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At Age 40 and Still Playing: Meet One of Africa’s Oldest Serving Player

FIFA World Club Cup runner-up medal, Caf Super Cup and the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Super Ligue title are the collage of gongs in his rich trophy cabinet. The Confederation Cup is the sole missing piece in his regiment of silverwares but made up for that by grabbing the Orange-sponsored Champions League, the biggest there is in African club football, a record three times.

A look at his exploits one would be forgiven to assume these feats is the making of a footballer in his mid 20s. Meet Robert Kidiba Muteba one of Africa’s oldest goalkeepers still playing at age 40.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]‘I could have (moved to Europe to pursue a career there) but our club president won’t allow me to leave,’ [/perfectpullquote]

he tells Jeune Afrique, a well read African publication two years ago. Muteba was talking about  how he once mulled the idea of ending his twelve-year love affair with TP Mazembe, one of  the continent’s most organized and revered clubs, to chase dream of getting to ply his trade in one of Europe’s top leagues at an astonishing age of 38!

Fast forward 2016, this goal giant now 40, ever growing desire for the round object is showing no sign of slowing down just yet. Hitting forty and still running around the pitch with the agility of a teenager is a peculiar sight and many close to his age mark would have been four or fives years into their retirement abode.

But not with Kidibia, who, as I pieced this story this evening, is the trusted figure between the posts for the DR Congo league heavyweights with two younger keepers one of them a certain 27-year-old Ivory Coast  international Sylvain Gbohouo  bought last year as his eventual replacement, all trailing him on the pecking order.

Born in Lubumbashi, a hub for mining companies, the second largest city after the country’s administrative capital Kinshasa, Robert hails from a sporty family. Two of his brothers are Karate combatants, his sister, played basketball domestically and with sports running through the Mutabes Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), it’s not hard to see why when Kidibia  took up football as a career.

Without the basics of football but driven by will to never back down on his dream chase, Kidibia went on to enroll at AS Saint-Luc anyway as a 19-year-old first as a striker before later taking up the gloves in 1995. Strings of impressive outings saw 15-time Super Ligue winners Mazambe raiding Saint-Luc for his services in 2000.

When the goalie arrived, the club was under refurbishment by businessman-turned opposition leader Moses Katumbi and had gone 13 years without a major trophy to their name since their last in 1987. That shocking barren stretch of silverwares that left club faithful disenchanted was as good as over the moment Kidibia got signed as he won the league in his first spell, retaining it the following year.

TP will go on for another 72-month trophy-less run with only the Coupe du Congo runners-up medal in their possession.

However in between those abysmal moments of the side, Robert did not deserved to be on the losing end and the gloomy times turned a blessing in disguise as he had his long term wish realized –being Congo DR’s national team goalkeeper. Being all year immaculate, the Zaire-born still did not expect a call-up to The Leopards set up coming so soon.

But like the man he is, the then 26-year-old took it up as a challenge and did not look back since, going on to become the senior team’s go-to guy between the posts for fourteen years – 61 caps zero goal – before hanging up his gloves in 2015.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]‘I also want to let the others (young goalkeepers have) a chance to express themselves in the national team,’[/perfectpullquote]

he says on occasion of his international retirement.

To this day, Congo fans are yet to come to terms seeing their national team in action without Mutabe minding the goalmouth and he will be again missed when Congo face The Mediterranean Knights of Libya for the World Cup qualifier at the 80,000 Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecôte, this Saturday.

A giant at Mazembe

Kidibia has turned his back on array of cash-wielding teams desperate to bolster their club ranks with his acquisition. Indeed a contended one–club-man.

Chronicling, in glowing detail, the meteoric rise of Mazambe to Africa champions without the mention of the now father-of-three’s immense contributions will be the height of disservice to an African football legend.

When The Ravens won the Caf Champions League on back-to-back from 2009 -2010, a record breaking year in which TP became the first African club to reach the FIFA Club World Cup final, losing the title to Inter Milan treble winning side, Robert was the club’s heartbeat in the net.

Mazambe features as third best in FootballDatabase’s September ranking of Africa’s best clubs. Armed with the support of club president Moïse Katumbi Chapwe who has an embarrassment of riches, it is not hard to see why.

Kidibia’s account is a glowing testament.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]‘For someone born in Lubumbashi, is something extraordinary to play for TP. And I think that there are not many clubs as well organized in Africa as Mazembe,’ [/perfectpullquote]

he ventures.

‘We have very good training conditions: a brand new stadium, a quality technical staff.  The club President bought a bus, we conduct our away game trips by private plane and we often go on holidays abroad. Frankly, we’re happy. Everything is being done so that we can work well’

‘Katumbi (the club President) is someone generous. We earn good wages and good bonuses but he is also very demanding. He does not like slackers especially as Moses Katumbi is known to pay very well his players. We talk often. He considers me as an example because he knows that I’m a hard worker, always among the first to arrive at training ground.’

His contemporaries in the trade of goalkeeping, the Petr Čechs, the Edduardo dos Reis Carvalhos of Chelsea, Wilfredo Daniel Cabellero of Manchester City or say Real Madrid’s Navas might boast a gargantuan fleet of cars, line of houses or ridiculous wages, sums that could sure render any a materialistic individual awestruck but Robert is also an African legend. A contended one at that.

Often he is stopped by locals who hold him in great awe for either small chat ups or a selfie.

That Dark Bum dance celebration

In spite of the legend he is coalesced with a near-immaculate goalie track record, Kidiba is strangely not known for his heroics but rather popular for his Dark Bum goal celebration in the western media.

Blame that for the poor coverage accorded to the African games. A video search of his amusing goal celebration has yielded three hundred thousand plus views.

The truth is, the 40-year-old has been performing the peculiar but funny celebration since school days to improve his abdominal strength, taking it up with him to the Congolese Championship but hugging the headlines only in 2015 when DR reached the semis of the Africa Cup of Nations. The dark Bum Bum dance, for Mutabe, illustrates freedom.

Sporting a bearded face now with his hair folded in his trademark ponytail, Kidibia turns 41 February 1st next year. And despite of the rigours of first team football known to take toll on an aging body, Robert has no intentions of retiring. He tried his hands once at politics, contesting in parliamentary elections which yielded little.

He might display an agility that could leave any one gob-smacked but the veteran is not oblivious of planning for life after football.

Planning to stay at the club in the capacity of a team assistant or helping in administration of his beloved side might just do in the future. Until then, Kidibia wants to be seen a player and neither are we eager to see him retire in coming days.


 Featured Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

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