By Chaka Simbeye
Zambian defender Stophila Sunzu has once again trekked to Ligue 1 to sign for LOSC Lille after short spells with FC Sochaux and Shanghai Shenua in the Chinese League. The Chingola-born midfielder turned defender was raised in the mining province of Zambia which is fitting for such an industrial player.
He joined Zambian talent factory Afrisports after being discovered at a local Under-16 tournament as he began to speedily make a name for himself in his province. He soon caught the eye of the Football Association of Zambia and was selected for the 2007 U20 World Cup for the Zambian Youth National Team, which proved a successful tournament as Zambia got through to the group phase. There, when Zambia played Uruguay he met the hazardous striking duo of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani as Zambia beat Uruguay 2-0.
After trials in England at Reading FC, he was snapped up by Congo’s dynamos TP Mazembe who are owned by Congolese tycoon Moises Katumbi. He began to develop there at a team more competitive on the African footballing scene and consequently drew increasing plaudits for his strength and athletic ability. He was influential in a team that won the CAF Champions League which is the African version of the UEFA Champions League, thus qualifying for the Club World Cup. However, it was to be an uninspiring tournament for the 26 year-old as he was sent off after 81 minutes in the opening game while his team made it to the final.
However, it was not until he met a French manager named Herve Renard that his career began to take off. Renard had the idea to rigourously tutor Sunzu into a mastery of the centre-back role in a more streetwise Zambian team. In Renard’s second spell with Zambia, Sunzu became a household name all over the African continent. He shackled Demba Ba in Zambia’s opening game against Senegal and became a pivotal pillar of a side that would go on to win the African Cup Of Nations.
Renard, who has an emotional father-son relationship with the player brought him to Sochaux on a loan to plug a gap in a porous defence. Despite this piece of transfer window brilliance, Sochaux were relegated, even though Sunzu acquitted himself well. He demonstrated his fine command of aerial balls in his own box and the opposition box as he became the top scoring defender in Ligue 1 after scoring four goals. Sunzu greatly impressed in a 1-1 stalemate vs French juggernauts PSG in a match where he commanded his position very well, not allowing the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to get a sniff at goal.
After Sochaux’s relegation, Sunzu spurned interest from mid-table Ligue 1 clubs to join Shanghai Shenua but is now back in the French League with Les Dogues to the delight of manager Herve Renard. Renard will need Sunzu to become effective instantly if he is to hold down a place in his side, hoping that his short stay at Sochaux has given him and adequate understanding Ligue 1.
The 26 year-old is a defender with brute strength who can easily dominate most aerial duels. He can position himself well in a deep-lying defence by blocking shots and making incisive tackles. Renard also enjoys using him as an aerial threat in the opposition box. Sunzu’s size and explosive physicality and athleticism allows him to effectively man-mark opponents.
However, he can be overconsumed in games and commit silly fouls which can cause penalties or for him to be sent off. He sometimes seems to have a lack of command of his own strength as he can be baited into unnecessary fouls or stay on his feet when he is meant to make a more decisive tackle as he will need to improve this part of his game.
He begins Ligue 1 life at the deep end again as he joins a Les Dogues side in need of respite after an underwhelming tenth place finish last season. He will be required to fill a Simon Kjaer sized hole in a side that needs to re-align its spine in order to be a competitive force this season.