If you’ve been following international football closely then there’s a chance you’ve come across Nottingham Forest midfielder and Belgium international, Orel Mangala.
At the age of six, Orel Mangala was first introduced to the world of football through his family and friends. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, the younger sibling watched in awe as he dreamed of one day playing on the same pitch. “When I started playing football, I was just playing in the neighbourhood and for a local team surrounded by my friends. Following a friendly game, the scouts at Anderlecht approached my mother and asked if I could go down to their training session the following week.
"I remember I didn’t want to go to the training session because it wouldn’t be like playing with my friends and also I didn’t really know about football or who the team were at that point. I travelled to the trial with my father and we didn’t make it in time because of the traffic. My father thought the opportunity was lost, but the club rearranged the trial for the next day. I signed for Anderlecht at seven years old and stayed there until I was 17.”
For the Nottingham Forest midfielder, it was his formative years spent at Anderlecht that set him up for a successful career that has so far spanned through the Bundesliga, Premier League and for his home country of Belgium. “My biggest dream as a child was to play football professionally and be on the TV, because I used to watch the Champions League as a child, but only the first half as I had school the next day,” he laughs, “Now that dream has changed and now I’d love to play in all major tournaments including the World Cup, Champions League and European Championships.”
Orel Mangala is a big believer in faith. Whether it’s praying when he steps out on the pitch, to simply having faith in himself throughout his journey through life. “I think football offers passion and love and with the right mindset, you can achieve big things. There are always different scenarios that life will put in your way – some big and some not so big – but no matter what, you have to keep believing.”
This was a similar story with Mangala going through school. “The teachers who watched football and loved the game believed that I’d make it professionally, whereas the others who were less interested were always telling me how important school was.”
Aside from football, we talk about how passion and belief cross over to other sports and Mangala tells me that he’s been going to the ice rink in Nottingham to watch the local ice hockey team. “I like watching the sport because the passion and energy that goes into the game is very different to football.” He also enjoys watching boxing, NBA, UFC and other high-energy sports, which make sense when you witness the centre midfielder throwing everything on the line for both club and country.
“When I was a child I used to like players such as Zidane and Ronaldinho because they all have crazy technical ability and that’s how I always wanted to play with my skills and to give joy to the people watching me. Now I like players like Verratti. He’s a player that doesn’t matter how tough the situation is, he always takes the risks. He’d rather lose the ball than kick the ball away. I like that mindset and try to bring that into my game.”
A few months ago, Mangala was called up to the starting 11 for Belgium, where he made a good impression on both manager and fans. “It made me feel very proud, it gave me a lot of confidence to come back here and give the same type of precision to Nottingham Forest.”
For him, his Belgium start was one of his most memorable experiences in football. A few weeks later he scored his first goal for Nottingham Forest in the Premier League and his wisdom of “you have to always believe in yourself” came rushing back to me.
Follow Orel Mangala on Instagram.
Photography: Jonathan Tomlinson.