Despite a slight wait for a work permit, Newcastle’s signing of Chancel Mbemba was completed pretty swiftly compared to when the Congolese international joined Anderlecht in 2011.
Seemingly a victim of the murky practice of African talent being exported to Europe, Mbemba was registered with four birthdays and a subsequent FIFA investigation required a MRI bone scan to ascertain his exact age.
Anderlecht had to wait two years before they were allowed to field the centre-half but have now, another two years later, been rewarded for their patience by recouping £8.5 million for the centre-half who describes his move to Tyneside as a “childhood dream”.
Comparisons to Kompany and Newcastle’s defensive frailties
Mbemba won the 2014 Belgian league title with Anderlecht as well as two Supercups and now emulates Vincent Kompany, who he has previously named as an inspiration, by moving to the Premier League.
Mbemba’s age test confirmed he was born 8th August 1994 so he will be 21 the day before Newcastle kick-off their new season at home to Southampton. He is Newcastle’s third signing of the summer and to date the only defender who Steve McClaren has brought into his new side despite spending in excess of £35 million.
Therefore it will seem odd if Mbemba, given his youth and lack of Premier League experience, should be Newcastle’s sole addition to a defence that is in desperate need of renovation after shipping 190 goals over the past three seasons.
With Fabriccio Coloccini yet to renew a contract that has one year left to run and the 21 year old Jamaal Lascalles, yet to play in the top-flight, too inexperienced to be given a starting role, pre-season has indicated that Mike Williamson and Steven Taylor will begin the season as McClaren’s first-choice centre-half pairing.
The return of Taylor, who missed the disastrous second half of last season with an Achilles injury, will be important for McClaren but Williamson still has question marks hanging over him after featuring heavily in the John Carver debacle that so very nearly saw them relegated.
With Williamson, whom Carver accused of deliberately seeking a red card in a miserable afternoon at Leicester in May, vying with Coloccini who hasn’t yet played a single minute of pre-season after complaining of Achilles pain, it seems that McClaren will start the campaign with largely the same defence that appeared so feeble last term.
With Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City all to come before the middle of October, it doesn’t bode well for the club desperate to avoid a repeat of the despair and ennui that has coloured the last few seasons of the Mike Ashley regime.
Both Taylor and Williamson played all 90 minutes of Saturday’s friendly with Borussia Monchengladbach as Newcastle wrapped up pre-season with a 0-1 loss at St James’ Park, but Mbemba was limited to the last 30 minutes as a replacement for Daryl Janmaat at right-back.
That McClaren didn’t put him on as a centre-half discards any hope the Congolese had in making his debut this weekend, but it struck as odd that he was fielded in an alien position.
“I have only ever played there (right-back) once before – for Anderlecht, and never since,” said Mbemba after the defeat.
A wanted man with a humble attitude
Newcastle reportedly jumped in ahead of Monchengladbach, Wolfsburg and Atletico Madrid to sign Mbemba who arrives on a five-year contract with the pedigree of making six Champions League appearances for Anderlecht last season. There he impressed against Arsenal and McClaren is a big fan of the 20 year old.
“He is a proven performer at the highest level, he’s powerful, combative and will add quality to our defence. He also has an eye for goal which is an extra asset for us,” he said, referring to the 9 goals he scored for Anderlecht over 77 appearances for the Belgian club.
Mbemba also arrives with a humble attitude haven spoken extensively about how proud he is to join Newcastle in the Premier League and while many imports may talk a similar clichéd line, the fact he has accepted a £35,000 a-week wage is not so common in the modern era. As a qualified electrician he has already, at the age of 20, planned his life after retirement from football.
“When I am done with professional football, I want to become an electrician. God gave me a gift for manual trades, it must bear fruit,” he said.
Praying for his success
Newcastle will be hoping that his gift for football will now bear fruits in the north east, but in order for that to happen one can’t escape the feeling that they will have to bring in more than just one defender to allow him any chance of succeeding.
McClaren has inherited a defence in much need of renovation, the arrival of a 20 year old who has spent most of his short career in the Belgian league should only be tip of the iceberg required to improve it.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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