Congolese is there. He is not a great receiver and is often put in difficulty in the aerial game from the height of his 1.82m. In 2021-2022, he won only 46% of his aerial duels. A good raiser like Balerdi or Luan Peres as well as a player with an imposing physique like Isaak Touré and his double meter could thus best support the former FC Porto manager. Regarding the integration of the player in the collective, it should be done much better than in Newcastle for example. For good reason, the 27-year-old defender already speaks French and knows some members of the team like Cédric Bakambu, his teammate in the selection. “I am very confident that he will be able to impose himself at OMwarns Rolando. He is a player ready for the highest level, with a lot of qualities and experience. Especially since his characteristics adapt very well to the Ligue 1 form of play. I’m sure the fans and the club will love the great man and player he is. » No doubt, Pablo Longoria has turned into a gold digger again this summer. And it’s a safe bet that this precious stone finds its place in the Olympian edifice.

By Amaury Gonçalves



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