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  • Billy Wooldridge

Ex Chelsea and Crystal Palace winger Levi Lumeka on life abroad in the Ligue 1 and LigaPro

Levi Lumeka, still only 23 years--old, has already had a career many could only dream of. Currently under contract at French Ligue 1 side Troyes, Lumeka’s story is a shining example of how taking the biggest risks in football can bring the highest of rewards.

Lumeka’s footballing career started at the Chelsea academy, where he signed at the age of nine, after being scouted from the David Beckham Academy in Greenwich.

“When we used to go on tour I was able to visit so many countries and go together as a group and team,” says Lumeka recounting his favourite memories at Chelsea. “You never really forget those moments.”

Lumeka played for Chelsea’s academy for five years sharing the pitch with a number of players who have gone on to have stellar careers. “There were quite a few from my age group. Mason Mount, Eddie Nketiah, Trevor Chalobah,” recalls Lumeka. “There’s a few of us, some are football league, some are playing at the highest level.”

However, every good football career comes with both highs and lows, as Lumeka found out when he was released from Chelsea at the age of 14. “I was upset, Chelsea was my whole life at one point, all you know is Chelsea,” says Lumeka. “I had spent half my life at one club, but I guess my mindset was to prove them wrong."

As it turned out, Lumeka was very much in demand following his release from Chelsea, going for trials at a number of clubs, including Tottenham and Arsenal. However it was Crystal Palace who snatched the winger away.

Lumeka rose up the ranks at the South London side, signing his first professional contract with the team in 2015, before making his Premier League debut in September 2017.

“I feel like that day was surreal. The mindset that I had at that point was to work hard and the opportunity came from me pressing the manager really,” says Lumeka.

The 23-year-old explained how this chance came about as a direct result of his performances in training. “I remember playing an 11 v 11 game in training, I destroyed them,” says Lumeka. “Jason Puncheon started calling me ‘Speedy Gonzalez’.”

“The next day I played against Patrick Van Anhalt and I literally destroyed him, and that’s what made the manager say, ‘yeah I’m bringing him with me’,” says Lumeka.

Crystal Palace were trailing 1-0 away to Burnley, with Lumeka recalling the moment manager Frank de Boer first hinted at his substitution. “He told me to go warm up, I’m like ‘wait me?-’ So I go and warm up, come back to sit down and he looks at me and asks ‘What are you doing? Warm up again!,’ recalls Lumeka.

“Next thing I know I’m coming on about to make my Premier League debut, the whole day was insane.”

Lumeka played 25 minutes in what was to prove his only Premier League appearance to date and departed Crystal Palace in the summer of 2019.

“Palace kind of told me in a way that it was time to leave,” says Lumeka. “Under-23’s was too easy and I needed a challenge, so it was time for me to go and play first team football.”

Lumeka signed for LigaPro 2 side Varzim S.C, in a move that he still considers to this day as having been a massive risk. “Everything was so new. It was quite surreal, even me thinking about it, ‘I’m really in Portugal!’-” remembers Lumeka.

“My whole life I’ve been in London. It’s crazy what I really did, going abroad to a different league. It was insane! I took a risk and in life you have to take risks and I believed in myself,” says Lumeka.

Lumeka’s first season at Varzim attracted attention around Europe as he managed 9 goals in 26 games, leaving the door open for the then 20-year-old to look elsewhere.

“My agent told me that people were looking at me, and liked how I quickly adapted my footballing style, so people were ready to take a risk.”

In July 2020, Lumeka signed for Ligue 2 side Troyes AC on a four-year deal, making the move to France which allowed the winger to be closer to home.

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“I went to France to be closer to my family. I’m from Congo but I have family in Paris,” says Lumeka. “So I decided to go closer to home, it would be easier for my girlfriend to visit. I thought about family more than anything else.”

In the 2020-2021 season, Troyes won the Ligue 2, achieving promotion into Ligue 1, to play the likes of PSG and Marseille. Lumeka, who picked up a shoulder injury half way through the season, was still able to play a big part in the team’s success.

“The first season was a great feeling. I was a bit upset because I was injured for five months though,” says Lumeka. “But you want it to be known you were involved, which I was. I scored two on my debut and returned from injury and won a penalty in a crucial game.”

“It was crazy, because I would’ve liked to have played more but we still got promoted and it was a great feeling regardless,” says Lumeka.

Lumeka began this season at Troyes in Ligue 1, before getting a January loan move back to the LigaPro 2 for Vilafranquense. The loan wasn’t straightforward for the now 23-year-old, but eventually went through, securing him a move back to Portugal until the end of the season.

“It was complicated, I was meant to go to one team and then another. So much happened,” remembers Lumeka. “The person that brought me to Troyes ended up being at Vilafranquense, and that’s how it came about really,” says Lumeka.

Lumeka made 10 appearances for the Portuguese side but believes that his style of play is more suited for fast paced French football.

“The way they train in Portugal, they like to keep the ball, be patient and build up play,” explains Lumeka. “I’m a Liverpool type of player, they get the ball and play forwards. In Portugal, the full-back will get the ball and some instead of playing forward will play backwards. I’m thinking ‘why?’”

“Andy Robertson does it best. He gets the ball and plays forward. I’m the type of player that prefers playing against these type of teams. I’m more used to France or England where it’s fast counter football, looking forward,” said Lumeka.

Looking ahead, Lumeka will return to Ligue 1 side Troyes for pre-season after a well-deserved summer break, but always has the future goal of returning to the Premier League.

“That’s definitely the goal (to return to the Premier League). I’ll just let it happen, but at a certain age, I want to be at my prime, at a good age, playing in the Premier League.”

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