Dominique Malonga has spoken of his fears for his family as he learned of the terrorist attacks in Paris 5500 miles away in Ethiopia.
The Hibs striker was in Addis Ababa preparing for Congo’s world cup qualifier the next day when news of the atrocities broke, the Bataclan concert hall, the scene of the worst of the carnage where 89 people were killed by gunmen, only a 20 minute drive from his family home and in an area both he and his brother often frequent.
Thankfully a quick call home reassured him everyone was perfectly safe, the 26-year-old tweeting that night “Prayers for the people in Paris”, but, nonetheless, he admitted he was still coming to terms with the almost incomprehensible events which shook the world.
He said: “We’d left Paris on Thursday to go to Ethiopia and when I heard about it I was devastated. The Bataclan is only 20 minutes in a car from where my family live and my brother and I often go to that area of Paris when I’m home.
“It was a great relief to be able to contact them and learn they were all safe. A lot of my Congo team-mates are also French-born and they, too, were making calls home as I was to make sure their families and friends were all right.”
Malonga shuddered as he recalled the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks in the French capital at the beginning of the year when he was also on international duty, playing for Congo in the Africa Cup of Nations, and like almost everyone he’s at a loss as to how to prevent such incidents in the future, pointing out French citizens have been responsible for the attacks.
He said: “It’s a sad situation, really sad because it has been French people. It can happen at any moment, People are not safe. They need.to keep together, but they are scared.”
As stunned as he and his team-mates were, they did play the next day, beating Ethiopia 4-3 in the first leg of a double-header and then winning 2-1 in the Congo capital of Brazzaville to secure their place in the group stage of the African qualifying campaign for Russia 2018.
“Everyone was naturally very upset,” said Malonga. “It was really sad news, but as you say, the show must go on.”
Unfortunately for Malonga, he spent the entire two matches on the bench, leaving him bitterly disappointed given the hours he spent flying between Paris, Addis Ababa, Brazzaville and back to Edinburgh in time for Hibs’ latest Championship match at Alloa Athletic’s Indodrill Stadium.
He said: “We had a private plane, but even so we had three long, long journeys. I am happy for my country, getting to the next stage of our qualifying tournament was the most important thing, but I was not happy not getting any minutes on the pitch.
“It was a long way to go for that to happen, but I was delighted to be back in the squad and the results against Ethiopia left everyone in Congo very happy.”
Congo’s manager Claude Le Roy resigned immediately after the second game, but now Malonga is intent on impressing whoever his successor might be by helping Hibs extend a run which has seen them clock up 15 matches unbeaten, eight straight wins in the Championship to put themselves level with Rangers at the top of the table.
He said: “In every game I want to play to the highest level I can. Against Alloa it was a little bit so-so, but the most important thing was we won the game. We were happy with that and even more so when we learned Livingston had slowed Rangers down and that we have really turned up the pressure on them which is good.
“We knew the Ethiopia games were going to be Claude Le Roy’s last in charge but that was okay. He did a good job for Congo but now we move on with the new coach, although I don’t know who that will be.”
As happy as he is to respond to the call from his adopted homeland, Malonga admitted he’d like a chat with the new manager to find out exactly where he stands, saying: “Every time I go away with Congo I’m honoured to have been chosen by my country, but it’s a lot of travelling.
“It’s not like being picked for Scotland and only have to go to Glasgow. It’s thousands of miles in each direction to Brazzaville, while it was four hours and more in a plane between Ethiopia and there.
“I’d like to talk to the new coach but the most important thing is I keep playing to the highest level with Hibs and then we will see what happens.”
Given the amount of travelling he’d endured it came as little surprise to learn Malonga felt a little tired as he returned to the starting line-up to face Alloa, the former Vicenza and Murcia player replaced by Farid El Alagui just four minutes after Jason Cummings, with his 14th strike of the season, had scored what proved to be the game’s only goal.
But it was the cold rather than tiredness which he felt most, saying: “It was hot in Africa, 27C and in the first training session I had difficulty breathing because of the difference in temeperature.
“I felt a little bit tired at Alloa but I was just happy to come back and play with my team-mates again. They’d got a good result against Livingston last midweek while I was away and it was good to keep that unbeaten run going at Alloa.
“I didn’t play to my best – everyone didn’t play to their best, but we did the job. I was happy for Jason to score again and hearing Rangers had drawn was an added bonus for us. It was a good weekend but now we have a week’s rest and then we’ll be ready to come back and go again against Morton a week on Saturday.”