“I'm Always Calm Because Tomorrow Everything Can Change”: Interview With Congo And Spartak Midfielder Theo Bongonda

Marina Magomedova
15 May 2024

Several clubs are on a roll in the spring part of the 2023/24 Russian Premier League season, and one of them is Spartak. After the substitution of Guillermo Abascal with Vladimir Sliskovic, the Red-and-Whites have not lost a single match, and one of the key characters of Spartak's transformation is Theo Bongonda.

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Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak

The midfielder of the national team of the DR Congo has made a strong start in the RPL after transferring from Spanish side Cadiz in the summer transfer window. Bongonda made an impact in the first four matches for Spartak, then went into the shadows for a while, and under Sliskovic, he started scoring again, hitting the goals of Rostov and Lokomotiv.

Bongonda met with Telecomasia.net correspondents, and talked about his adaptation to the RPL, fines from Abascal and his attempts to replace Quincy Promes in an honest conversation. From the interview, you will also learn:

  • what his relationship with coaches is based on;
  • the differences between the Spanish and Russian leagues;
  • why he turned down a move to Manchester City;
  • the challenges of playing in the Belgian league;
  • how long he plans to stay in Spartak.

- You've rebounded in recent matches, but your goalless streak lasted for about seven months - and that's compared to a fantastic start right after joining Spartak. How did you get through this period?

- Like any ordinary footballer. I kept working, training, and waiting for the situation to change.

- Did you ever have the thought: “Damn, I made the wrong choice” during those seven months? How much did you struggle mentally with what was happening?

- I didn’t have such thoughts, because there are both good moments and slightly difficult ones in a footballer's life. I could have moved to any other team, and there would be no guarantees that the situation wouldn't repeat itself.

- But how did you personally explain this situation to yourself? Did you understand the reason why you suddenly ended up on the bench?

- I don't know. I came here to play football. Sometimes you enter the field and everything works out. And then there are opposite situations too. That's why you always have to keep believing and working on yourself.

- During your time under Abascal, there was only one match where you played for 90 minutes.

- It was the coach's decision. I just had to accept it respectfully.

- Did you try to discuss it with him personally?

- I talked to him about it, but nothing changed afterwards. I guess there was no point in talking about it anymore.

Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
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- You've been a leader in all the teams where you played, including the national team. How does it feel to suddenly find yourself in the status of a player that the team doesn't count on?

- Yes, it's true that I'm not used to this position. But it's good that I have enough experience, and I know that football changes very quickly. So, no matter what happens, you have to keep working. If you're a good person and you make an effort, it pays off. That's what's happening now.

- We can see that you have no problems with patience.

- No, it's not really about that. Whether I have patience or not, it won't change anything. I may lack patience, but I have faith and understanding that I am putting in maximum effort to change the situation. That's what I'm working on to this day.

- The authority of many team leaders was undermined under Abascal. Long-time captain Georgi Dzhikiya was benched, and the coach had conflicts with Aleksandr Sobolev. Was it important for Abascal to be the sole authority in the team, demonstrating his importance through such actions?

- I didn't understand much of what was happening before. I'm here just to play football. The rest doesn't interest me.

- But did you feel the dissatisfaction of your teammates?

- They speak Russian. I don't understand them. So, it's hard for me to answer your question.

- They say that Abascal heavily fined you, and your relationship with him changed after that. Is there any truth to this?

- I don't know, but it's true that many things changed after that.

- So the story about the fine is true?

- Yes.

- After returning from the national team, he fined you for being late.

- Yes, that was after returning from the national team.

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- Name the best coaches in your career.

- I can't say who was the best. That's a tough one. To me, one coach can be the best. Then you'll ask another player and he'll tell you it's the worst coach of his career because he didn't play much. Every coach has their own feature. Abascal had his own path. He couldn't achieve what he wanted at Spartak. But maybe in another club, everything will work out for him, and then everyone will say that he only had problems in Spartak. Don't judge the coach. There are many specialists with big names who have been fired from their clubs, but it doesn't mean they are bad coaches.

Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak

- Which coach has had the most influence on your development?

- I was on the field earlier because I deserved it. I don't know whose merits were greater in this - mine or the coaches'. However, I can definitely say that wherever I went, I always had good relationships with the coaches because I am a grateful guy.

However, it's normal to get along better with some of them. When I was at Genk, we spoke the same language with the coach. Naturally, it helped a lot. But there were cases when I didn't communicate with the coach much. For instance, last year at Cadiz. However, it didn't stop me from playing in all the matches. It depends on the situation. Personally, I would rather have a coach who will put me on the field but won't talk to me than the other way around.

- Do you have any resentment towards Abascal?

- Thanks to him I found myself here, he gave me this opportunity. I will never criticize him just because something didn't work out the way I wanted it to. I wish him to find a club with which he will achieve triumph.

- Now it’s Sliskovic’s time at Spartak. How much has the team changed over the past month?

- Not much has changed. Sliskovic simply gives us more freedom. I think it can be seen on the pitch. We haven't lost a single match with him so far. There is indeed more freedom on the field. He knows that we are good players. The way we communicate with the coach has changed a bit. Our style of play, our thought process has also changed. In my opinion, we are doing well.

- What did you feel when you finally scored a goal in a game against Rostov? What were your thoughts at that moment?

- I had few thoughts. And it's been quite some time since that match. I'm not used to sitting on the bench. Honestly, I can't remember the last time I went so long without scoring. Although in football, it happens that one player can score three goals, and then not score for half a year. It happened to me several times. I know what needs to be done to bounce back from such situations. I'm always calm. If I play well, I'm calm. If I play poorly - I'm still calm. Because everything can change in any direction tomorrow.

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Guillermo Abascal and Vladimir Sliskovic. Photo: premierliga.ru
Guillermo Abascal and Vladimir Sliskovic. Photo: premierliga.ru

- You have already mentioned that Sliskovic trusts you, you even had a conversation. What guarantees did Vladimir give you?

- There were no specific guarantees. When Abascal left, we just talked. He said that with the qualities I have, he expects more from me. That he trusts me. In fact, he shows it. I think I played more matches for 90 minutes under Vladimir. He speaks and backs up his words with actions.

- And that’s the difference between him and Abascal?

- This is just the reality that we currently live in.

- You were named the best player in Spartak's matches for two rounds in a row. What is Sliskovic's contribution to this?

- As I said, it's all about his trust. I'm not just a footballer, I'm also a person. And if someone is honest and fair with me, I will fight for them. And if you are a bit fake with me, things will get complicated. But that's not the case with Vladimir. At the moment, he keeps his word. There is no negativity.

- If a new coach were to come and you start to have issues with playing time again, would you start seeking alternative options?

- It’s a question like "What would you do if you won a billion euros?" Let's live and see how things go. After all, a new coach might come who will let me play for 90 minutes in every match.

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- You played in the Spanish championship for a long period of your career. What is it like to play in Russia after Spain? Is there a big difference?

- These are two different championships. The Spanish league is more technical, while here, I was impressed by the level of football - it is quite high. At first I tried to adapt to Russian football. For example, in Spain, there are more players of my style compared to Russia. The intensity is higher there. It's hard to explain, because no two matches are the same for any team, no matter where they play. But in Russia, the level is definitely good. There is not a huge difference compared to the Spanish championship. If Spartak played in La Liga, they could beat the last-placed team 3-0. It's a different story against the leaders. That's why drawing parallels is difficult.

Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak

- Does Zenit look like a team that dominated in Russia for a long time?

- I heard that they’ve won the championship several times in a row.So we need to be realistic. If a team wins five times in a row, it means they are doing something right.

- Spartak is currently fighting for a spot in the Superfinal of the FONBET Russian Cup. Would it be great to win the title in the very first season at Spartak?

- That's our number one goal right now. To reach the superfinal and do our best to win.

- Which artist’s performance would you like to see if Spartak wins?

- My favorite performers cannot come to Russia, and I don't know any Russian singers. But first, we have to win, and then we'll see.

Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
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- At the start of the season, you had a good trio with Sobolev and Promes. How did the team and you personally react to everything that started happening around Quincy at the end of winter?

- When I first joined Spartak, everything felt like a dream. I scored in every match, I made assists. But as I mentioned earlier, football can give you a lot and take it away. Much can be said about it. When such moments come, you have to do everything to overcome them as soon as possible. Because Spartak deserves it, first of all.

- Will it be difficult for Spartak to cope with the absence of Promes?

- Of course, he was the best player here.

- Can you replace him?

- Quincy did a lot for Spartak. He won everything here. I just arrived, so I'm not aiming for that yet. If I can do at least half of what he did, it will be good. But all players are different. At this stage, I am focused on playing, scoring goals, so Spartak wins.

Quincy Promes and Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak
Quincy Promes and Theo Bongonda. Photo: FC Spartak

- There were rumors in the Russian media about Spartak’s interest in your national team forward Jackson Muleka from Besiktas. Has he asked you anything about Russia? Could he shine in the RPL and specifically at Spartak? What kind of player is he?

- This is the first time I've heard about it, but I'll be back in the national team and we'll definitely discuss it. He is a quality player, very strong. Maybe he could play in Russia. But we won't know until he comes here.

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- We read that at a young age, you were on a trial at Manchester City and even received an invitation to join the team, but you declined. What's the story behind this?

- It’s true, my friend and I were on a trial. I wanted to play in the main team, but they only saw me in the second team. So, I declined and joined Zulte Waregem.

- Have you ever regretted that decision?

- If I say yes, will anything change? I'm not the type of person who thinks a lot about the past. Those thoughts won't take you back. I'm glad I'm here. The rest is out of my control.

- An important stage in your career took place at Celta football club. What was it like to step onto the field at the age of 19-20 against such great clubs as Real and Barcelona?

- It's an unforgettable memory. I didn't realize what was happening to me. It was only my second season in professional football, and I was already playing against Real and Barcelona. It was very special for a young player.

- Did you think back then, "It seems like all my dreams have come true"?

- The only dream I had was to play in the Champions League at least once in my life, to hear the anthem. And I did it. We always want more, it’s not only about football. You need to acknowledge what you have and be grateful for it. There are so many people who would like to be in the footballers' shoes. I am happy to be able to enjoy my work every day.

Theo Bongonda. Photo: premierliga.ru
Theo Bongonda. Photo: premierliga.ru

- You had a great period at Genk. Some people believe that in the Belgian championship, there are more open spaces, loose defense, fewer teams playing defensively, making it easier to score. Is this a correct statement? Could you compare the Belgian and Russian championships in this regard?

- I scored a lot of goals in Belgium. It was easier at Genk because if the team plays attacking football, you have more opportunities to score. But I believe playing in Belgium is not easy. Many think it's easier to play there, but it's not true. Circumstances just aligned, and the team went through a good period. We had a good team that delivered results: we won the cup, played in the Champions League. But it wasn't easy. I just played more there, scored, whereas here I played less for a long time. So, it's incorrect to compare. Just because there were good results in Belgium doesn't mean it was easier to play there.

- How long do you plan to stay at Spartak?

- I hope Spartak will give me the opportunity to play as long as I am useful. I am happy to be here. I want to play for this club as long as possible.

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