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Anatole Ngamukol: "Players must be aware that clubs are not allowed to harass them"

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Anatole Ngamukol’s career as a professional footballer took a dramatic turn in 2018 when his then club, Stade de Reims, ordered him to train with the second team. The now 34-year old forward disagreed with the decision and even took the club to court. He was successful and created a legal precedent, as the club’s general manager, Mathieu Lacour, was convicted for moral harassment.

French player union UNFP knows how important Ngamukol’s case was, as during each transfer period they notice that various clubs in France try to force players to leave their club by banning them from the first team and ordering them to train separately or with the second team. During the January transfer window, Girondins Bordeaux banned six players, for example. However, these actions are not limited to transfer windows, as Ngamukol was already banned in May 2018, at the end of the 2017/2018 season.

In France, teams are only allowed to separate players from their first team squad during summer, but that ends on September 1st. Stade de Reims did not allow Ngamukol back into the team after September 1st. The club was promoted to the Ligue 1 and its leadership informed Ngamukol that they “no longer counted on him” and advised him to leave, despite his contract running for another season. Ngamukol stayed.

“I said: ‘if another Ligue 1 club wants me, then I want to leave.’ Unfortunately, there wasn’t one,” Ngamokul recently told FIFPRO. “So that was when they began to side-line me, to isolate me, threaten me, intimidate me. And I found myself in an unjust situation.”

Back then, general manager Lacour was clear to Ngamukol: "Either you agree to be in the second team, or we will lay off and dismiss you.“ What Lacour didn’t know was that Ngamukol recorded the conversation on his phone, which turned out to be crucial evidence in court, after the club had dismissed him in October 2018. Lacour was sentenced for moral harassment of Ngamukol, while the employment tribunal found that Stade de Reims was guilty of wrongful dismissal.

Philippe Piat, the president of player union UNFP, labelled Ngamukol’s case a precedent for all players in France, saying that clubs now have to think twice before they separate players. “The players now have a new weapon in-hand in their fights with clubs.”

“You’ve got to say something”

“It was very hard, but in the end, we succeeded, and justice was done,” Ngamukol looks back with FIFPRO, exactly one year after winning the case. “Today, thanks to those decisions, we can develop football, move it forward.”

Ngamukol wants more players to speak out against these practices. He knew that his club was violating his rights and French labour law in general, but he assumes many players are still unaware of their rights.

“So, I would say to a lot of players, you’ve got to say something… You’ve got to break the silence. We’ve got to talk about this situation, because there are certain players who are experiencing harassment, but don’t realise it. They don’t know what harassment is, so they stay in their cocoon, and things gradually start to get worse.”

“It’s very important to run campaigns, to raise the awareness of players, authorities, more or less everyone, so that we can move football forward, above all.”

“And that’s also why those leaders don’t deserve to stay in football any longer. They must get out, leave their activities…”

Ngamukol’s firm stance is based on his hardship. He was involved in legal proceedings for four years, his career as professional footballer ended (he now plays for fourth-tier team Paris 13 Atletico), and mentally he was coping with very difficult moments.

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Anatole Ngamukol playing for Team UNFP for out of contract players

“The union was by my side through all these proceedings. They helped me; we’ve been together in all those events, right up to today. So, thanks to them as well. This battle has been very complicated. And then I had to keep a cool head up until today.”

“You mustn’t isolate yourself, because in my case I could have gone over the edge. Thanks to my friends and family I’ve managed to keep my feet on the ground. But you talk… about suicide, you lose everything overnight, financially. Even in the family it can be very difficult. So that’s where the union comes in…”

“We have to send a message, a strong message, in fact.”

“It would be good if those players who are suffering moral harassment go and see the clubs to make them listen, and say ‘look what you’re doing, there’s no more harassment in football. It has to stop.’

“It’s no longer inevitable or a matter of being able to do what you want. No, those leaders must get out of football. Today it’s been a year. I’m very happy with the decisions that have been made and it must continue. The fight’s not over yet!”