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From Congo to Campbelltown: The refugee who became the star of Macarthur’s A-League run

“I wouldn’t even think about it because my parents, they tried really hard to work and to get money so I wouldn’t even dare ask them to pay $2500 for rego,” he said. “I settled for local leagues, paid my $200 or whatever and played there.”

The cost barrier of the top-tier National Premier League in Australia was yet another factor stopping M’Mombwa from aspiring to a professional career. It wasn’t until he was spotted at the age of 14 – late for most promising players – that he was taken for trials at NPL clubs. Eventually, he got a contract with the Central Coast Mariners’ youth team and spent years with the Gosford club before being released shortly after the arrival of former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic in 2019.

M’Mombwa returned to Gosford to hurt his old club in last week’s preliminary final.

M’Mombwa returned to Gosford to hurt his old club in last week’s preliminary final.Credit:Getty

“I had an injury and I was cut,” M’Mombwa said. “He didn’t see a future for me and that’s all right. I took that as a positive.”

Having experienced greater hardships in life, M’Mombwa didn’t let that setback derail his dream. He went to England to trial with Salford City and Bolton, but visa complications prevented deals there. When COVID-19 struck, he returned home and played NPL with Northbridge, where his life changed. Among the few hundred in the stands at one game was Macarthur FC coach Ante Milicic, who immediately brought M’Mombwa in to trial.

“At first I couldn’t believe it, I thought this couldn’t be real,” M’Mombwa said.

That trial quickly turned into a professional contract and a player initially signed for squad depth became a starting attacking midfielder. In the Bulls’ first finals game last week, the man from Goma was deployed as the link between two former La Liga stars, Benat and Markel Susaeta, and an ex-English Premier League player, striker Matt Derbyshire. For all the big names around him, it was M’Mombwa who scored the vital goal in the 2-0 extra-time win against the Mariners to put Macarthur into Sunday’s semi-final against Melbourne City.

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“I couldn’t put it into words,” M’Mombwa said. “It was a very special moment for me. Literally, it’s a dream-come-true moment.”

Just days out from a shot at the A-League grand final, M’Mombwa can’t help but reflect on the hard road he took to become a professional and the sacrifices his parents made for him. It’s why even if he has to settle for a place on the bench, he still couldn’t be happier.

“If I get 90 minutes or five minutes, I learn to appreciate it,” he said. “There are so many people who wish to be in the position I am in now but they don’t have the opportunity. Those experiences in my life helped me be humble and taught me to appreciate everything I have in my life.”

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