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  • Exclusive by Alessandro Schiavone

Mpenza: I would have loved to have played for Arsenal and with Thierry Henry

Emile Mpenza Picture: Alessandro Schiavone

Exclusive by Alessandro Schiavone

Belgium legend Emile Mpenza admitted that he could have linked up with Gunners icon Thierry Henry at Arsenal had his father given him the green light to leave homeland Belgium for London when he was a teenager.

But with his father sticking to his guns, the move to Highbury never materialised for Mpenza who had to make do with stints at Belgian minnows Kortrijk and Mouscron.

He went on to represent Belgium 57 times and feature for the likes of Standard Liege and Schalke 04.

Mpenza netted 131 goals and made a further 57 in 363 games during an injury-hit career with Arsenal missing out on yet another star in the making after Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi.

The clinical Belgian marksman only made his move to England to join Manchester City in 2007 but said he wished it had happened a decade earlier at Arsenal due to their French invasion.

“I would have loved to go to London and play for Arsenal as they were about to usher in a new era. And top of that, the players they were signing from abroad at the time were francophone”, revealed the 43-year old who became manager of Belgian second-tier outfit Royal Excelsior Mouscron at the start of this season.

“I would have loved to have linked up with their French contingent and players like Henry, Vieira, Petit.”

Despite ruing the missed opportunity, Mpenza acknowledges that his career may have taken a different turn had he found first-team opportunities hard to come by in North London.

He said: “Even though I would have liked to join the Gunners, one must not forget that there would have been no guarantee to make it as a professional footballer as things could have been different, either way. That said, I would have preferred to join Arsenal when I was young rather than when I joined City at 29.”

Despite Mpenza’s best efforts to deconstruct the theory that he was a fading force at the time of his postponed arrival in England, his stint at Manchester City yielded a mere five goals in 26 Premier League outings. Mpenza now conceded that having had to adapt to the physical demands of English football in the latter stages of his career was tough.

“It’s better to go to England when you are young because you are on a learning curve and there is a lot of room for improvement, whereas at 29 you have to be ready and hit the ground running. There is no time there.

There are so many players who succeeded abroad but failed in England. For all the quality there is in English football it is a very hard league.”

If only his father had sanctioned the move when Wenger visited their home in the West of Belgium in 1996 he may have learned from Ian Wright and gone on to achieve even bigger things.

“Arsene Wenger came to my house in Mouscron when I was 16 years old to persuade my parents to let me go to Arsenal. But my father refused to let me go to London as I was too young.

“Looking back, I would have felt blessed to play and learn from a quick player like Ian Wright, but it wasn’t to be.”


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