After wowing the crowds at the recent CAF African Youth Championship , Fabrice Nguessi Ondama, Congo's gifted under-20 right-winger, joined a select band of players who have won two pieces of silverware at a single tournament. Not content with helping his side to continental glory in his home country, he also picked up the Player of the Tournament honours. The prize was just reward for his superb contribution to the hosts' surprise success, which came against the likes of Nigeria, Zambia and Burkina Faso.
For a boy who has always dreamed of a career in professional football, the double triumph shows he is on the right track. "When I was young I told my father that I liked football more than anything else. I didn't stay at school for very long," the boy from Ouenze in Brazzaville told FIFA.com.
One of seven siblings, Ondama hit out on the long, hard road to success at the age of 13 when he began training with local club Tout Puissant Mister. After a year and a half of loyal service he made the 500-kilometre-plus journey to Pointe Noire, the country's second city, to join up with La Mancha. Far from the bosom of his family and his native Ouenze, however, the youngster soon became homesick. "I missed my hometown," he explains.
A season later, he returned to Brazzaville and signed on the dotted line for Etoile du Congo. But it proved to be an unhappy homecoming, due in the main to a problematic relationship with his coach. "We just didn't hit it off," he laments. Condemned to the sidelines for a year, the disastrous liaison could have spelled a premature end to his career had his former coaches at La Mancha not been alerted to his situation. After they offered him the chance to return to the club, his older brother Richard, a major influence on his life, advised him not to let his talents go to waste and to focus on achieving his goals. "He told me I would be great player if I just stayed calm and worked hard," says Ondama. The words of wisdom had the desired effect, and the then 17-year-old returned to Pointe Noire to embark on what has been an exciting adventure to date.
The new recruit's exceptional talents soon had people talking. So rapid was his growth in stature and confidence that by the 2006 season he had relegated La Mancha's star man to the bench. "I managed to keep the club's best player and top scorer out of the side," he comments.
It seemed nothing could stop the prodigy. After hitting an impressive 13 goals in just half a season, he was being dubbed nzambe na likolo, Lingala for 'God performs miracles on high, but I am the 'Master' who performs them on Earth'. His stock continued to rise and before long Congo U-20 coach Eddie Hudanski joined the growing band of admirers by calling him up for the continental youth championship, to be held in Congo. "He's a very explosive player with great technique," explains Hudanski. "He's quick with the ball at his feet, he's got a nose for goal, and he's got two great feet. And he knows how to keep his cool when he's in front of goal."
A fan of Didier Drogba's, Ondama already has a full cap and an international goal to his name, but it was at the African Youth Championship that he served notice of his prodigious talents. With two goals in the opening game, decisive assists in both the semi-final and the final, and some consistently brilliant performances, it came as no surprise when he was named the tournament's star player. "I used to tell the big boys in the neighbourhood that I'd grow up to be the best player," he recalls. Coach Hudanski is not one to disagree: "He can go all the way to the top because he's got all the attributes of a modern-day striker."
Having provided confirmation of his abilities with a five-star showing in front of his home fans, Europe's clubs are now on the tail of the boy they call the 'Master'. Stade Rennais, Paris Saint-Germain and Karlsruhe SC of Germany have all made their interest known, and the player his coach compares to John Utaka, Rennes' Nigerian striker, could soon be teaming up with the man himself. The Breton side were voted France's best youth development club last year, and it is a move the Congolese youngster seems keen to make: "I'd like to go to Rennes because they've got a lot of youngsters there and it will give me the chance to progress quickly."
First up for Congo's great hope, though, comes the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007 , and the importance of the occasion is not lost on the 19 year old. "To be honest, I'm a bit nervous because it's a top-class tournament," he admits. "But the main thing is to go out and do my job and not get carried away." Such cool detachment hides a burning ambition for personal and collective success. "I feel we can win the tournament because it's all down to hard work and being mentally prepared. If I can end up top scorer or best player, that would serve me really well. I'm working very hard towards that goal because I love a challenge."
The only question that remains now is whether the 'Master' can work some of his miracles come Canada in July when Congo meet the hosts, Chile and Austria in Group A.