Albert Sambi Lokonga has taken a swipe at Belgium manager Roberto Martinez for his lack of opportunities at international level.
The 22-year-old midfielder was part of his country’s squad for World Cup qualifiers in November last year and then again for friendlies with Ireland and Burkina Faso in March but didn’t make it off the bench on either occasion.
Most recently, he was excluded from Belgium’s Nations League fixtures in June and September which seems to suggest he’s unlikely to make the plane for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
With only one cap to his name – a 16-minute cameo against Estonia in September 2021 – the former Anderlecht captain is clearly frustrated.
“I called him the day after the international match in March. I was really pissed off. I thought for a moment that I didn’t even want to play for the national team anymore. I was disgusted,” he told La Derniere Heure (relayed by HLN & Sport Witness).
“Martinez said he preferred players who are playing regularly at their club. He was also not completely satisfied with my training. I don’t think he can portray me as a bad boy who doesn’t work hard. It would be too easy to put up such a picture of me. He can’t use something like that to justify why I don’t get to play.
“If I’m already on the bench while De Bruyne, Hazard and the other stars are not there, then I don’t stand a chance if they are in the selection. Maybe Martínez doesn’t believe in my qualities or he doesn’t like my style. But I’d rather he communicate that clearly. I would have accepted his decision without hesitation.”
While you might wonder whether Lokonga is similarly angry with his circumstances at Arsenal, it seems not to be the case.
He has five starts under his belt (3x Europa League, 2x Premier League) and a total of nine appearances. While it’s not ideal, he believes he’s getting a better education as a Gunner than elsewhere.
“Honestly, it’s difficult. I’m at one of the best clubs in England. I could have played somewhere else every weekend, but that wouldn’t have been the right solution for me. I develop better with 20 minutes of playing time at Arsenal than always playing elsewhere but always winning with 3 or 4-0.”
Those who’ve watched the All or Nothing documentary will remember a scene where Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe questioned where the “always happy, smiling, smiling” Sambi had gone.
“I was playing,” came the response as the Belgian munched on some toast.
That led to a cutting retort from Eddie: “You think you are the fucking only one not playing, my friend, huh? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and fucking wake up, yeah man.”
Update – more quotes from Sambi on life at Arsenal (again via Sport Witness).
“It’s a personal decision [to stay at Arsenal]. I wanted to give myself another year to stay at Arsenal and then see what happens. I think I have the qualities to succeed here. Last season, I didn’t perform at my best level. I still have things to prove.
“At the end of last season, I almost snapped. I called my agent to ask him if staying at Arsenal was a good idea. He comforted me in my choice, even though I know I need to start more often to develop.”