Côte d’Ivoire may have Didier Drogba, and Cameroon can call on Samuel Eto’o, but Congo DR have their very own footballing superstar in Tresor Mabi Mputu. Yet unlike Drogba and Eto’o, the highly accomplished Mputu has so far resisted the bright lights of Europe, preferring instead to shine at home for his beloved TP Mazembe Englebert.
The gifted forward has contributed a great deal to the Crows' cause in recent times, helping them win the 2009 CAF Champions League, a success that earned them a place at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009 and which they have repeated this year.
Sadly for TP Mazembe, however, their flamboyant goalscorer will not be on parade in the United Arab Emirates this time, Mputu having been suspended from football following an unseemly incident in a match against APR FC of Rwanda in March. Losing his temper after having a goal disallowed, the irate striker assaulted the referee, prompting FIFA to hand him a 12-month ban in August, automatically ruling him out of the latter stages of their continental title defence and, ultimately, the trip to UAE 2010.
“It was a childish indiscretion that he’s now paying for and we are too,” lamented TP Mazembe coach Lamine N’Diaye in the build-up to their quarter-final against Club de Futbol Pachuca on Friday. “Obviously we’d love to have a world class player like him in the team, but as he’s not around we have to find other solutions. Luckily, I’ve got one: my team. They’re my star act.”
Far from clipping their wings, Mputu’s absence seemed to galvanise The Crows. After slumping to a 3-0 defeat to Esperance in late August in the group stage of the Champions League and parting company with coach Diego Garzitto, the men from Lubumbashi suddenly recovered their poise. Surging into the final on the back of some fine results, they overpowered Esperance to win their fourth African title and their second in a row.
“It was a tough blow for us and everyone had to dig deep and do their bit to get us going again,” said former Senegal coach N’Diaye, who took up his new job in September. “I wanted everyone to do their best and to keep on doing so. They got the message loud and clear and I have to say they’ve surprised me in every game since I took over.”
N’Diaye will be hoping his African champions can keep on exceeding his expectations during the course of their stay in Abu Dhabi: “I never tire of saying, especially with all the great players there are in a tournament like this, that our star asset is the team itself. Everyone fights for each other. They’re talented players too, and that could bring dividends for us in the end.”
TP Mazembe fans will be out in force in the UAE once again this year, and will be hoping their heroes can improve on their 2009 showing, which brought two defeats in two games. Some 17 members of N’Diaye’s squad were on duty 12 months ago, and as new captain Kazembe Mihayo explained, they have learned from the experience.
“We know we didn’t reach our objective and we’re determined to do better this time. That’s our basic goal,” said the midfielder, before expressing how anxious he and his colleagues are to acquit themselves well. “Everyone has to be ready from the moment they go out on the pitch. We know a bit about our rivals already, but we’re going to look more closely at them so we know what to focus on, the tactics we need to use and how to counter them. One thing’s for sure anyway: we won’t be holding back in attack.”
Even in the absence of Mputu, the Crows attack has proved that it can still function to great effect, with Kaluyituka Dioko and Given Singuluma finishing joint-top and joint-second respectively in the 2010 CAF Champions League scoring charts. Should they carry that form over to UAE 2010, the Africans will have little cause to miss their temperamental talisman.