Mouko, Congo’s best barrel
Congo carved itself a nice piece of the last TOTAL CHAN cake, partly thanks to his goalkeeper, Barel Mouko. Pushing 40, the Congolese captain is living proof that one can keep the net safe without being 6 feet tall. And even if previous work experience was in telecom...
Witnessing a goalkeeper going for the strike next to the penalty point for an 11 meters strike is a surefire way to guarantee a few thrills. There’s those blessed by Lady Luck, like Manuel Neuer piercing Petr Cech in the Champions league final in 2012. But in truth, we mostly remember the fails. Doesn’t matter if your name is Mickael Landreau, you have 20 years behind you and more trophies than you can count, nobody seems able to forget a critical misfire in a 2004 final. Too bad for Barel Mouko, who joined the club of unlucky penalties on last January 28. An incident that took place in Agadir’s Adrar Stadium, in the quarter-finals of the TOTAL CHAN against Libya. Ending the game with a draw (1-1), a penalty shootout is called for. Congo’s problem: unlucky cast members. “Barel Mouko was on the second list, those of the potential shooters after our five best strikers”, explained trainer Barthélémy Ngatsono after the defeat. “One of the first list players was injured, two refused to strike. As captain, Barel Mouko took his responsibility, but could not strike last, because the player supposed to strike in fourth place offered to last. So the solution was for Barel to go fourth.” If that gave you a headache, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Gonna Fly Now
End result: Mouko is the only one to strike out. Too bad, because he ran three clean sheets in a row in the pool stage. But, as his trainer pointed out, it cannot be said that the Congolese goalie didn’t stand up to his captain role. One that he takes very seriously. At 38, he calls his teammates “my kids” and swears on what he holds most sacred that he’s up every morning at 6am to run alone like Rocky Balboa through Philadelphia. Cue montage music. A habit and a healthy lifestyle that may explain his durability on the field, and his ability to jump around while only standing 5ft9. Barel Mouko can thank his athletic capabilities, and the springs he apparently has inside his legs. But he can mostly thank Rudi Garcia, who gave him a shot at a rather late stage. Let’s go back to 2003: Barel Mouko is already 23 and jumps between amateur clubs around Paris. Back then, the only real line on his CV is the title of champion of French firms championship with the team of telecom giant Orange. Rudi Garcia, then heading a Dijon stuck in third league, hires the keeper. One season later, the club was in League 2.
Good Ol’ Rudy
The one problem when you’re really tight with your trainer, is that when it’s time to split, it feels like a bad breakup and a bad hangover had a baby and that baby kicked you in the face. In the summer of 2007, Garcia goes to Le Mans and is replaced by Serge Romano. Mouko stays, but ends up butting heads with Romano, who benches him. The end of an era. At almost 30, he can’t find any other place but with Gueugnon in National league. But the good part of being tight with your trainer, it’s that he won’t forget you. So while Mouko does his time in the third division, Rudi Garcia makes his way to Lille. So the day Mickael Landreau messes up his knee and he must find an emergency backup for Ludovic Butelle, Garcia picks up the phone to have his Congolese friend drive up North. Mouko is on for five seasons in Lille, as second keeper, then third after Landreau returns. That means very few games for Mouko, only four over five years. It’s then time to go home, and he enters the Congolese championship in 2015 looking like a man with little doubts over his legacy. Indeed, when the time came to elect Orange’s all time bests, voters didn’t hesitate to pick the Congolese goalie.