It’s not often that you find a young, African talent as good as Jackson Muleka. The 20-year-old TP Mazembe and DR Congo striker is not only gifted with excellent pace and aerial ability, but is also technically ahead of most players plying their trade on the African continent. It’s for these reasons that Muleka is 11th on the all-time CAF Champions League goal scorers list, with 14 goals in just 30 games.
Jackson Muleka joined Lubumbashi based club, Ecofoot Katumbi (Ecofoot), as a teenager. Moise Katumbi, TP Mazembe’s wealthy benefactor, established Ecofoot as a youth development team with the purpose of identifying and developing talented young players for the first team squad. Muleka shone brightly for Ecofoot which earned him a promotion to TP Mazembe’s first team squad during the 2017/2018 season at 18 years of age.
Muleka became an undisputed starter in the 2018/2019 season, featuring prominently in Linafoot (DR Congo’s first division), as TP Mazembe were crowned league champions – beating out competition from fierce rivals AS Vita of Kinshasa, as well as in the CAF Champions League. In total, he scored a league record-tying 24 goals adding another five goals and four assists in the CAF Champions League.
This season continued in a similar vein for Muleka. He remained TP Mazembe’s key attacker. He repaid this faith with 12 league goals prior to the cancellation of the Linafoot season after 20 matches due to the Coronavirus pandemic. On the continent he starred for his club as he scored seven goals in just 10 CAF Champions League matches.
Muleka has represented DR Congo on the international stage at Under 20, Under 23 and senior level. He played two games for the Under 20 side and four games for the under 23 side including scoring two goals in a sparkling performance against Morocco in a Under 23 African Nations Cup (AFCON) qualifier. He stepped up to the senior side in September 2019, making his full international debut in a friendly against Rwanda. Since then he has scored three goals in six senior internationals for his country.
Position, Attributes and Style of Play
Muleka is a versatile attacker and was initially deployed as a right and left winger in his breakthrough season in 2017/2018. More recently he has played as a centre-forward in a 4-3-3 formation.
In the lone centre-forward role Muleka is tasked with being the team’s attacking focal point. This requires him to occupy the opposition’s defence by challenging for aerial balls, running in behind, holding up the ball when it is played into him and moving into the channels between the centre-backs and wing-backs. He is also expected to create goal scoring opportunities and be the primary goal-scorer.
Despite only being 1.80m Muleka has a great spring and attacks the ball aggressively in the air. Plus, he is quick, agile and has a stunning burst of acceleration over short distances. When carrying the ball, he runs leaning slightly forward, with his lower back noticeably arched inwards and swings his arms relatively wide from his body, like Liverpool central midfielder Naby Keita. This gives him great stability and a lower centre of gravity making it easier to swerve challenges while maintaining balance and retaining the ball.
To be a great centre-forward you must have good close control, sharpness and precise finishing inside the box. Muleka has this in abundance. He has the ability to control a cross or ball played to him inside a congested 18-yard box, use his touch and agility to change direction sharply to create space between himself and a defender before shooting quickly. He did this expertly in scoring against Primeiro de Agosto in this season’s CAF Champions League.
Alongside this, Muleka is a cool, calm and composed finisher. In 1v1 situations he shows great poise by taking his time when facing the goalkeeper and quickly deciding how best to finish. An example of this was his second goal v Club Africain in TP Mazembe’s 8-0 rout in the 2018/2019 CAF Champions League. He received a chipped through ball, faced the goalkeeper 1v1 near the goal, faked to shoot with his right foot, the goalkeeper dived in response, leaving the goal gaping, he then moved the ball to his left foot before slotting into an empty net.
Muleka combines his composure with the ability to score a variety of goals. This includes chipped 1v1 finishes, acrobatic volleys, ferocious shots that fly past the goalkeeper in an instant, close-range headers, one touch finishes, weaker foot strikes and tap-ins. His goals are not limited to the 18-yard box. He has scored some beautiful goals, with both feet, from further out such as his wonderful curled left-footed long-range effort v ZESCO United in the 2019/2020 CAF Champions League.
On the occasions when Muleka uses his clever movement outside the box it can be difficult for defenders to handle. Sometimes he moves out to the right or left wing to receive the ball, faces up defenders, uses chops, dummies, step-overs or a drop of the shoulder to cut inside and put crosses into the box, play a pass or have a shot at goal. In other instances he will move out to the inside right channel between the centre back and left back, wait for the midfielder to spot him then make committed, blistering diagonal runs from out to in, staying onside, with the hope of receiving a defence splitting through ball.
Muleka is adept at dropping deeper to link up play. He is able to drop into midfield areas to lay off the ball to a midfielder with one touch when he is pressured by a centre back or turn away from the opponent attempting to challenge him using a smart touch to induce a foul or create enough separation to take more touches before playing the ball backwards, forwards or wide. What he is particularly good at, which he does not do nearly enough, is receiving the ball on the half-turn in a deeper position, using his awareness to complete the turn and face the opposition’s goal, then accelerating past opposition midfielders with his unique ball carrying style towards the attacking third of the pitch before playing the ball to the wide player then making a purposeful run into the box to try and get on the end of any attempted cross or pass.
Areas To Improve On
A flaw in Muleka’s game is his failure to display consistent intensity off-the-ball. Generally, he will jog or walk around in central areas when the opposition have the ball and show no interest in engaging with defenders, then suddenly press a defender. This becomes a cyclical pattern for him throughout matches. When he does press defenders, he does so with vigour, speed and determination. It is a shame he does not do this more often. To become a more well-rounded striker and succeed at a top European club, many of whom expect their attacking players to press repeatedly throughout each game, he will need to focus on improving this aspect of his game and demonstrate more consistent pressing.
In the centre-forward role Muleka occupies, he could impose himself more. He can be quite static in attacking central areas throughout a match with the occasional instance of moving to the wings or into the right inside channel or dropping deep to link up play. This may be a tactical request from the manager who wants him to stay central to act as the attacking focal point and always be in central positions if chances arise. However, this seems to stifle his game somewhat as he can be a very effective attacking outlet when moving to the wings or into the inside right channel, plus he is excellent at dropping deep and helping link up the play. If it is not a tactical issue and he chooses to stay high up the pitch in central areas, this is something he needs to reconsider as he can become a more accomplished and dangerous forward by having additional unpredictability and variety in his game.
After watching numerous matches Muleka has played in: including Linafoot, CAF Champions League and Under 23 AFCON qualifiers along with clips from CECAFA Cup games, he has the potential to be a regular starter for a high-flying club in Europe’s top five leagues.
Muleka’s eye-catching performances for TP Mazembe both domestically and in continental competitions has caught the attention of prestigious clubs in Africa such as Egyptian giants Al Ahly as well as historic clubs in Europe like RC Lens, Olympique Marseille and Fenerbahce.
In the upcoming summer transfer window, the time has come for Muleka to take the next step in his career. To reach his full potential it is vital he joins the right club.
So, let’s take a look at two clubs that would be perfect for him to join:
- Red Bull Salzburg
Red Bull Salzburg are currently in first place in the championship round of the Austrian Bundesliga (Austria’s first division). They currently have a six-point gap over second placed Rapid Wien and look almost certain to lift another Austrian Bundesliga title and secure a place in the final round of UEFA Champions League qualifying.
Red Bull Salzburg’s success this season has been powered by an exciting batch of young attacking players who have a blend of flair, skill, speed, creativity, intensity and efficiency. This includes Hwang Hee-Chan, Patson Daka, Sekou Koita, Maya Okugawa, Dominik Szoboszlai as well as now departed duo Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino. Of those still plying their trade at Red Bull Salzburg, Patson Daka and Hwang Hee-Chan have performed excellently throughout the season. They are likely to attract the interest of major European clubs this summer, resulting in their inevitable departures from the club.
As a result, Red Bull Salzburg will be short on attacking options and will need to add at least one new attacker to their squad. Muleka would be a perfect fit. He is rapid, flexible positionally, has good technical skills, is a clinical finisher and if encouraged can destabilize defences with his runs, can link up with midfield teammates and play with intensity off-the-ball. These are attributes which top clubs look for when recruiting strikers and he has demonstrated those in abundance for club and country.
Transferring to Red Bull Salzburg would be an intelligent decision by Muleka. The club has a detailed sporting and business model based on identifying talented young players from around the world, with a strong focus on African players, and developing them in a strategic, supportive, considered, careful and structured way, enabling the players to showcase their full range of abilities before selling them to wealthier, more renowned clubs. There is no coincidence that so many talented young players, especially African players have thrived there before moving to teams in the top five leagues like Sadio Mane, Naby Keita, Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassekou. He, most certainly, has the quality to follow in their footsteps.
The Super Lig (Turkey’s first division) restarted on 12 June after an enforced three month break due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Galatasaray are currently third in Super Lig, six points behind the joint-league leaders Trabzonspor and Istanbul Basaksehir. They will be hoping to remain in contention for the title and at a bare minimum secure a European place for next season.
Looking at Galatasaray’s squad it lacks quality depth in the centre-forward department and apart from the exciting on-loan Nigerian left winger Henry Onyekuru has no left-wing depth. If they want to compete successfully in the Super Lig and in Europe next season, providing they secure a top three spot, they will need to reinforce their attack.
Muleka would be an astute attacking purchase for Galatasaray. He is an adaptable, pacey and skilful attacker who can play on the wings as well as a centre-forward. Whilst his goal-scoring exploits, particularly, in the CAF Champions League against some of Africa’s best sides like Zamalek show he can perform at a high level against stiff opposition. Importantly, the highest fee TP Mazembe would want for him would be around £4-5m. This is affordable for Galatasaray and would represent great value for money compared to a hefty fee of at least £12-15m to make Onyekuru’s loan permanent.
Galatasaray have Colombian legend Radamel Falcao leading their attack with limited back-ups Florin Andone and Adem Buyuk. Neither of whom have significantly contributed this season. Looking forward to next season a clever tactical adjustment could be implemented if Muleka was signed. They could pair Falcao and Muleka as a front two in a similar way Falcao and the prodigious French attacker Kylian Mbappe combined to brilliant effect during Monaco’s hugely successful 2016/2017 season. Of course, Muleka is no Mbappe, but he has some similar attributes such as his speed, agility, lethal finishing and dribbling skills and these attributes could be utilised in tandem with Falcao’s veteran instincts, wonderful movement and experience.
Relocating to Istanbul to play for Galatasaray would be a sensible first step into European football. They are one of Turkey’s most prominent clubs, have a fanatical support and usually compete for the Super Lig title and in European competitions every season. Like TP Mazembe, who are one of DR Congo’s most successful clubs, have a loyal fanbase and compete for the Linafoot and in African competitions every year. Muleka is already used to playing under the weight of expectation of a demanding club.
If Muleka can settle quickly, with the help of fellow DR Congo teammate Christian Luyindama, in a vastly different country and produce encouraging performances early on, he should be able to assert himself as a star striker in the Super Lig. He could also gain exposure if he played in UEFA competitions, something which would not be possible if he moved to Al Ahly or RC Lens for example.