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Football News: Champ Man Legends Part 9: Tonton Zola Mokouko

Champ Man Legends Part 9: Tonton Zola Mokouko
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Tonton Zola Mokouko (Moukoko) Championship Manager 01/02

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When you think about how different, and often wrong, Champ Man was in its early days, unlike today's anally retentive version, Tonton Zola Moukoko is a very good place to start. Not only did the game spell his name wrong as Mokouko, but it also had his nationality wrong as Swedish-Ghanaian! That is not to even get into how far off the mark their projections as to his future greatness were wrong.

Tonton was born on 22nd December 1983 in what is now Kinshasa, Zaire, but was then the Congo. Growing up there he says he was not one of the better players in the area: "You needed to be very good to be involved in street football. I wasn't good enough so most of the time, I just stood there and watched. That's the way it was in the capital. We lived in a normal house. It wasn't a rich area but I was happy." Those happy times were not to last long though for the youngster. He was just 10 years old when both parents died, leaving him an orphan.

Older brother Fedo was in Sweden studying and Tonton went out there to join him: "When I arrived in Sweden it was all very strange. I stepped off the flight and it was so cold and snowy. I had never actually experienced snow before. I ran to the taxi but I didn't have a jacket. The first football team I joined was Djurgarden. From there things picked up." At Djurgarden he quickly established himself as one of the most talented youngsters in Sweden, which probably helped speed up his citizenship, which was granted in the Autumn of 1998. Almost immediately afterwards he was called up by Sweden's Under-16s.

The following April he had a chance of a move to Italy: "I had trials at Bologna and Empoli. I didn't stay there though. We didn't think the youth set up was good enough. I thought I could get lonely over there. I was supposed to go on trial at AC Milan as well but that didn't go ahead after we heard of Derby County's interest." That may seem an odd choice, to go to Derby over Milan but Tonton spoke English not Italian and had cousins living in England. Derby also have also been known for having an excellent youth set up, which made up the teenager's mind.

In 1999 the 15-year-old Tonton signed for Derby, much to ire of Djurgarden, who received no compensation for his signing. In fact it seemed to cause the youngster a long term issue: "When I first left Sweden it was big news, I was one of the biggest talents until Zlatan came along. The club were a bit upset that they didn't get any money for me, the national team stopped picking me and I was never welcomed back." His time at Derby initially went well and he signed a professional contract after turning 17, despite more interest from AC Milan, who had not forgot about him.

"The parents of one of my friends went on holiday to Greece one day and they found themselves reading about me in a newspaper there. It was a list of the biggest talents and I think I was about 20th." - Tonton Zola Mokouko

It was during this period that his legend was born on Championship Manager, as he found out after a friendly against Rushden & Diamonds: "Lots of people crowded around me after the full-time whistle, just because they wanted my autograph. I was thinking to myself, 'why are they doing this?' My teammate, Ian Evatt, then came over and said: 'Tonton, you are one of the biggest players on this computer game!' - he showed me how to play and I kind of liked it." In the game at the time, he was available to sign from Derby for £500,000 and developed into one of the best players.

Tonton was training with the first team squad at this point, having impressed in the reserves and looked on the verge of a breakthrough into the first team, despite a disagreement with the club over his study arrangements. Then he received a phone call which changed everything, his brother Fedo, who had brought him up since he was 10, had died back home in the Congo. It was reported that he had been poisoned. The young Tonton was affeceted deeply.

"I think I came really close to making a breakthrough but during that time, my older brother Fedo, who took me to Sweden as a 10-year-old boy, passed away in Congo. I don't know if someone did something to him...After his death, football was not important to me. I could not concentrate anymore. It was really tough because Fedo was the one who took me to Sweden. He helped me so much, so to find out that he had died was too much for me, really. At that time I was doing really well and then I got the phone call. It was the lowest point of my life."

Tonton returned to Sweden, though he had lost his interest in football he trained with Hammarby, officially transferring to them in July 2002 on a free transfer, though he never played for them. When Tonton decided he was ready to return to the game he struggled to find anyone interested and he had no agent to find a club. Instead he would phone round clubs himself, which is how he ended up spending the summer of 2003 on trial with Falkirk.

"When we landed at this airport, I handed over my passport to the officer who was controlling the gate. He said: 'What, are you actually Tonton? No way!' It turns out he is a big fan of the game." - Tonton on arriving in Malaysia

A meeting with then-England manager Sven Goran Eriksson in 2004 led to his return to the game: "He told me he could do something to help. Sven got in contact with Carlstad United manager Tord Grip, who was his assistant at national level." Mokouko joined Swedish second tier side Carlstad officially on 1st January 2005 and made 43 appearances for them before moving on to IK Sleipner on a free transfer. After 2 years there he moved on to Syrianska on another free transfer, before yet another free transfer move to sign for Finnish side Atlantis FC for the 2009 season.

He managed 10 games for the Finns, before they sunk like their namesake and he was released at the end of the season. He officially retired then from playing professional football aged just 28, though he did play for IFK Lidingo in 2013 while coaching with their youth team. He later started Kongo FC in Stockholm and works as a football agent in Sweden, a long cry from the career Championship Manager predicted for him.

That is the enduring legacy from his career, the way the game has made him famous amongst fans to the extent that even now, over 10 years after retiring from playing professionally, he still receives phone calls from people who played the game. One man in Australia told him that he was so obsesses with Champ Man that he broke up with his girlfriend over it. He even nicknamed her Tonton!

Sports Interactive, the makers of the games, have not forgotten about him either and in 2015 they flew him to the UK to take part in a 5-a-side match and to open the meeting room in their offices that they have named after him. For them Mokouko is seen as a mistake that needs to be kept out of the game in future, for fans of the game he is a legend and part of what made the early games so addictive.

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For the previous Champ Man Legends article on Ganso click HERE

Written by Tris Burke January 02 2022 05:12:20