While his heart swings between Marseille, a place he calls “home”, and his native Cameroon, Fulham midfielder Frank Zambo Anguissa’s mind is firmly set on helping the London club avoid relegation from the Premier League.
A 1-0 win at Liverpool last weekend, their third victory in six outings, pushed Fulham level on points with 17th-placed Brighton, injecting fresh hope into their survival bid ahead of Saturday’s visit of runaway leaders Manchester City.
“We’re all focused on our goal of staying up, and that can be felt in the way we play. We don’t give up,” the 25-year-old Zambo Anguissa tells AFP.
That attitude has enabled the Cottagers to recover from a dire start, in which they suffered eight defeats in their first 11 matches.
Operating in a more advanced role than during his three years at Marseille, Zambo Anguissa has completed the second most dribbles of any player in England’s top flight this term, a key cog linking the defence and attack.
“We knew a Frank Zambo in France who was rather defensive,” said the player signed by Fulham in 2018 for a club record 33 million euros ($39.3 million).
The start of his Marseille career was blurred by the shock resignation of Marcelo Bielsa, the man partly responsible for bringing Zambo Anguissa to the Velodrome but who walked away one game into the 2015-16 campaign.
– Growing up in Marseille –
“From the first week, he said ‘yeah, the young one, I like him, he has what I’m looking for,” Zambo Anguissa recalled of Bielsa, now in charge of Leeds United.
It was the arrival of Rudi Garcia at OM in October 2016 that triggered a notable change in the Cameroonian.
“He told me to relax and have fun. He’s someone who did me a lot of good and who still calls me, writes to me when he can,” Zambo Anguissa revealed.
He has fond memories of his time at Marseille, the high point a run to the 2018 Europa League final in his last season at the club.
“When I speak to you about it there are too many emotions that resurface. I met my wife there, my children were born there… Marseille, it’s my home,” explains Zambo Anguissa.
“When you go to Marseille, with the pressure and everything going on around the club, you tell yourself, ‘If I survive this, I can survive anything.’”
Such strength of character proved crucial when an ankle injury forced him to miss a considerable part of his first season in London, which ended in relegation to the Championship.
He was sent out on loan to Villarreal in Spain ahead of the 2019-20 season.
“I discovered a totally different type of football that made me better tactically. I also had the fortune to come across a coach (Javier Calleja) who trusted me, who gave me a certain freedom and I was able to blossom.”
This time, the results followed, with a fifth-place finish in La Liga. The Spanish club tried to sign him permanently, but Fulham refused to let him go after sealing promotion back to the Premier League.
– Africa Cup of Nations dream –
However, any disappointment was offset by the presence of Scott Parker in the Fulham dugout.
Zambo Anguissa credits the former England midfielder with helping him through an injury-marred first season at Fulham, where Parker was an assistant to Claudio Ranieri before later replacing the Italian.
“I like the man he is before being a coach. He’s someone who trusted me, at a time when I was going through something pretty difficult. Thanks to him I was able to get back a taste for football.”
No longer the rough diamond spotted by Marseille, Parker is pushing Zambo Anguissa to kick on further, particularly in front of goal.
“I want to be a complete player, who can make assists, who can score goals if that contributes to helping my team… and even for my personal satisfaction,” he said.
Will that be with Fulham though? Zambo Anguissa refuses to look too far ahead. “I hope my team will be able to stay up and at that point I could say to myself, ‘Frank, what do you want to do?’”
However, he does have his sights fixed on next year’s Africa Cup of Nations on home soil. “It’s a cup I dream of lifting in front of my parents, in front of my country and all the Cameroonians who support us.”
It’s a dream within reach, he wants to believe. “I know we have a good team and the quality to go and get the trophy, at home on top of that.”