Limburg than the north. Genk rather than Lens. In January, not June. This decided the fate of Ken Nkuba. Six years after signing his first professional contract in Charleroi (61 games), the 22-year-old Belgian winger joined Genk (2028) a day before the transfer window closed. He has to replace Daniel Munoz, who left for England, and brings almost 4 million euros to Sporting. Confessions.
CHARLEROI | Ken Nkuba is now just gathering material: “I'm Proving I'm the Right Solution” (2020)
How do you feel ten days after the first transfer in your career?
“Everything happened so fast that I didn't really have time to think about everything. But yes, I discovered what transfer is (smile). I didn't think there were so many medical tests, papers, photos…”
Chronologically, tell us about your last days of January…
“After the match against Club Brugge (Editor's note: 1-4, January 27), I found out about Genk's interest. I trust my agents and I knew from the moment they told me about the interest that it was concrete. Not just a clue. The next day I had M. De Condé (Editorial: sports director of Genk) on the phone. I liked the project and his words convinced me. Everything coincided on the 30th. Doctor's visit, signature… Very intensive hours. By the 31st, I was among the top scorers in the OHL.”
Against the Union, with its new colors.
After your injuries (cruciate ligaments in December 2020 and torn meniscus in May 2023) were you afraid of a medical examination?
“No, not at all. I knew we worked hard during my rehab (Editor's note: Three weeks in Clairefontaine in particular) so I had neither fear nor apprehension. I already played parts of the games with Charleroi, I was in winter training… I felt good. Ready.”
Without your knee injury, you probably would have signed for Lens last summer. Do you realize we might be surprised by your choice of Genk?
“To be honest, I didn't expect anything in this transition period. I wasn't even thinking about leaving in January anymore. I've thought about it before, but not this late. So in my head I ended the season in Charleroi. But when Genk came on, I took the opportunity.”
At the age of 22, Ken Nkuba has already suffered two serious knee injuries. ©News photo
But we thought your next stop was overseas…
“I understand. I told myself that the next logical step would be abroad, when I arrived for confirmation in Charleroi, and that there was no need to go anywhere else in Belgium. We all have career plans, but sometimes life turns out differently. However, very I'm happy to be here and I feel like I'm still making progress.”
How did the administration in Charleroi react?
“Mehdi Bayat was very open because it was part of the club's goal (Editor's note: sell the player to make money). I couldn't go over in the summer, but in January I got the chance. It was the right time for me, and I think for the club as well. I decided and started without even asking Joris (Editor's note: Kayembe, ex-Zèbre) For example.”
Did you feel like you were on a tour in Charleroi?
“Anyway, I wanted to take a new step and I think I've proven that I'm capable of it.”
When I was leaving Charleroi, I felt a little homesick.
Was it harder to leave given Charleroi's delicate position in the standings?
(Editor's note: after a long silence). “No, because when I was in the club I always gave my best. I was coming back from injury, I never calculated… In football we always think about the team, but in this case it was a personal opportunity… And I went for it.”
“I was a little nostalgic, I admit. There are a lot of good people in Charleroi, although the last few months have not been easy for me.”
Sports? Because of your injury?
“Not only. There were little internal problems that I won't talk about. Whatever. I remember that, the day before I left, in the gym in Mambourg, I looked around and said to myself “Ah yes, it's true, I'm leaving…”
Ken Nkuba during his last game with Charleroi, January 27 against Bruges.
You opened the door to young people in the training center. Before your generation, we cannot say that Sporting trusted its young people…
“It is true that I was one of the first to appear as a professional. I am happy and proud of it. Thanks to players like Jackson (Tchatchoua), Martin (Wasinski) and myself, we watched Sporting's youth academy a bit more. In recent years, I have seen significantly more players come to train with a professional group, whereas before I was the only one. However, I am only a visible part of the iceberg, i.e. a window, but in the shadows, a lot of work was done by the club, especially by the coach. I immediately think of Samba Diawara or Alain Decuyper (Editor's note: former training center manager).”
Genk is an attacking team that likes possession and that suits me very well.
To return to Genk. Your profile matches the club's DNA, but you are hired as a right back. Position that attracts you?
“Yes, I appreciate that. And if we change the system, I know I can adapt. Especially as a 3-5-2 clip. I completely agree with you, my style of play matches that of the club. Well, obviously I have more work to do in defense – and to improve – but Genk is an attacking team, that likes possession, and that suits me very well.”
When you were a striker as a youngster and then an attacking winger, how do you enjoy defending and thinking backwards?
“In Charleroi, as a link in the 3-5-2, I also had a defensive role. And it happened that our system looked like a five-man defense, so I felt the urge to defend. For example, when an opponent advances in front of you and tries to one-on-one, eliminate you, it is nice to be able to block him, annoy him, by being smarter, stronger or more lively than him.
Is defense worth an assist or a goal?
“I haven't been in this situation with Genk yet, so I can't answer you (smile). But preventing the opponent from going through is nice.”
I'm not thinking too much about the national team at the moment.
What are your goals at Genk?
“Collectively, it's hard to say anything other than top 6. At least it should be Genk. And personally I hope to play as many games as possible, obviously.”
You missed the U21 Euro due to injury. Are you thinking about the national team?
“Not too much for now. I know it will come through my performances at the club, so right now I'm focused on Genk and we'll see.”