You voted, we listened. The former NUFC defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa features in our most recent ‘Where are they now?’ article.
Singing for Newcastle United
Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa was born in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, and moved to France at just 8 years old.
He joined Montpellier’s youth academy in 2005, and just 2 years later during the 2007/08 season he made the step up to the senior team, becoming a mainstay in the heart of defence. At just 18 years of age, it was clear to see that Yanga-Mbiwa was a big talent.
In part of an exciting young team, the Frenchman helped the club back into the French top division, Ligue 1. With Montpellier back competing against the best teams in France the central defender did not look an inch out of place, and developed immensely over his 6 years at the club.
This could not be underlined any better than the fact that he captained Montpellier to their first ever League title in 2011/12. In a side that contained future Newcastle player Remy Cabella, and Premier League striker Olivier Giroud, Yanga-Mbiwa ensured things remained tight at the back . He was quick across the ground and posed as a commanding figure in the box throughout the season.
I was genuinely thrilled with the signing of Yanga-Mbiwa as he added to the French Revolution we were witnessing on Tyneside. With the pace, power, and leadership experience he possessed, I thought he would be a perfect fit for the Premier League.
The Frenchman’s time at Newcastle was anything but thrilling. I believe the language barrier he faced may have hindered his progression, as well as the management team he was playing under at the time. Alan Pardew was the man responsible for bringing the Frenchman to Tyneside, but continued to utilize him in a fullback position, exposed to Premier League wingers on a weekly basis.
With this behind said, his frequent lapses in concentration and apparent weaknesses during set pieces are what cost him the opportunity to play for Newcastle United in the Premier League.
The main memory I have of Mapou, is the away day performance against Spurs.
It was a match in which Tim Krul rightly grabbed the headlines, but without Yanga-Mbiwa also chipping in with a sensational goal line clearance, it could have been a different story. We eventually won the game 1-0 after fellow Frenchman Loic Remy notched a goal at the other end, I thought this could have been a turning point for the defender.
It turned out to not to be the case and after making just 37 appearances for the club, Yanga-Mbiwa was snatched up by Italian giants, Roma.
Where have they been?
The footballing path that Yanga-Mbiwa has been on since departing the North East has been impressive, yet puzzling.
He initially joined Roma on loan in September 2014, making an appearance in the Champions League just 2 weeks after landing in Italy. Roma were clearly impressed with what they saw and made the deal permanent at the beginning of 2015.
His performances for the Italian club were a stark contrast to what we see at Newcastle. The true potential of the player was coming to the forefront, the hotly tipped 18 year that helped pull Marseille into the Ligue 1 was starting to display his defensive capabilites.
In a hugely successful season for both the club, and the player, it ended sourly for Yanga-Mbiwa in Italy. After the Frenchman netted the winning goal against Lazio in the Derby della Capitale, ensuring the ‘Giallorossi’ clinched 2nd spot in the final league standings, things took a downward turn.
Firstly, the defender was attacked by Lazio fans when celebrating the completion of the season. It was reported that fans took of their belts and attempted to attack Mapou as he relaxed with two friends. He left the scene unhurt but was clearly impacted.
Secondly, the message of support by Roma was not ideal for the Frenchman. In an attempt to console their player, Roma fans opted to ‘black up’ in support.
These factors perhaps triggered Yanga-Mbiwa’s move away from Italy, coming just 2 months after the incidents. This semi-enforced move was such a shame as he was clearly enjoying his playing time on the pitch. The sooner Italian football resolve this issue the better.
He made the move back to France in August 2015, when he signed for Lyon for around £8 million.
The return to France has been a steady one. He has not excelled, but also not disappointed on the pitch. He has made 54 appearances for the club in Ligue 1, with 2 goals both coming against Monaco in the same match. He has also added a further 12 Champions League appearances to his name.
Was the grass greener?
Yes – I believe that Yanga-Mbiwa made the right choice when moving away from St James Park. I also believe we wasted a massive opportunity due to the mismanagement of a clearly talented player.
Overall I would have to say his career hasn’t quite lived up to the early expectations. Do not get me wrong he has managed to represent big European clubs in the Champions League, however I anticipated so much more from him. Now aged 30, it is looking like he will end his footballing career with just a single piece of silverware, the Ligue 1 title which he won in 2011/12.
How would you assess Yanga-Mbwia’s career?