S&C would like to extend a warm welcome to our new African star Patrick Mboma. But what do we really know about the man we hope will fire in the goals to keep us safely in the Premiership?
Patrick Mboma was born in the industrialised city of Duoala in 1970 and emigrated to France with his family at the age of two. Patrick and his brothers were football mad, possibly something to do with the fact that his father had been a goalkeeper playing in the Cameroon First Division. He appreciates his family’s help and is the first to admit: “My mum is my first and biggest supporter.”
He signed as a youth player for PSG in 1990, but found it very difficult to attain many first team opportunities. But Patrick is very philosophical about his time there: "It has always been difficult for young players to be successful at PSG. I was part of a great potential at the club’s youth academy, but we were all exploited. Look at Nicolas Anelka. It has been very difficult, even for him, to establish himself at PSG."
While he was there, he met his great idol, George Weah. Ironically, it was because of Weah, that his first team opportunities at the Parc des Princes were limited. “I did not play often,” he admits wistfully, “but it was a great experience to play alongside my idol. That is because he is African and so am I. I know what he represents for me. I had one season training and playing with him at PSG. He taught me a lot.”
Patrick left PSG on loan, doing the rounds of other French clubs in a bid to gain first team experience. He had a short spell at modest Chateauroux and also spent time at Metz. Neither spell was wholly productive, so the striker decided to take a chance in Japan. “I was wasting away at PSG. I wanted to play, but rarely got the chance. I was being passed between clubs on loan without a chance to prove myself. Then, in December 1997, I received a call from Gamba Osaka, so I decided to give it a try.”
Mboma enjoyed a productive time in the J-League after leaving the frustrations of France behind him and settled well in Japan. “I was put at ease by Gamba and I scored lots of goals to become leading scorer during the season. I had rediscovered all my confidence and I won my place in the Cameroon national team.”
Despite the fact he was very popular in Japan with players and fans alike. Mboma still felt he had something to prove after his disappointing years in France. He felt Europe and in particular, Italy, was the place to be, “Japan put me in the limelight and this meant my name was making the headlines in Europe. As far as I’m concerned, Italy is the Mecca of professional football, so I wanted to come back to Europe and prove PSG wrong.”
Mboma’s burning desire to prove his doubters wrong, meant that he rejected other offers of European footy: “I had offers from Spain and England, but I opted for Italy.” He had become one of the hottest properties in football, but decided Cagliari was the club for him, joining them in 1998.
Just like in Japan, Mboma soon became a fans’ favourite despite the fact the club were struggling in Serie A. He realised they were not the biggest club in the world, but he impressed fans with his ability. Powerful and strong, he made every effort to keep them up: “I played really well for Cagliari, but sadly my efforts could not save the club from relegation. I knew with the form I was displaying, I could not play in the lower division.”
Some may think this arrogant, but this is the attitude you need to reach the top, along with grit, ambition and determination. Cocky, maybe, but these are qualities that should endear him to the Sunderland faithful, desperate for success in a disappointing season so far.
After impressing in a struggling Cagliari team, Italian giants Parma moved in, in a bid to snap up the now established Cameroon international. Coach Alberto Malesani waxed lyrical about Mboma the day he was signed. He told the Italian press: “Mboma is one of the best strikers in the world and Parma are honoured to sign him.” High praise indeed, and this left Mboma safe in the knowledge that for him and his family, the future was secure as he headed off to the Sydney Olympics in 2000, a fantastic year for him.
Earlier in the year, he had helped his country win the African Nations Cup, finishing joint top scorer in the tournament, with four goals, including a strike in the final against bitter rivals, Nigeria. His country won the tournament in a breathtaking penalty shootout and this success represented Mboma’s first international medal. It wouldn’t be his last – he had proved himself on the big stage.
Following political wranglings that resulted in Rigobert Song (West Ham) and Marc Foe (ex West Ham) pulling out of the Olympic tournament, Mboma came to the rescue of coach Pierre Lechantre. “I made it clear I would play in the Olympics,” points out Mboma. “It was an objective I had set myself. Thankfully Parma did not stop me.”
It was just as well they did not, as he went on to produce a string of scintillating performances. His country cruised past the USA, Czech Republic and Kuwait at the group stage and then they disposed of Brazil, Chile and Spain in the final, to win the gold medal. Mboma was at the peak of his form, having scored a sublime overhead kick against World Champions France, in a friendly earlier in the year. He was the overwhelming choice for African Footballer of the Year and 23 out of 25 African judges awarded him the prestigious honour. He won the award by beating off challenges from the likes of Arsenal’s Kanu and his idol, George Weah.
Mboma muses, “It must have been the qualities which I displayed during the African Nations Cup and the Olympics. At the Nations Cup, I scored vital goals and provided lots of assists. But it was at the Olympics that I gave my all. My goals against Chile and Spain were vital contributions in our overall achievement. I would like to thank the players and coaches who helped me.” Words of appreciation from a grateful and gracious man.
Following such an auspicious apex, it is a shame that in the 2001/2002 season, things have not worked out too well for him, a series of niggling injuries having badly disrupted his season with Parma. He has only played a handful of games for the Serie A side this season, scoring only one goal in a 3-0 demolition of Danish side Brondby in the UEFA Cup.
Mboma was determined to win the fight against fitness: “I have struggled with injuries this season for Parma and it took me until the African Nations to get fit again. That was why I was not playing regularly in Italy.”
Thankfully, Patrick has not been subjected to anything too serious and anyone who saw the recent footage in his short-sleeved top, will have little doubt about his fitness. Quite simply, he was superb, scoring a wonder goal against the Democratic Republic of Congo to give his country a 1-0 win. He also scored the winner against the Ivory Coast and despite not bagging the onion against Togo, he helped Cameroon romp home 3-0.
Mboma’s last game was the quarter-final. Again, he scored the winner in another 1-0 victory, this time over Egypt – but sadly he missed out on the final two rounds because of slight hamstring problems, but he proudly collected another winner’s medal as his team-mates triumphed in the final and he finished the tournament as joint top scorer.
No long-term damage though: “I am now fit and I just want to concentrate on doing well for Sunderland. The fans here will see the best of me. I have always wanted to play in England. I have had injuries but they are hopefully behind me, and I am raring to go. I hope things work out here for me and that I enjoy my time at Sunderland. It was a big boost for me that Cameroon won the African Nations. Hopefully I can take this form with me for Sunderland and my country in the forthcoming World Cup.”
Interestingly, his temporary relocation to God’s own country (ahem) was shrouded in secrecy: “I didn’t want to ask anybody about my move here. Negotiations had to be kept secret so I could not discuss my move. I think I have the opportunity to play here more and receive greater credit than I did in Italy.” A prospect Sunderland’s very own French protégé, David Bellion, is looking forward to: “Mboma is a very big guy, who is strong in the air. I have not played with him but I have seen him play. He is a very good player.”
Mboma has proved himself at international level and at several clubs. He is a strong striker and a proven finisher, as his impressive goals to games tally for Cameroon shows. However, that is now history. All we care about is Patrick rediscovering the form that made him a fans’ favourite in Japan and Italy, and enjoying his time here. It is hoped he will succeed where our last big money international striker, Lilian Laslandes, failed, and that we have finally found somebody worthy of filling the immense boots Niall Quinn looks set to leave behind. In Kevin Phillips, he will most certainly play alongside the best, though his recent comments about seducing Peter Reid in a bid to earn himself a long-term contract are very worrying. Rather him than me.
On leaving Cagliari, 2000…
“You’re a big man in every way! The hole you left behind at Cagliari is unfillable, and after you’d sorted out Thuram and Amoroso this year, you’ll do the same to the likes of Figo, Rivaldo and Zidane.”
“You’re a legend, you’ve sent the world crazy!”
“Absolutely fantastic. He manages to play with a speed that’s extraordinary and drives the opponents mad with his great touch. It’s true that sometimes he misses because he’s too impetuous to get a goal, but every time he gets into the area he’s really dangerous.”
On his great bicycle-kick goal v France in the World Cup qualifiers…
“Thanks for the African Cup, not forgetting the Olympic Gold Medal at Sydney, and thanks for that big fat tear of joy you shed when you put that magnificent goal past those colonists.” [From French-speaker, probably Cameroonian!]
“He’s a player who combines tremendous physicality with first-rate technical ability. He’s a lover of the spectacular; he can do the most difficult things, making mistakes sometimes when it looks easiest. He’s gifted with great charisma, which endears him to team-mates and fans alike.”
Mboma on an important goal for Parma last year…
“Scoring is what I am here for – it’s what makes me happy. I’m dedicating this goal to the fans, because they got behind me, their support made the goal. The team needs them to drive us on, and we owe them so much.”
Born: 15.11.70 in Douala, Cameroon.
Professional clubs: PSG, Chateauroux, Metz, Gamba Osaka, Cagliari, Parma, Sunderland. (Not quite as many clubs as Tiger Woods, but our friend obviously likes travelling.)
International record: Cameroon 15 caps, 10 goals.
Honours: Olympic gold medal 2000, African Player of the Year 2000, African Nations Cup Winner 2000, 2002.