Souleiman Ngamamba: " Being a footballer in Gabon is almost hell "

On Saturday May 14, Gabonese professional footballers will return to the fields and the competition, after more than two years of interruption, in particular due to a health crisis. Finally, not all of them, since some have decided to end their careers, such as defender Souleiman Ngamamba (34), a former player who worked for CF Mounana, USM Libreville and Missile FC, and who decided, just before the epidemic, to create an SME in the construction sector, in the Gabonese capital. Even regretting not having done it before…

Are you going to follow the Gabonese championship, which will be played in two and a half months, from May 14 to July 30, after more than two years of interruption?
Yes, if I have time, maybe I will go see a few matches, because I still have friends who are active. I will follow the results, especially those of Mangasport, one of my former clubs. But a season that takes place over two and a half months, is that really serious? We will ask players who have not had any competition for more than two years to play at a steady pace. And at the end of July, everything will stop. Will the next championship resume in October, as we hear? We’ll see. You know, being a footballer in Gabon is almost hell…

“I tell myself that if I had known what it was like to be a footballer in Gabon, I would not have chosen this path. And today, I wouldn’t feel like I wasted my time. »

Is that why you decided to stop your career just before the health crisis?
Absolutely. I couldn’t go on anymore. What’s the point of playing football, devoting your time and energy to it, and not being able to live off your job? The reality of professional footballers in Gabon is that. You play, but over a season of ten or twelve months, you will receive two months’ salary. Except for those who are under contract with clubs supported by big sponsors, such as Stade Mandji in Port-Gentil or AS Mangasport. In Gabon, the state pays money to Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 clubs so that they can pay part of the players’ salaries. But most of the time, this money is embezzled by club managers or by officials of the Ministry of Sports. So as I was tired of not being paid every month, I preferred to stop.

Do you have any regrets?
Yes, only one: that of not having made this decision earlier. I will not hesitate to tell you that football has made me waste a lot of time. I almost regret having been a professional footballer. When I was playing, the best salary I had was 250,000 CFA francs (380 euros) when I was playing Canon 105 in Libreville. Except that this salary, I only touched it twice. Otherwise, I was more likely to earn 150,000 CFA francs (230 euros). So the rest of the time I had to save money everywhere. When you have a rent of 100,000 CFA francs (150 euros), and you have to pay the bills, feed your family – I have four children – how do you do it? Have you ever been to Libreville?

“With an average of 200 euros per month, it’s already difficult when you’re paid them, but when the salary only falls twice out of ten, it’s untenable. So I often skipped meals so that my children could eat. »

Yes…
You may have noticed that life is expensive. With an average of 200 euros per month, it’s already difficult when they pay you, but when the salary only falls twice out of ten, it’s untenable. So I often skipped meals so that my children could eat. To get help with 3, 4 or 5 euros from friends to eat, take a taxi to go to training. And also to do odd jobs. Yes, I cleaned the gutters, to earn some money. My teammates nicknamed me “The Iron” because they were impressed by my will. I know that others did like me, small jobs on the right, on the left. But they didn’t say it, they were ashamed. Today, I have my SME in the building sector (more exactly, he became a house painter, Editor’s note) and I suggested to some players that they at least come and do some training to learn a trade. But they refuse. They are embarrassed, would perhaps be ashamed to accept. They want to believe that they will get by thanks to football. I hope so for them, but I don’t believe it.

When did you decide to create your SME?
Eight months ago. As I had not been able to save money during my career, that I had never been able to buy a house or a car, it was a friend who agreed to bear the cost of the creation of the company. He saw that working hard didn’t scare me. I work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. I had skills in the field of construction and more specifically in painting. I have an employee, and what I can tell you is that I earn more today than when I was a footballer. I don’t have a fixed salary, but on average, I manage to make 400,000 CFA francs per month (600 euros). I live decently, my children have enough to eat. I apply the law of contentment with little. I tell myself that if I had known what it was like to be a footballer in Gabon, I would not have chosen this path. And today, I wouldn’t feel like I wasted my time. What I hope is to recover some of the money that I am owed. I took action for it.

“Here, everything is wrong. Me, I was several times one of the best side of the championship. I have never been selected in any national team, or youth, or anything. Never. Because here, it’s shenanigans. »

How do you explain that a country like Gabon fails to organize a real championship, with footballers paid every month?
We are a sparsely populated and wealthy country. But football, here, only brings in certain people: leaders, coaches, while those who practice it have nothing. How many, during these two years of interruption, were evicted from their homes because they could no longer pay the rent, could no longer feed their children? It’s lamentable, and FIFA, who knows, does nothing, says nothing. She is an accomplice. Here, everything is wrong. Me, I was several times one of the best side of the championship. I have never been selected in any national team, or youth, or anything. Never. Because here, it’s shenanigans. You have to pay your bonuses to certain people if you want to go to selection. All of this disgusted me. So much so that I have almost no more photos of me as a player, that I no longer have a jersey… I gave everything, sold everything, or almost. I just play on weekends, with friends.

Does the Gabonese press faithfully relay this situation?
No, because in Gabon, you don’t open your mouth the way you want. Fortunately, the foreign press talks about it. Me, I have already been threatened, I was told that I talked too much! Pfff, I don’t care, I’m calm…

Interview by Alexis Billebault

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