Jupiler Pro League Revelations, Number 5: Anderlecht’s Chancel Mbemba
Chancel Mbemba has had a debut season to remember for Anderlecht. Regardless of whether or not his side lift title number 33 this season he will always be able to look back at the 2013/14 season as the year he truly arrived.
With Anderlecht looking like they are on the brink of losing Cheikhou Kouyaté to any one of his numerous admirers it was imperative that Anderlecht solved their defensive issues quickly. Since Kouyaté has moved into his preferred defensive midfield role it is allowing Chancel Mbemba to flourish at centre back with Bram Nuytinck and the pair have formed an authoritative partnership, evidenced by their 4-0 demolition of Genk recently.
Like many Belgian based players these days Mbemba is from Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which to the learned amongst us will know as a former Belgian colony and thus explains the high proportion of players of Congolese descent within the Pro League. And like many countries on the continent, it suffers from rather lax record keeping when it comes to dates of birth. As such Chancel Mbemba has come under scrutiny having previously played with a date of birth of 1988 and now playing registered as having a birthday in 1994.
Now this article isn’t here to condemn a player, who likely has no control of the situation, for an issue that may or may not be prevalent. No. This article is instead to lay praise on the 19-year-old, which we will take as correct from here on out, for his stellar first season in Belgian football.
Like many young central defenders these days there is a common word that can be used to describe Mbemba. Power. Most of it raw. He’s a monstrous proposition and incredibly strong, any picture you see of him in action will quickly prove testament to his sheer strength but masks his phenomenal athletic ability. Mbemba truly looks like the sort of player who, had he not been a footballer, could probably have succeeded in any sporting path he chose such is his all rounded athleticism.
He only arrived at Anderlecht in 2012 from the Congo so his ascension from hopeful prospect to essential player has been nothing short of rapid. One of Anderlecht’s most important players this season he has on the whole been dominant and reliable in his centre back role and as such has made a health 38 total appearances this season – the vast majority of them as a starter, and in matches he didn’t start he was often brought on as a substitute showing how relied upon he was by former coach John van den Brom and former assistant and now currently head coach Besnik Hasi.
That Mbemba has come from a difficult background and a much lower level of footballing ability it would seem likely that it would take Mbemba some time to adapt but there were no such dramas. He slotted into the team like he had been in this high pressure environment his entire life and lived up to the Anderlecht fans’ lofty expectations. Like any 19-year-old playing in a demanding position in the centre of a team he is prone to ups and downs but no matter how many times his rollercoaster ride takes a dip he is always ready to put things right.
Towards the tail end of the season his performances had begun to take a dip after his initially faultless performances, perhaps a sign of weariness showing through after a long first season but it is one of several highs as well. Chancel Mbemba has scored four goals for the club in the domestic league, and scoring against Standard Liége and Genk in previous encounters shows he is as evident in the big games as the not so big games.
Perhaps his greatest moment in an Anderlecht shirt came 18 minutes into his Champions League match with Benfica at the Stade Constant Vanden Stock. He chested down an N’Sakala pass on the edge of the area, a major whiff of handball going undetected by the referee, and then poked the ball past the onrushing Artur Moraes with a calmness even the most ruthless striker may not have possessed. His lowest moment perhaps followed just after half time when he inadvertently scored an own goal to put Benfica 2-1 up such is the cruel nature of football.
Benfica have since gone on to cement a place in the Europa League final, Olympiakos were narrowly knocked out by Manchester United, PSG unfortunate to lose out to Chelsea and thus Anderlecht were never likely candidates to escape their group. But Mbemba did feature five times, showing the trust and faith placed in him by his team.
Already capped for his national team four times Mbemba is crossing achievements off his list with increasing speed. A league title may be on the horizon this season and if it is that would be another target achieved. It may be that Mbemba starts to outgrow Anderlecht at a quicker pace than expected if his performances continue to dazzle like they have so far this season, and it may only be a matter of time before more reputable clubs with higher expectations and higher bank balances give his agent a call.