Prejudice, doubts, integration … The winding journey of French players who left for Ukraine

Maxime Do Couto
French players playing in the Ukrainian First Division talk about their career before the France-Ukraine match on Wednesday March 24 at the Stade France, counting for the qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup. Their sinuous trajectories espouse a particularly original and unusual story in modern football.

When you trained in Nice and ended up in Ukraine, something sure didn’t work out.“Alvaro Ngamba is lucid on his journey which brought him, like five other French people as well as Fares Bahlouli, to the banks of the Dnieper, this river crossing this country of eastern Europe from north to south.

Bahlouli, the former Lyon, Monaco and Lille hopeful joined the Ukrainian Third Division (FK Metal) at the beginning of March. Alvaro Ngamba, Maxime Do Couto, Issiar Dramé, Pape-Alioune Ndiaye, Vagner Gonçalves and Maroine Mihoubi play for their part in the First division.

They are among those players from the best training centers in France who have so far failed to break into their country. They are part of these backpackers, these young players who have come up against each other, more or less brutally, in the middle of professional football and its drifts.

At 24, Maxime Do Couto has already been through a lot. INF Clairefontaine, training center in Tours and under-nineteen selection with world champion Lucas Hernandez (Bayern Munich) or Moussa Dembélé (Atlético de Madrid), Maxwel Cornet (OL) and Abdou Diallo (PSG).

The winger takes his first steps in Ligue 2 when he is not yet sixteen. The following two years, he made 16 appearances before everything seized up with the arrival of a new coach. “I did a season without playing, he remembers. I think Tours did not behave very well with me and our relationship with the coach deteriorated. “

For Alvaro Ngamba, 22, meeting with less virtuous agents will lead him to the Italian Third Division at the end of his training at OGC Nice. “I was 18, it was my first time away from France, away from my family, he recalls. It wasn’t what I was promised“At the end of the season, the defensive midfielder tries to break his contract with Paganese and spends almost a year and a half without a club.”I was a little jaded about football business“, he agrees.

A first contact is then made with Kolos Kovalivka, his current club in Ukraine, for a test. The test is conclusive and Alvaro Ngamba finally thinks of reconnecting with professional football. “We agreed with the club, he explains, but my agent was asking them for money behind my back, without my knowing it. “The deal is not done and after a quick freelance in Latvia, the native of Yaoundé (Cameroon) is wasting away.”I thought about quitting football, describes Ngamba. I was in the dark, I even doubted my own existence, I no longer slept at night, I had gained weight. “

Alvaro Ngamba returns to Ukraine by the back door, in the Third Division, before Kolos Kovalivka returns to the charge in January 2021. If he “don’t touch the million“as he says with a smile, the former Niçois has found a taste for football.

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