The 19-year-old striker has been dubbed Silas by the Stuttgart faithful, and has a lot of support from the fans. The young man, who had only agreed to play for the club in a loan deal until the end of the season, has had to sit on the bench for long spells – and even had to wait until 2011 to make his debut. But his perseverance finally paid off on Monday when he came on as an 81st-minute substitute in a win over Mainz.
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As you may have heard, the German Bundesliga season is coming to an end. It’s a short season, but that means lots of exciting matches between teams that are fighting for a spot in European football. One of these teams is Stuttgart, and there’s one player who’s hoping to make an impression: Silas.. Read more about german soccer league and let us know what you think.
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- Ed Dove is a writer and scout with a lifelong interest in African sports, politics, and literature. @EddyDove22 on Instagram, @EddyDoveAfrica on Facebook
By any measure, Silas Wamangituka’s first season in the Bundesliga with VfB Stuttgart was a resounding success.
The Congolese striker dominated Bundesliga defenses in his debut season in the top level, scoring 11 goals in 25 games after helping Stuttgart win promotion from the German second tier in 2019-20.
Silas Wamangituka, the 21-year-old, wowed with his footwork, mobility, confidence, and finishing ability — a spectacular wondergoal against Mainz being the highlight — but there was a problem: his name wasn’t Wamangituka, and he wasn’t 21.
In June, the Bundesliga’s Rookie of the Season announced that he had been playing under a fake name and that his actual name was Silas Katompa Mvumpa, and that he was a year older, in a statement released by Stuttgart.
The German Football Federation slapped him with a three-month suspension and a €30,000 fine as a result of the discovery.
Stuttgart stood behind their man, with both the club and the player claiming that the forward’s name was altered by a former agent, Olivier Belesi, in order to expedite a transfer and have more control over him. [ESPN tried many times to reach Belesi but got no answer.]
“Silas was influenced by the agent, who siphoned off a portion of his salary and warned him that if the issue went public, he would never play football again,” according to a statement from Stuttgart.
The footballer, who fled the DRC as a teenager, said that the lie had harmed his career: “Over the last several years, I’ve been continuously living in dread and concerned about my family in Congo.”
“Making my experience public was a difficult step for me, and I would never have had the confidence to do so if Stuttgart, my team, and VfB had not been a second home and a safe haven for me.”
Silas Wamangituka of the Democratic Republic of Congo made an instant impression in his debut season with VfB Stuttgart, scoring 11 goals in 25 appearances. Getty Images/Christian Kaspar-Bartke
Silas isn’t the only athlete to be accused of being a victim of Olivier Belesi’s machinations.
Colet Kapanga, a friend and fellow countryman of Silas, spoke to ESPN about the devastation caused by his own relationship with the agency, whom he claims of pocketing his pay after signing for Paris FC in July 2019.
Kapanga told ESPN, “He stated to me that we could accomplish things together and brought me to Paris FC.” “I was hired as a professional intern there, but I didn’t get paid for six months.”
“He explained to me that [the money] wasn’t there and that they were working on it, but that it had already vanished.”
“I’m trying to push myself ahead and find a new club, but it’s too much to speak about right now — it’s been totally ruined for a year, and I haven’t played.”
Kapanga, now 21, claims that accepting an offer to live with him in Paris put him in a vulnerable position with his agency, leaving the athlete alone and reliant on Belesi.
While Silas will be allowed to return to action after his three-month suspension, Kapanga’s career has come to a halt as a result of his alleged abuse by the agency and the emotional toll he claims it has had on him.
“I haven’t played in a year because I’m not psychologically healthy,” he added. “I’m simply working out at the gym while looking for a club.”
“I’m playing on weekends to keep my rhythm, and I’m not injured,” she says. “But now it’s the new season, and I’m not sure where I’ll be; I can’t simply show up at a club.”
When looking at which players may be available during the summer of 2022, Alejandro Moreno advises teams to be cautious.
Belesi noticed Silas and Kapanga when they were both at fifth-tier Ales, and Kapanga claims the agent persuaded them to give up control of their careers to him.
“[Silas and I] played in friend-to-friend matches, and we knew each other,” he added.
“We grew up together, woke up together, and shared everything. He’s one of my closest friends, and we used to play together at Ales FC and Paris FC.
“I was aware that his name had been altered. It had previously been addressed, but now that it has been completed, it is no longer a concern.”
Kapanga has advised other candidates to exercise extreme caution while selecting agents and advocates in whom to put their trust.
He and Silas seem to have had especially bad luck with Belesi, since the agent has also been sued by former Democratic Republic of Congo player Youssouf Mulumbu and his former teammate Distel Zola.
The origins of the ruse
Aside from the problem of self-seeking agents, the Silas incident, which comes only months after a similar incident involving Manchester United wonderkid Amad Diallo, brings the long-running African football dilemma of identity alteration back to the forefront.
Given the wealth accessible to players in European football — and the vast financial differences between European and African football — most of the continent’s sports institutions are oriented around player transfers across the Mediterranean.
Unscrupulous individuals prey on the aspirations — and desperation — of a plethora of young talents seeking a better future for themselves, and it’s not unusual for hopefuls to be urged to alter their biographical information in order to appeal to prospective teams.
Amad Diallo of the Ivory Coast, who is now at Manchester United, was punished in 2015 for entering Italy with fake papers. Getty Images/Marc Atkins
It’s a reality that Gambia coach and former Nigeria Technical Director Tom Saintfiet has seen throughout his career, both in Africa and Asia, as players look for a more straightforward path into the European game.
He told ESPN, “In Europe, individuals are registered as soon as they are born, so you can’t alter your identity or date of birth.”
“It’s a pity… maybe [African players who alter their age] receive a better deal in Europe in the near term, since that’s the plan.”
“Or the federation may rig a U-17 or U-18 championship, but if you win games because of overage players, you’re deceiving yourself; it doesn’t demonstrate any progress.”
“You see this a lot: a guy who signs a deal in Europe but is older than he seems, his career will end sooner — maybe when he’s 28-30 years old. You don’t need to alter your age if you’re a good player in the Bundesliga or the Premier League.”
While Saintfiet is eager to eliminate the issue in the African game, he thinks that fining the players is dangerous since the change in paperwork is often driven by the agent or other factors.
According to Gerard Jones, a UEFA A-licensed coach who recently worked as Elite Coach Educator for the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, things don’t have to be this way.
“Whether it’s prejudice or discrimination, there’s a stigma. I don’t like to use the term racism, but there is something that is restricting African players’ perceptions “He told ESPN about it.
“When I first came, I was guilty of this, but I was blown away by the infrastructure, the quality of the facilities, and the quality of the training.”
“If someone has the ability to play in the Bundesliga, they simply need the appropriate atmosphere, the ideal training center, the chances, the route to the first team, and the right level of competition.”
Tom Saintfiet, the current Gambia coach, has significant coaching experience in Africa, notably with Malawi in 2013. Yemen, Malta, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and Namibia are among the countries he has coached. Getty Images/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP
Jones, who has 14 years of coaching experience with Rochdale, Bradford City, and Bristol Rovers, believes that a dramatic shift in attitude and perception among coaches would alleviate the pressure for African players to succumb to the lure of identity alteration.
“I’d want to look at the person behind the number; what are their skills, strengths, and how can we help them develop as a player and a person,” he said. “We understand that learning and growth are non-linear processes.
“Many athletes are labeled as [young], but I disagree; I believe a player may develop while still being in his or her twenties. You must consider the character as well as the technical, physical, and tactical aspects.”
Jones also thinks that encouraging federations to concentrate on player and coach education rather than short-term benefits by releasing over-aged players who are mistaken for younger players would help African football in the long run.
“If we can re-educate and modify talent development views, we can solve the issue [of age alteration] because if players believe we can see beyond [only their age], we can look at other characteristics and bring them through the door.”
“It will have an effect on the business because these athletes will be able to play to their strengths and will no longer need to lie about their age, instead concentrating on their talents.”
Saintfiet is hopeful that advances in African football development, such as infrastructure and facilities, would eventually lead to a shift in mentality and an emphasis on long-term benefits.
“There’s a lot more development now than there was 10, 15 years ago, when ASEC Mimosas was Africa’s sole ‘development club,” he said. “Now, many teams throughout Africa are investing in development, which is a positive indication.
“It implies that if a player is talented enough for the top, it doesn’t matter whether he’s two years older or not — whether by an individual, a federation, or an agency — it doesn’t matter if he’s two years older or not.”
“Nobody plays for Stuttgart, or any other top-flight team, just because he is a different age or has a different name. They play there because they are capable of doing so.”
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