Striker is in Belgium's squad for first time
10 October ~ On Monday, Gent striker Ilombe "Petit Pelé" Mboyo thought he was the victim of a practical joke. He was told that he'd been called up to the Belgium national squad to face Serbia and Scotland following the withdrawal of Romelu Lukaku. But it was true, Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said he'd gone for Mboyo as he was a good target man and sufficiently mobile to play against the pressure expected to come from the Serbia defenders. Not that he's certain to play, as the less mobile but bigger Christian Benteke is likely to get the nod.
It's been a remarkable journey to international football for Mboyo. As a teenager, he played in Anderlecht youth squads with Vincent Kompany, Anthony Vanden Borre and his own cousin, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia. According to Kompany, Mboyo stood out in the group as "a rare pearl". Kompany has gone on to greater things, while Vanden Borre and Mujangi Bia have both flirted with the Premier League. Mboyo took a different route. Leaving Anderlecht in his mid-teens to join Club Brugge, he took a few wrong turns and eventually received a three-year prison sentence.
For a time he was uncontrollable but Mboyo met a counsellor who turned him around. His thoughts turned back to football and he got a transfer to Belgium's most modern prison at Ittre which, in those days, benefited from a rehabilitation programme called Football in Prison. Through that Mboyo met Sporting Charleroi scout Pierre Bodenghien. A deal was brokered with Charleroi's management and the prison authorities for Mboyo to train and play with the reserve team while he finished his sentence.
He was later incorporated into Charleroi's first-team squad, coached by Scottish international John Collins. Initially Mboyo made a big impression but his next season was less successful at a club that changed coaches regularly. In May 2010 he went to Kortrijk on loan and played under Hein Vanhaezebrouck, who was working wonders with a small budget. The loan was made permanent in September 2010 and Mboyo scored six goals and made five more in the first half of the season.
Gent spotted the him and another deal was done. Though Mboyo has not been that prolific since joining his new club, he is now seen as their main striker and seems to appreciate Trond Sollied's light touch as a coach. With Belgians being fashionable at the moment, don't bet against him joining his friends in the Premier League. John Chapman