Where to now, Mputu?

Mputu, who plays for TP Mazembe and was at one stage two years ago targeted by both Orlando Pirates and Mamelodi Sundowns, has been poised to move to Europe since before the end of the 2007/08 season, when he finished top scorer in the CAF Champions League.   It is not that the diminutive hitman has been short of offers.   Both Tottenham Hotspur and Blackburn Rovers have had him for trials, while Mputu was also linked with Arsenal, Anderlecht, Olympiakos and Hull City throughout 2008. And a deal failed to materialise with Al-Ahly, despite the 22-year-old having had talks with the Egyptian champions.   It was former Cameroon and Congo national team coach Claude LeRoy who first scouted Mputu and then described him as ‘the next Samuel Eto’o. LeRoy’s assessment has been endorsed by other sources, with soccer pundits, including Arsenal’s Arsene Wegner, who all pointed to his incredible speed on the wings and effectiveness in the 18-yard box.   Others have praised his amazing ability to break down defences when filling the role as a central attacking midfielder rather than as an out-and-out striker.   So why is he still playing in homeland?   Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that Mputu is skinny and rather short, which makes him vulnerable of being defensively harassed in the grinding European leagues.   Mputu made his international debut at the age of 18 and was a member of the squad at the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations that progressed to the quarterfinals, where they were eliminated by eventual winners Egypt.   Although he played in only two games, he scored the first goal in DR Congo’s game against Togo, but was sent off in his second game against Angola within 19 minutes for lashing out at a defender. His subsequent suspension for the straight red meant he missed the rest of the campaign.   The following year he helped TP Mazembe reach the CAF Champions League, finishing as top scorer, and then continues his deadly form in the Confederation Cup.   Now the spotlight is on Mputu again following days of celebration sandwiched in between two major footballing triumphs.   The central African country, beset for decades by civil strife, have enjoyed a rare opportunity to put aside its turmoil after winning the inaugural African Nations Championship in the Ivory Coast. It was an unexpected success in the first edition of a tournament contested by domestic-based players, and the team came home to tumultuous welcome.   After being flown home in the presidential jet, joining President Joseph Kabila as he toured the east of the country, they were each awarded a 4x4 jeep and found themselves greeted by thousands of delirious fans as they were paraded through the streets of Kinshasa.   Amid all this revelry, it was expected that TP Mazembe, the pride of DR Congo’s club scene, might be distracted ahead of their CAF Champions League second round first leg tie against Petro Atletico of Angola.   As it was, the taste for victory seemed to have merely whetted the appetites of Mputu and his teammates, who prolonged Congolese celebrations with a convincing 3-0 victory.   Surely Mputu, named Chan’s Player of the Tournament, will get his big break sooner rather than later ...

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