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'I feared for my life back at home' Midfielder turned down Congo.

Byline: Ben Rumsby

'EASY TARGET' preparing with ENGLAND Under-21 midfielder Fabrice Muamba snubbed the chance to represent his native Democratic Republic of Congo this season because he feared he could be killed if he returned home.

Muamba revealed the country of his birth, formerly known as Zaire, came calling at the start of the campaign.

But the 23-year-old, currently preparing for the European Under-21 Championship in Denmark, wasted no time turning them down.

His decision came largely out of loyalty to the UK, where he was granted asylum as an 11-year-old back in 1999. But it also arose out of a genuine fear for his life, with his father, Marcel, having worked for the regime of former Zaire president Mobutu Sese Seko, who was overthrown in 1997.

Hunted by anti-Mobutu forces during one of the bloodiest civil wars in modern history, Marcel had already decided to flee the country.

His wife, Gertrude, and children were taken in by his brother. But when the latter was killed, the family knew they too had to leave.

Muamba was therefore immediately wary when the approach came from the Congolese Football Federation, believing openly returning home would make him an "easy target".

"Sometimes you have got to know what is best for you," he said.

"They asked me at the beginning of the season, because there was a new manager. "Because of how my family situation is back home, it is quite difficult for me to go back.

"They would see me as an easy target, to get rid of me."

However, the pull of Muamba's homeland is too strong for him to ignore it completely and he plans a trip there at some stage, to "give something back". "I can go back but I have to do it secretly," he added.

"I have got family there but they have had to change their identity. All of them did in order to be safe. I will have to go back via another country and in that way." Muamba's is a remarkable story to the eyes and ears of a British audience but not to the Bolton midfielder's.

"It's Africa, isn't it?" he said. "That's the type of continent it is.

"There are always dramas, wars and stuff."

Muamba, who could not speak a word of English when he arrived in the UK, added: "I don't really speak about it that much. If you ask me, I'll tell you. If you don't ask me, I'll just carry on. That's how it is.

"Whenever I talk about it, people seem to ask me what is the truth? I'm sure other African players have been through similar." In any other circumstances, talk of switching footballing allegiances would be justified.

Muamba is a stalwart of the England Under-21 side, having made 31 appearances, but he has yet to earn his maiden senior cap.

Indeed, no other player has played as many games for the under-21s without having made their senior debut. But he has not given up hope of following the likes of former Newcastle midfielder James Milner, who won a record 46 under-21 caps, into Fabio Capello's squad.

"If the time is right for me then hopefully I will get a chance," said Muamba, who will no longer be eligible for the under-21s after this summer's finals in Denmark. "Milner didn't move on until he had about 40 caps for the under-21s. If it takes me until I'm 28 to play for England then so be it, but I'm going to make sure I give my best for the team until then."

He added: "This is my adopted country. People have helped me, welcomed me with open arms and given me this opportunity.

"I'm earning a more than decent living and leading a comfortable life. I'm very appreciative of that."

One of only a small number of survivors in the squad from the last European Championship two years ago, where England reached the final, Muamba is determined to repay his ad-opted country with silverware this summer. He added: "Winning the tournament would make up for missing out two years ago. It would be the pinnacle of my career so far." However England fare, Muamba will return to Bolton and he has his fingers crossed manager Owen Coyle will do the same, despite reported interest from Aston Villa.

"I hope Owen doesn't go," he said. "We had a very good season and I'm sure he would like to continue that."

PEARCE BACKED FOR OLYMPICS SIR Trevor Brooking thinks England Under-21 boss Stuart Pearce should be appointed as the head coach of the British football team at next year's London Olympics, writes PAUL HIRST.

After a mixed two-year spell at Manchester City, Pearce (pictured below) has rebuilt his managerial reputation with England's youngsters, taking them to the semifinals of the 2007 European Championship before reaching the final two years later, only to lose to a star-studded Germany team.

His record in turning under-21 players like Jack Wilshere, Andy Carroll and James Milner into full internationals has led some to tip him to take over as England manager next year, but Brooking believes he has his eyes on the Olympic position.

The refusal of the associations of Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland to commit to the British team means that the squad is likely to comprise solely of English players, although Tottenham's Welsh winger Gareth Bale has indicated his desire to be involved.

"I would like to support Stuart for the Olympics job because he knows all the players well," said Brooking.

"Having been there over the last four years he would be ideally placed to get the best out of that group.

"He is respected by all the lads in the squad.

"They seemed very relaxed around him at the training camp last week.

"It's something I think we'll look at when he gets back from this tournament."

CAPTION(S):

'EASY TARGET' Fabrice Muamba, above, preparing with England Under-21s, and in action for Bolton Wanderers, top. Right, former Sunderland midfielder Jordan Henderson with his team-mates in training in Denmark
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jun 11, 2011
Words:1010
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