Neeskens Kebano hopes Fulham will bounce straight back into the Premier League after his Craven Cottage exile

WHEN Neeskens Kebano was dropped at Fulham after their opening Premier League defeat against Arsenal last season it seemed ruthlessly harsh.

The winger had played a key role in getting the Cottagers there in the first place and had enjoyed a strong pre-season.

Yet after a 3-0 home loss to the Gunners, he only managed another four league substitute appearances totalling 54 minutes playing time.

But Kebano, 29, is not someone who dwells on disappointments and tells me how he sticks religiously to the biggest piece of advice his dad Nestor told him while growing up in Montereau-Fault-Yonne on the outskirts of Paris.

The French-born Congo ace said: “There’s a saying in the Bible which I don’t know the exact translation into English – but essentially it is, 'You could be suffering today, smiling tomorrow then laughing the next day. Don’t be stuck in your mood, life goes on.'

“You’ll have a good game, another good game, maybe a bad game. You can’t overthink things. Just do what you know and keep living your life.”

His mum Brigitte and dad had a hard start to life growing up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and they both worked extremely hard to make ends meet when Kebano, his two sisters and brother were growing up.


And as he got older, he understood the significance of stories they told him of their upbringing in the Central African state and the sacrifices they made to make sure he got a better start in life.

The winger said: “I didn’t grow up on the Champs-Elysees. I grew up in a suburb of Paris where you don’t have the new Nike trainers, the new branded jeans. You have to do what you have to do. 

“Most of our parents from this community made sacrifices themselves just to make sure their children were not in need.

“For example, I only saw my parents at home very early in the morning and late in the evening. You wouldn’t see them during the day because they’d leave around 5am and were not back until 8pm.

“They worked in central Paris and had to commute every day, taking two trains there and two back – it was hard.


“So I’ve always seen them as role models. As a boy, I always looked up to my father and wanted to be like him. Even today he is always giving me advice.” 

During the height of the pandemic last year, the Fulham star felt compelled to send food, essential goods and PPE to his parents’ home town of Kinshasa through a charity he set up called the Neeskens Kebano Foundation.

He said: “The government forbade everyone from going outside of their homes but in Congo that’s hard because the only way they earn their money is by selling bread, fish and water in the streets.

“If you’re asking them to stay indoors, how can they live, eat and drink? How do they feed their families?

“We decided to send out some rice, oil, face-masks, hand-sanitising gels, that sort of stuff – just to give people there some sort of help.”

Kebano often visits Congo – whether to see relatives or play for the national team – and is moved by the poverty people suffer and their way of life.

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One of the most incredible things is how a mother can get into debt for simply having a child – something that is common across Africa.

The Fulham winger explained: “In Congo, when a mother gives birth – and no-one can afford to settle the medical fee – she and the baby must stay there until someone comes and pays and they only then can leave.

“My friend Chancel Mbemba – who used to play for Newcastle – went there to pay for some mothers.”

I put it to Kebano that it seems crazy that in 2021 we should have such poverty and that the situation he describes – which is effectively blackmail and hostage-taking – is still rife in the world.

And that the African continent appears as far away as ever from being a good home for its inhabitants.

But Kebano explains: “In Congo – and Africa in general – I think one problem can’t just be resolved. The trouble is there are many more problems than just one. 

“What needs to happen is you must go through the whole foundation of these countries.

“You need to start with a good education because poor children don’t go to school.

“I look at the health for people to be in good condition to live their lives or to work. I think you have started with a good foundation.

“I want a fair world but we don’t live in a fair world.”

Kebano was named after Dutch football legend and three-time Ajax European Cup winner Johan Neeskens, his dad’s favourite player of all time.

“I was always destined to be a footballer,” he laughs.

Kebano – having spent a successful loan spell at Middlesbrough in the second half of last season – is back in the picture at Craven Cottage and raring to help them bounce straight back to the Premier League after relegation.

With former Everton, Watford and Hull boss Marco Silva now at the helm, it is a fresh start for everyone as Fulham open their campaign – ironically – against Boro at home on Sunday.

I like the idea of yo-yoing back into the Premier League – then it must stop!

He said: “I enjoyed my time at Boro because I was playing and an important player. 

“It was one of the best dressing rooms. There was a good mix of older and younger players. Sometimes an experienced player doesn’t want a younger one to show their potential because that makes him a threat to his position in the team – but that wasn't the case at Boro.  

“I like how Neil Warnock managed it – even players who weren’t playing were positive. I was playing cards and things. It was a good vibe.”

So what does he make of his new boss in West London, Silva? Without hesitation, Kebano answers: “He’s demanding. That’s the main thing. Before talking about tactics and the work we do, he knows what he wants from each of us.

“We speak about fine margins that can give us the edge – even just to draw a game when we can’t win. They’ll make the difference and help if we go up again.”

How can Fulham stop being a yo-yo club as this will be their fourth season in a row starting in a new division in the top tiers?

Kebano laughs: “Oh, let's not stop yet. I like the idea of yo-yoing back to the Premier League. Then we must stop!”

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