Sol Bamba: Middlesbrough defender's inspirational journey after heroics vs Man Utd

Sol Bamba hero at Old Trafford.

Sol Bamba has had a remarkable journey in the last few years.

The defender came on in the 118th minute of Middlesbrough’s FA Cup fourth-round win over Manchester United to score a penalty and dump the Red Devils out of the competition.

The northeastern side went a goal down in the first half thanks to a left-footed strike from Jadon Sancho.

But Chris Wilder’s team came back on 64 minutes with Matt Crooks hammering in a controversial goal that could have been disallowed for a handball from Duncan Watmore in the build-up.

With the scores level, the game ran its course to extra time and the match was eventually decided by penalties.

In the final two minutes of play, Wilder made the decision to replace 22-year-old forward Isaiah Jones with Bamba, who came on to become one of eight players to score from the spot for Boro, helping his side win the shootout 8-7.

The former Leeds United player soaked up the atmosphere at Old Trafford, in front of 9,700 ecstatic Middlesbrough fans, but less than a year ago, it was questionable whether the 37-year-old would ever be able to play football ever again.

In January 2021, Bamba, who was contracted to Cardiff City at the time, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and started a course of chemotherapy.

But the defender, who was a fan favourite at the Welsh club, used his determination to get back onto a football pitch to successfully battle the illness.

After undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy, the 37-year-old announced in May the same year that he was cancer-free and returned to action for his club as a substitute, coming on to play the final few seconds of Cardiff’s last game of the season against Rotherham.

Yet just a month later, Bamba’s footballing journey took another twist, with Cardiff City announcing they would not be renewing his contract.

Having joined the club in 2016, making 118 appearances for Cardiff, he admitted he was heartbroken at the club’s decision and revealed that he was also disappointed that he had found the news out on Twitter.

“If I am completely honest, I was disappointed by the way the club went about it and the way we finished it,” he told WalesOnline.

“Everyone knows me at the club, I’m a straight guy, I can handle the truth and I wanted the club to come and be straight with me and say, ‘Listen, you’re coming back from illness, we want to go in a different direction’, whatever it was, just be honest, and I will take it.

“But they didn’t do that. Funnily enough, I found out I was released like all of you guys – by Twitter.

“I think for everything I did for the football club, I deserved better.”

While it was a tough time for Bamba, his footballing journey wasn’t over just yet.

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Former Boro boss Neil Warnock snapped up the free agent shortly after he left Cardiff and the Ivorian has since gone on to make 20 appearances for the club this season.

And while it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride for Bamba, his remarkable two-year journey went full circle in the incredible scenes at Old Trafford last night.

The Ivorian also took the time to reflect on Boro’s win, posting a hilarious Tweet, stating: “I’m too old for this s****.”

Following the game, he said, per The Northern Echo: “I wanted to take a penalty, and moments like this [are why] I am still playing football.

“All the way through my treatment, it was for moments like this. The hard work, support from my family and football community, I can only thank them. Without their support, I wouldn’t be there. I still have the drive to keep going.

“The family and Mrs were in distress and panic, but it is pure joy and I will enjoy it tonight. It is a fairytale, enjoying being back on the pitch after everything I have been through and long may it continue.

“In this competition, you never know. We just knocked out one of the favourites in Manchester United.”

Massive respect to Bamba, that certainly is an incredible story.

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