Consider this statement, written by Birmingham Post journalist Chris Lepkowski in September 2009 when Albion had just beaten Middlesbrough: “From first to last whistle the Congo international was destroyer-in-chief against Boro’s midfield.
"Every 50-50 was won, he contributed up front and in defence. Albion moved to his rhythm and pace. He dictated the team’s performance with an individual display which combined skill, grace but also the kind of competitive streak this Baggies midfield has been lacking since Derek McInnes left the club. As an all round display you’ll struggle to find a better one.”
Fine writing to describe what many of us have thought for some time – this element of competitiveness, which now seems to have been added to as his contribution against Fulham showed recently.
We first saw Youssouf Mulumbu in Albion colours in 2009, when he had signed on loan from Paris St-Germain in January, and appeared on the bench at home against Newcastle in February. He then had to wait until the April before coming on for Chris Brunt in the 2-2 draw away at Portsmouth.
Further forays off the bench came against Manchester City away, and then the first look at him by the home supporters against Sunderland, which we won 3-0. He then made his first start away against Spurs, which we were unlucky to lose 1-0, and the Albion website made him their man of the match. He had replaced an injured Graham Dorrans, being part of a five man midfield, and was noticeable in getting forward and supplying crosses.
Mulumbu then made his second start in the home game against Liverpool, which we narrowly lost and saw us relegated. He was only 22 at this stage and many of us saw something in him that distinguished him as a potential Premier League player.
The next season dispelled any doubts, as he established himself in the side, and led to the glowing words at the head of this article. By now he had been signed, for a fee of around £175,000 – which seems a snip in these inflated days.
Under a new manager he established himself in a four-man midfield, and scored his first goal for the club in a 2-0 home win, smashing the ball home from 25-yards.
His second (a header) came in that famous win away at Middlesbrough, 5-0, in which he scored the third after starting the move.
His third goal came in the home win against Reading, when he volleyed home from 20 yards. At this part of the season he was an ever present in the league side, with 14 starts, and two league cup substitutions, before he missed the game against Watford with a knee injury, making his comeback in the win away at Leicester, as a sub. Two sub appearances then followed before a start against Cardiff saw him get injured again.
He was back on the bench for the next two home games, before appearing as a sub in the win at Scunthorpe. His first start back came in the FA Cup win at Huddersfield, before starting again in the draw away to leaders Newcastle. This then prompted a run in the side, in which he picked up three more man of the match awards, against Bristol City, Blackpool and Middlesbrough.
These were added to the two at the earlier part of the season – he seemed back to his best after his two injuries. Altogether he started or was substitute in 41 matches over the season, out of a possible 53.
He seemed a natural in midfield, able to win the ball and distribute it well (which many can’t do), and he had the ability to ‘get his foot in’ – much loved and shouted from the terraces. This attribute is actually quite important for a team – the ability to break up an attack quickly and then get your own attack going.
In a four or five-man midfield Mulumbu fitted in well, but the question would be how he would fare in the punishing league that is the Premiership, where players are better and tighter in control.
We should not have worried as he returned to the league like a duck to water. Di Matteo operated a 4-2-3-1 at Chelsea, and we all know what happened there, with Mulumbu sitting in front of the defence, alongside Chris Brunt.
By the time of the Sunderland game he was on his own – a position he was to keep until the marvellous win away at Arsenal, when he was joined by Paul Scharner. This has been the combination ever since, with Youssouf operating as the holding midfield player, with the Austrian international going forward.
It has been one of the reasons for the resurgence in Albion’s form, and the fact we are unbeaten in seven games and in the quarter-finals of the League Cup.
So the words at the start of the article are true in terms of ball ‘winnability’ and competitiveness, but what was different in the Fulham game was the fact he got forward a lot more times than in previous games, and scored a fine goal. The ability to score goals from midfield is ultimately what keeps teams in the league, and that is still the Albion’s short-term ambition.
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