Mar 16 2012

The story of Serge Akakpo, Centre Back: MSK Zilina

Published by at 8:51 pm under Domestic and tagged: ,

Of all the players signed by Slovak clubs this winter, MŠK Žilina’s Togolese centre-back Serge Ognadon Akakpo surely has the most dramatic tale to tell. For a 24 year-old, his club career has already been varied enough ; Žilina are his fourth employer in as many countries. But the event that defines his life is the 2010 terrorist attack on the Togo team-bus as it made its way to the side’s base in Angola for the African Nations Cup. Akakpo, shot twice in the back, was one of two players injured. Four people were killed, including assistant coach Amalete Abalo and spokesman of Togo’s football federation Stanislas Ocloo.

Akakpo was born in the Togolese capital Lomé in 1987 and came through the youth ranks at French club AJ Auxerre. He also represented France at four age-group levels from the age of 17. He made his senior debut for Auxerre aged 18, but first-team chances were limited until, in 2009, an offer came from FC Vaslui of Romania. Apart from increased opportunities, this move had two main attractions ; Vaslui’s regular participation in European competition and the fact that their coach, Viorel Moldovan, was already known to Akakpo through his work with France’s youth sides.

Within 18 months, however, things had begun to turn sour. Vaslui had internal problems, and the players were not being paid. Rather than wait for a resolution, Akakpo put matters in FIFA’s hands and left, for Slovenian club NK Celje. He says that he has received one installment of the money owed to him by Vaslui and that an agreement is in place concerning the remainder. After 18 months and 31 league appearances in Slovenia, he has now arrived in Žilina. There is a certain co’incidence here, since former MŠK goalkeeper Dušan Kuciak was one of two Slovak team-mates at Vaslui, the other being former Nitra defender Pavol Farkaš. Akakpo says these two became his friends and that, when times were especially bad, they would tell him that Slovakia was a better place for a footballer to be than Romania. Although he heard plenty about Žilina from Kuciak, he never considered the possibility that he would one day sign for them.

Akakpo hints that his decisiveness in quitting Vaslui over the financial situation there can be explained by what had happened to him just six months before. His Angola experience – and the fact that he came within centimetres of death – has made him both determined to take advantage of what every day brings and reluctant to spend too much time resolving issues not of his own making. The circumstances of the events in Angola are fairly well-known ; the Togo party were travelling through the unstable but oil-rich Cabinda region, close to the border with Congo, when members of an armed separatist group started machine-gunning the bus. Following the incident, there was speculation and debate over whether the team would go-ahead with its participation in the competition – Akakpo says that half the players were in favour of doing so, while the other half were against – but they eventually decided to pull out.

Akakpo admits he doesn’t know how the bullets that hit him didn’t seriously damage his spinal chord or any internal organs. He spent two days receiving emergency treatment in Angola and was then moved to a hospital in Togo, where he spent a further week. Incredibly, within two-and-a-half-months, he had physically recovered from his injuries. He is now in a position to add considerably to the 25 international caps he has won since his full international debut in 2008, and is the current captain of his country.

It is clearly too soon to judge how Akakpo’s Žilina career will go, given that he has played just two competitive games for the club. But the early signs are good. Though not the tallest, his spring in the air is something to behold, he is decisive in the challenge and he tries to use the ball constructively. He says his central-defensive partnership with Jozef Piaček is benefitting nicely from the winter preparation, including friendly games, they had together. His closest off-field relationship, meanwhile, is with right-back Ernest Mabouka, who originates from Cameroon and is a fellow French speaker.

Žilina fans will be interested to learn that Akakpo has not yet won an honour at senior club level, so he is well-motivated to help the club’s bid for the Corgoň Liga title. Understandably, followers of rival clubs will hope he does not succeed in that aim. Regardless of sporting loyalties, though, his courage and sense of perspective in dealing with a truly appalling event, experienced at a very young age, are qualities all of us can only admire.
James Baxter

One response so far

One Response to “The story of Serge Akakpo, Centre Back: MSK Zilina”

  1.   Shire Toryon 19 Mar 2012 at 12:23 am

    Imagine who he’d be playing for if he hadnt been shot in the back.

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