By: African Insider
Mbwana Samatta. Meschak Elia. Jonathan Bolingi. Mazembe’s consistent recruitment and development has transformed them into one of the best academies in Africa, rivaling Géneration Foot and Ajax Cape Town.
While they haven’t produced many household names, their commitment to the Mazembe way has led to them being one of the most feared teams outside the Eurosphere. One only needs to mention Mulota Kabangu and Rainford Kalaba to bring back memories of Mazembe’s humiliation of Internacional in 2010.
However, Mazembe have kept almost the exact same spine for the last 8-10 years, and cracks are starting to show. The brief injections of youth are either sold or have their contracts terminated for ”insubordination”, leaving Mazembe in desperate need of new talent.
Jackson Muleka has been sensational this season, with the 19-year-old striker currently being the top scorer in both Linafoot and the CAF Champions League. A natural-born finisher, with his rash and argumentative nature echoing the youthful delinquency of Trésor Mputu. However, the limelight has been focused on another, younger graduate from Moise Katumbi’s project: Isaac Tshibangu.
The 16-year-old has had a stellar breakout campaign at Mazembe, with his performances at the start of the season earning him two international caps.
A quick, technical player, Tshibangu prefers passing and flair rather than relying on pace. He is often seen creating space for others to move into, drawing attention to himself in order to open up gaps in opposition defenses for Muleka and Mputu to move into. An apt comparison would be Kylian Mbappe, something acquiesced by Tshibangu himself.
”I’m inspired by the way Mbappe plays, but, my role model is Neymar”, he told a national newspaper. Judging by how he’s played this season, it’s not at all a far stretch. He’s managed to displace mainstay Rainford Kalaba from the team, no easy feat in itself. With the legends of African football to guide his path, he should be able to achieve what they were unable to.
Nevertheless, Tshibangu is by no means exclusively a winger. He’s Mazembe’s 3rd highest goalscorer this campaign with 8 goals, while also registering 7 assists. He has been the deciding factor in many games where his explosive presence has been required to break down an opponent. Linafoot is one of the stronger leagues in Africa, and the physicality of the league will enable him to dominate many leagues he will play in during a long career.
However, as with any young player, he does have some weaknesses that are minor, but if left as they are will cause more problems in the future.
Isaac often attempts to play the ball sideways rather than upwards as a sort of ”safe pass”, which has jeopardized potential chances from arising in key situations. One of these moments was highlighted in the CAFCL, where he had a clear opportunity to square the ball to Muleka, only to pass it back into midfield, needing to restart the play again. This isn’t much of a concern due to his age, and he will learn the art of attacking football soon enough under the tutelage of Mazembe.
Another problem that has arisen recently is a slight amount of selfishness. While it’s good he finally has confidence and feels he fits in at a team of this prestige, there is a feeling he is letting this get to his head, and his performances of late show he has his head in the clouds. Concentration is key to winning matches on a weekly basis.
With all due respect however, Tshibangu is probably the best Congolese prospect in a generation, and his pace, acceleration, vision, and flair will ensure he will be a player talked about and looked up to for many years to come. Isaac Tshibangu has brought life to an ageing Mazembe team, and can hopefully lead them to CAFCL glory provided he takes Mputu’s crown as the new king of Africa.