By Franklyn Malambo
In the early hours of today I took time to watch a replay of RB Salzburg V Real Madrid especially after I read on a lot of platforms that the lad had done well at Centre back and as always with many Zambian fans, mist think he should be converted to Centre back for the senior team as it was in the case of Stophilla Sunzu in late 2009.
First things first, a Player Under 23 must be able to play in any position. However, in top level football specialising in positions or departments starts at an early age.
In last night’s match, Mwepu was excellent. His anticipation was top notch, he won his aerial and ground duels and did very well with the ball. He was almost the opposite of his centre back showing against Chelsea just about a week ago when he had a torrid time.
Back to the Change of position. I can take a bullet for saying this, Sunzu’s move to Centre back just prolonged his usefulness. He was always going to struggle as a Central midfielder because his movement wasn’t the best or quickest, his use of the ball wasn’t the best both in terms of distribution and getting out of crowded areas. He wouldn’t have made it as a central midfielder. Playing as a Centre back affords him much time to do most of the things he wouldn’t have done as a Central midfielder.
The case of Mwepu is different, I think he is being played as a Centre back for some reasons among them his ability to both man mark and zonal mark, his physique aids him in duels both aerial and ground, teams in Europe want ball playing centre backs to aid their build up and push up the field and his anticipation is excellent. By the way, Marco Rose last season would play him at right back last season.(admittedly, his passing in midfield at Salzburg isn’t always at its best).
Playing CB there is more of positional awareness(nzelu) than strength(Amaka) , even though you need both but the former is more important.
So, should his position for Chipolopolo change too? No, I don’t think it should. He wouldn’t be the first player to play in different roles for Club and country. E.g Thomas Partey plays as Central defensive midfielder at Atletico Madrid yet plays as second striker for Ghana. Obi Mikel would play as base midfielder for Chelsea yet would play at tip of attacking midfield/second striker for Nigeria.
Mwepu is among the best attackers and ball carriers we have in Chipolopolo is not the best at present. So, we can benefit from him as a hybrid central midfielder. Use all his attributes to the best that they can bring forth.
He can play for example a 40/60 role which entails 40% defensive and 60% attacking or vice-versa depending on the needs on a particular day. His ability to win possession can be used as an advantage to get the ball high up the field and get into the opposition box earlier.(remember how Obi Mikel pressed Chisamba at AfCON 2013 and that resulted in a Nigeria goal? That’s what I mean)
Similarly his ability to fetch and carry is a plus and because of his physique, he can bulldoze his way past most midfields. His ability on the ball and Power that he posses is like that of Vintage YaYa Toure and if he can add more to his finishing touch and score from outside the box, he can be one hell of a player.
He still has time on his side to add to his repertoire.
In other words, he is a player that can adapt and should be used according to the needs of the team because he has great versatility.
For Chipolopolo, I still think he is a midfielder and at Salzburg if they use him elsewhere, its an advantage and win-win situation for everyone involved and interested.
Zambia Mwepu the midfielder than the centre back.