As any African football fan will tell you, Congolese outfit TP Mazembe possess one of the most talented players on the continent in Tresor Mabi Mputu.
The star forward was instrumental in their return to the big time, making significant contributions to their back-to-back CAF Champions League successes in 2009 and 2010, their first triumphs in the competition for 41 years.
Yet it was in 2010 that Tresor suffered a momentary lapse of judgment, picking up a one-year suspension for assaulting a referee, the player only making his return for the Lubumbashi club last August. Since then he has been on his very best behaviour, in more ways than one.
“It’s very painful for a footballer to be out of the game for a year. After so many months on the sidelines I found it difficult to return to competitive action,” the man in question told FIFA.com, failing to mention that it took him a mere 46 seconds to find the back of the net in his first official match back, a 1-0 win over TS Malkesa.
“I’m a changed man now,” he continued. “I don’t pick up any more cards and everything’s going well for me these days. TP and I are both setting our sights on our next objective: to win the Champions League again.”
Worth his weight in gold
TP’s 2010 Champions League win gave them the opportunity to go on and record one of the finest achievements in African football history, the Congolese side venturing all the way to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 before losing 3-0 to Inter Milan.
Mputu missed the tournament because of his suspension, but was still thrilled at his team-mates’ performance: “Though I didn’t go to the UAE, I couldn’t conceal my delight to see my team finish on the podium in a global competition. What they did was historic.”
Mazembe’s start to this season’s Champions League was somewhat less impressive, Tresor and Co taking a solitary point from their first two group matches before bouncing back with two consecutive wins against Zamalek.
The competition’s leading all-time scorer with 41 goals, Mputu has chipped in with six goals so far in this campaign and a handful of assists, including two in the 2-1 defeat of the Egyptians a few weeks ago.
“Respect for orders, team spirit and hard work are the things that drive me on,” he explained. “There’s also the fact that I’m happy at TP. I feel at home.”
That last point explains why Mputu has resisted numerous calls to try his luck in Europe: “Playing in Europe is what every young African player dreams about, but I’m happy here. If the day comes when I have to pack my bags and go to the old continent, then it will be on the condition that the club that wants me respects all the conditions laid down by my president.”
A national treasure
TP Mazembe do not hold exclusive rights to their most prized possession, with Congo DR coach Claude Le Roy making him the spearhead of the national side.
“These days I can’t see myself starting a match without Mputu, without his talent and creativity,” said the Frenchman. “His technical ability is incredible. He does things in training that few players are capable of doing.”
“He’s like a father to me,” said Mputu in response. “He offered me a starting place in the national team when I was only 17. I owe him so much, not least my appearance at the 2006 CAF Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.”
Mputu has expressed his gratitude by turning in a string of excellent performances for the Leopards, one of them capped by a fine goal in last June’s win over Togo in Group I of the CAF qualifying competition for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, in which Congo DR currently lie second behind Libya.
“We have to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations first of all. We’ve missed out on too much in these last few years,” he commented, just a few days ahead of their third group match against Equatorial Guinea.
“In general, though, I’m pretty hopeful about the future of the national team. We’ve got the troops going again, and the return of some of our Europe-based stars could freshen us up a little bit.”
If they can make as much of an impact as Mputu did on his return, then Congo DR could well be on the path to riches.