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Wolfsburg pull off a coup in beating Premier League clubs to Junior Malanda

The summer transfer window in Belgium had its own fair share of movement and transfer sagas. One, which left a sour taste in the mouth was that involving Bernard Malanda Adje, better known as Junior Malanda. He ultimately ended up joining Bundesliga side VfL Wolfsburg. Everybody in Belgium was taken aback, if not completely surprised when Malanda invoked the infamous employment legislation known as the Loi de 1978/Wet van 1978, which allowed him to break his contract. When it comes to player contracts, this was very much a case of pressing the nuclear button.

Malanda joined Lille after he had played for FC Brussels and RSC Anderlecht in Belgium. In 2007 Malanda moved from Anderlecht to Lille in France at the age of 13. Malanda developed very well at Lille and became a strong defender in France, frequently playing at rightback but able to occupy a number of positions. After a spell in LOSC’s second team, he made the short hop back over the border to his homeland and joined Zulte Waregem, with Lille not deeming his departure to be a great loss.

Junior Malanda playing for Zulte Waregem

Junior Malanda playing for Zulte Waregem

Francky Dury believed a great deal in Malanda and decided to use him in midfield instead of at the back, whether at rightback or centrally. It soon became clear that Malanda would be one of the season’s revelations and he impressed many observers with his strength and coolness on the pitch. He keeps it very simple but very efficient. Winning the ball back and beating his opponent in the air are two of his best attributes.  He imposed himself on even the toughest of domestic opponents and soon he was being touted for a move to the likes of Anderlecht, Genk and especially Club Brugge.

The holding midfielder had been keen on a transfer to the Premier League. In January 2013, Zulte Waregem rejected a bid from Fulham but as is customary in the Benelux, the club often has to then give ground and they said they would not stand in his way the following summer. Keeping hold of Malanda until the end of the season enabled Essevee to push Anderlecht right to the final day of the season, finish second and earn a chance to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League.

When the summer transfer window opened, Zulte Waregem were resigned to losing one of their key assets but they were determined to cash in. Belgian and English clubs did not want to pay such a big amount for someone who only had one season of senior football under his belt. And then came a bolt from the blue when Malanda refused to turn up for training and notified the club of his intention to break his contract. It came as a surprise to the club for until then, relations between the player, his father and the club had always been cordial.  His father claimed that a number of promises had been broken, which in plain English means he felt his son was being underpaid and by all accounts, Malanda was one of the lowest earners at the club, a reflection of his lowly status upon joining.

Malanda playing for the national youth squad of Belgium

Malanda playing for the national youth squad of Belgium

Zulte Waregem tried to stand their ground while leaving the door open for a return but they were fighting a losing battle. Malanda began to train with second tier outfit Roeselare to maintain his fitness in pre-season.  The saga then took an unexpected turn towards its conclusion. Malanda signed a deal with Wolfsburg, who immediately loaned him back to Zulte Waregem. Essevee didn’t receive the relative fortune they had desired but they could at least keep hold of the Belgian u21 international for a few more months. Wolfsburg appeared to come from nowhere to beat others to his signature. Malanda and his family had been spotted a couple of weeks earlier in London. They held talks with several clubs including Fulham (reportedly unimpressed with how he engineered his departure from Essevee), who had previously come close to prising Malanda away from Belgium. Why Malanda didn’t sign a contract with a Premier League club is until today unknown but money tends to talk all languages.

Wolfsburg pulled off a real coup and one that should stand the club in good stead as they look to alter their image of a cold and soulless club under Dieter Hecking. Nevertheless, I believe it was better for Malanda to stay the whole season with Zulte Waregem. Die Wölfe also swooped to buy Brazil international Luiz Gustavo from FC Bayern, someone who is a top class performer and in all fairness on a completely different level to Malanda right now.  An important member of Johan Walem’s under-21 side as his dominant display against Italy last week showed, he will  have to be patient and grab his chance when he gets the opportunity. One thing is for sure – Malanda is made to play in the Bundesliga.




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