To the football world, Fabrice Muamba has always been a hard-running midfielder, rather than a target man. The latter phrase, one of countless thousands assimilated as part of his second language, takes on a more literal and frightening meaning when he discusses his plans for the summer. The Bolton and England Under-21 international is considering returning to his benighted home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo for the first time since arriving at freezing Heathrow in December 1999 as an 11 year-old knowing no English. It is a journey he must make incognito for fear of reprisals.
His father Marcel had fled to London five years earlier after being caught on the wrong side of the political divide and was finally allowed after all that time to bring his wife and children with him. Marcel has never dared return; Fabrice would like to do so for a brief visit, details of which must be kept to himself. "Because of my family situation back home, it is quite difficult for me to go back," he said in one of the more unusual pre-match media briefings yesterday. "They would probably see me as an easy target, to get rid of me. I have to do it secretly, go back via another country. I have got family there but they have had to change their identity."
Sport became the making of Muamba, his ability with a football impressing not only his contemporaries but scouts from Arsenal. Joining one of their academies, he made sure he was first in and last out for every session. Muamba made the Arsenal first-team for a Carling Cup game in 2005, but there were always others blocking his path and Arsène Wenger reluctantly sold him to Birmingham in 2007 after a season's loan there. Following their relegation in 2008 he moved on to Bolton, having been working his way in the meantime through the ranks of England's development teams.
Suspicious of DR Congo's motives in asking him to play for them – there was another attempt last year – he has always been proud as well as grateful to wear three lions on his shirt: "This is my adopted country. People have helped me, welcomed me with open arms and given me this opportunity. I'm earning a more than decent living and leading a comfortable life. I'm very appreciative of that."Reuse content