Talisman Mulumba back for second act with Bandari
In February 2020 when Felly Mulumba left Bandari FC to join Zimbabwe’s Platinum FC, it appeared he had closed the Kenyan chapter of his footballing career.
The central defender, who spent his early career in his native Congo DR, had featured for three top-flight clubs during a decade-long stay in Kenya and was finally looking for a new adventure elsewhere.
Fast forward to February 2021, it was announced Mulumba was returning to Bandari and has already featured for the Dockers in three Football Kenya Federation Premier League (FKF-PL) matches.
In fact, in his farewell message to Bandari while exiting, a thankful Mulumba did not show any possibility of returning, only underlining the important role the club had played in his career progression.
“I will be leaving Bandari after a five-year stint, and I send my gratitude to the club, the Sponsor (KPA) the technical bench, the football federation and all the Bandari fans.
“I have had very good memories with the club, and I have a very special place in my heart for the club. Over the years, this club has been my life and we have achieved a lot together which I will never forget. I thank you so much guys. I look forward to my new journey and hope that we still are a family,” Mulumba posted on his Facebook page then.
One would wonder why the quick return to Kenya, having left for the Zimbabwe giants beaming with hope to take his career to another level, as the side is a regular competitor in the CAF interclub championships.
Thanks to the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, Mulumba featured in just one match for Platinum, as a substitute in his entire period at the club.
“I was actually going for trials. I thought I would try with them for some time before we discuss signing. After just one training session I was told to sign. But after that I only got a chance to play one Cup match, and Corona struck. I therefore had no chance to showcase my ability anymore, as everything was at standstill since March 2020,” he narrated, though without any regrets.
As much as he never played as regularly as he would have wished for, Mulumba had quite an experience at the club where he says things were done differently compared to clubs he has represented in Kenya.
“The demand is high because that’s a club that plays in the Champions League almost every season. Top players to learn from and quite a different approach. For example, we were required to run six kilometres every day on hilly terrains as part of training. This was closely monitored and failure to complete that task attracted deduction of allowances,” recalled the veteran defender.
For him, it was mandatory to shave five kilograms after his arrival in Harare, from 82 to 77.
“I was told I has to lose five kilograms. In fact I ended up losing six, because I weighed 76 by the time I was leaving them (Platinum). I had to do a lot of work since I was new and I had to convince by all measures I fitted the bill,” he remembered.
After the botched season, only players with some longer history at the club had more chances of continuing the journey hence his return to his second home as he says, Kenya.
“I was set to rejoin Sofapaka, but by the time I was coming back they had the maximum number of foreign players. I was however being encouraged by the club’s management led by president Elly Kalekwa as I waited.
“In the process, I was in touch with Bandari management who graciously accepted to offer me a contract although they had maximum players already in their squad (25), as required by the Board,” he reflected, explaining why he had to wait until a space was created for him as soon as the window swung open.
He underlines his cordial relationship with Bandari in his first five years was crucial to his comeback.
“I have no words to thank Bandari Football Club for showing confidence with me. I served diligently all my days before I left and still left in the best way, on mutual understanding with the management. I believe that meant a lot for my return here,” the former club captain offered, noting he has come to offer his 100 percent.
Indeed, he is already living his word, as he has been hailed by new coach Andre Casa Mbungo as a key figure in his squad, despite assigning him quite unusual role as a defensive midfielder instead of his regular centre-back role.
“I have played as a DM before at Sofapaka, and a few times here (at Bandari) during Bernard Mwalala’s tenure so it is not strange to me, although I’m known more for defensive duties. It is about working with the coach to get the best out of each of us,” said Mulumba, whose football journey started as a goalkeeper when he was a kid – following on his father’s footsteps.
A first born in a family of seven, the gifted dancer as he describes himself, hails from Kananga – Congo where after his formative school football life, played for AS Saint-Luc between 2006 to 2010.
The 30-year old featured for the side in 128 matches, before making his career defining decision to try his luck in Kenya. Defining it was, and a step of faith as he describes the move in his own words.
“As opposed to many Congo natives in Kenya, I didn’t come for any political reasons or for music. I was connected to one Thomas Mugera by one of my USA based uncles, my first stop in Kenya being Kitengela (in the outskirts of Nairobi). He was so kind and helpful to me, in my early days here when I couldn’t speak or understand both English and Kiswahili,” told Mulumba with such a nostalgia, going down memory lane to when his US uncle would call all the way from America to explain to him something his hosts wanted to communicate as they couldn’t understand his Lingala and French too.
It was Mugera who would introduce him to football coaches through trials in 2011, first at AFC Leopards then under Robert Matano before landing at Posta Rangers.
“At Leopards I found coach Matano and Noah Wanyama (Harambee Stars’ captain Victor Wanyama’s father) in the trails but they had already picked their players of choice by the time we went for the open trials.”
He was determined, and Mugera was resolute the then youthful Mulumba would get a club in the topflight, which paid off at Posta then under coach David Ouma, now the Harambee Starlets tactician.
“They had open trials for two weeks at the Railways Grounds. There were 250 players competing for just five slots. I was given just 15 minutes in a friendly as they wound up the selection process. I recall players like Brian Mandela (now Harambee Stars vice captain and Mamelodi Sundowns) and Pascal Ochieng were there. By God’s grace I was among the five who made it,” recollected Mulumba, further revealing how he struggled to communicate in his initial three months.
There was no looking back, as his first contract at Sofapaka earned him platform to exhibit his abilities and would soon attract Kalekwa.
“I’m really thankful to the Posta Rangers family then, I learnt a lot from them. When we played Sofapaka in the first round 2011 season at the City Stadium, Kalekwa saw me and asked me if I could join Sofapaka. I requested him to allow me to learn more with Posta at least for a season, before moving to Batoto ba Mungu which took place in 2012.”
Serving the 2009 Kenyan champions up to 2015 placed him in the books of respected players locally, going on to win the second runners up Defender of the Year award in 2012.
It is with Bandari that he won the Defender of the Year award in the 2018 season, with pride and honour, wearing the Dockers’ armband since the retirement of goalkeeper Wilson Obungu.
He had the privilege to captain Sofapaka too, a club he says still has a special place in his heart.
With fresh hope and zeal, Mulumba hopes Bandari can break the jinx and win the Premier League title during his second stint at Mbaraki, a vision shared by his coach Mbungo.
This Sunday, the push towards the quite ambitious yet realistic dream takes Bandari’s hunt for maximum points to Kericho Green Stadium against struggling Ulinzi Stars, and Mulumba is confident of a fruitful outing.