LIFE has been more of an education than usual for Hibernian striker Dominique Malonga. Stewing on the sidelines as his side struggled to find the net and ultimately gave up all three points against Falkirk last weekend, he learned a valuable lesson.
So, too, did his manager, who had guessed that the absence of the 25-year-old could be keenly felt when he disappears on Africa Cup of Nations duty early in the new year but had those fears confirmed as they drew a blank without him.
That international sojourn is one Alan Stubbs could do without, but it is one the player is anticipating with great enthusiasm, explaining that his newly- found status as a member of the Congolese squad has already bestowed him with more knowledge than he could have ever expected.
Although his parents hail from Africa, they emigrated to France and Malonga considers Paris his home. He retained an emotional bond with his African heritage but admits he was ignorant about many aspects of life there.
Struggling to come up with certain facts and figures about the country, including population size, he admits the one thing he did investigate thoroughly before finally accepting his first cap last month was the threat of Ebola.
“Congo is okay with Ebola, it has not been affected. It was difficult for me because when I had to make a choice I had to check what was happening and if there was an issue I don’t think I would have gone there. For my family and myself it would have been very dangerous.
“But all the people there reassured me and told me it was not an issue there. And when I went there it was okay, there were no problems.”
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No problems, only eye-opening opportunities to catch up with members of his family he had never met previously and learn just how fortunate he is to have the life his parents and his footballing ability have provided him.
“I played for my country for the first time just a couple of weeks ago,” he added. “It was the first time I had ever been in Africa and it was a very emotional trip for me. I was able to see people I had never seen before. I met my father’s sister and my grandmother, who I had never met before. I also met my cousins. They live in the capital Brazzaville and I was able to go there. I saw things over there I had never seen in my life before. It stirred up many feelings inside of me. It is very hard there for the people in the country. The conditions are really, really hard.
“What you see on TV is nothing like what you discover when you actually go there. It didn’t change me but it did make me realise how lucky I am. When you play football you don’t realise how lucky a life you have. I’m just proud to play football and I realise I’m very, very lucky to do so. I’m just happy to live here and with my family in Paris. My parents left Congo for Paris when they were 20 years old and I have always lived in France. They wanted me to play for France and I played for all the French youth teams growing up. But now my parents are very happy I chose the Congo, it’s good for my family.”
Congo had been chasing him for several years but having finally said yes to them Malonga has no regrets, gaining his first cap in the match that secured the country’s place at the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations.
“I’m pleased. They first contacted me when I was 21 but I just said I wasn’t sure. But I think now was a good opportunity for me because we have the African Nations Cup. I think I’ve made a good choice and I’m happy with it. We’ve been very lucky with the draw. We have Guinea, Burkino Faso and Gabon [in our group]. We just want to improve. We’re a little country [pop 4.6million] so this is good for us. And we’re hopeful we can get through this group.”
Malonga expects to set off after the New Year derby against Hearts at Tynecastle on 3 January but in the three games between now and then wants to leave his mark with some goals rather than any further bouts of indiscipline.
Punished for an off-the-ball fracas with Alloa’s Ben Gordon in the Scottish Cup fourth round, he says it was difficult to be consigned to the sidelines as a consequence last Saturday and wants to bounce back with a winning performance when he faces Alloa again today, this time on Championship duty.
“It’s good to be back because last week it was hard to see my team lose like that. I made a mistake against Alloa. He pushed me and I reacted to that. I have to set an example on the pitch, especially to younger people, so it was bad. I’m not a hothead, I’m usually always calm on the pitch, I just reacted badly. He really made me crazy but I have learned my lesson.”
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