Many of us are familiar with the feeling of pure bliss after completing a demanding computer or console game. The Congolese Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu probably experienced that exact feeling but in real life.
Mpanzu’s “game” started in 2013, but for the sake of context, we’ll kick things off a bit earlier. Although now playing for Congo, Mpanzu is British bred, having been born in Hendon, a small town just 11 km from London.
A true Briton, little Mpanzu quickly fell for football, joining Boreham Wood’s academy in elementary school. Climbing the footy ladder, Mpanzu reached Boreham’s main team in 2011, at the young age of 17. Over the course of the first 6 months, he made 13 appearances for the club.
Yes, they played for Conference South, the 6th tier of English football, after Premier League, Championship, League One, League Two and Conference. But still, it was a start and the future looked bright.
West Ham calling
In December, Mpanzu got the call to West Ham, who at the time played in the Championship. The midfielder gave it a go and almost made a breakthrough.
Mpanzu made many appearances for the U21 side, but only managed a single game for the first team. Thus, after two years in West Ham, it was time to pack the bags and go on loan to Luton Town (Conference League). The day Mpanzu’s fairytale started.
Due to circumstances, Mpanzu played as CB in his debut for Luton, only to later move to his traditional spot in midfield. Head coach John Still was impressed by his performances and set his sights on signing Mpanzu permanently.
One step back, two forward
Still was successful: Mpanzu signed Luton for 2,5 years and at the end of his first season (2013/14), they won the Conference League, promoting the team to League Two.
Curiously enough, already by that time Mpanzu was convinced he had made the right choice by signing Luton, as otherwise he wouldn’t have earned a gold medal.
So the journey continued in League Two. It took them a couple of attempts, finishing 8th in their debut performance, then 11th and 4th, until finally in 2017/18 they secured the 2nd spot and a promotion to League One to go with it.
The Luton Town rocket had lift-off. First attempt, first place and the dream of playing in the Championship became a reality for 2019/20. However, the 2nd tier is known to be rather brutal, with tightly contested matches and evenly lined up teams. Luton’s debut season was rough as they finished 19th out of 24 teams. A year later, they climbed up to 12th and after that already to 6th place, securing a spot at the Premier League play-offs.
The final hurdle
As with any challenging computer game, it might take a few attempts at the latter stages to really make it. Same applied to Luton and Mpanzu. In the 21/22 play-offs, Luton’s dreams were quickly shut down by Huddersfield Town who finished 3rd in that year’s league table.
And this brings us to the 22/23 season. Luton displayed strong performances throughout the season, clinched 3rd place, benefitted from the home side advantage and sailed all the way to the Premier League!
A remarkable achievement which secures Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu’s name in the history books, becoming the first ever player to climb from the 5th division to the 1st in the same club’s ranks.
“I feel I’ve completed football,” joked the midfielder, who has amassed 367 appearances for Luton over the last ten years. “I can now peacefully retire. It has been a long journey with many ups and down, but in the end you just have to believe in yourself.”
Us, on the other hand, hope that the 29-year-old is far from retirement and that we could enjoy his appearances in the Premier League, completing the fairytale for the ages. Confirming that dreams do come true.
By the way, as for Mpanzu’s nationality, he received the Congolese passport via his great-grandparents and made his debut for the “leopards” in 2021!