Le Roy, Mbele and the demanding fans

Orlando Pirates

Not anything to do with South Africa hospitality, but the hundred of expats who pitched to welcome the team – but also with a ‘demand’ in hand.

It was October 2005 and Le Roy was then coach of the Democratic Republic of Congo, taking on Bafana in a World Cup qualifier in Durban.

“There were a lot of Congolese fans, who were living in South Africa, at the airport to meet us. It was a surprise for me. And they had this player with them. They were demanding that I put him in the squad. I thought ‘why not?’ It would do no harm to let him train with us and we could see if he had anything,” explained the French-born coach, a 30-year veteran of taking charge of national teams in Africa.

The player in question was Blaise Lelo Mbele, at that time scoring goals for Orlando Pirates and emerging as a real find for the Buccaneers.

Le Roy told him to meet up with the team in Durban, liked what he saw, and put Mbele on the bench for the game.

Near the end of the game he put Mbele on for the last few minutes, taking off Kaizer Chiefs striker Kampamba Musasa as the Congolese held South Africa to a 2-2 draw.

It was the first recorded case in international football of fan power persuading the coach to pick a player ... and a good recommendation it proved.

Three months later Le Roy picked Mbele to play at the African Nations Cup finals in Egypt where the Congolese reached the quarter-finals. He continued to make intermittent appearances for the Leopards; his last cap won just over a year ago now against Togo in another World Cup qualifier in Lome.

Mbele has had a nomadic existence since he left Pirates in 2007, going on to to play in Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Malaysia and Algeria.

He helped CS Sfaxien of Tunisia win the 2007 African Confederation Cup, but in later years was labeled a flop in Malaysia when he hardly played after signing a lucrative contract. He was last at Petro Atletico of Angola.