Out of Africa, by way of you name it

SPOT­LIGHT STORY Much-trav­elled To­golese de­fender Zan­zan fit­ting in with Im­pact

Montreal Gazette - - Sports - RANDY PHILLIPS THE GAZETTE

He likes to keep things sim­ple, in­clud­ing his name. Im­pact de­fender Mo­hammed Zan­zan Atte-Oudeyi an­swers to Zan­zan, and it’s not be­cause of ego that he goes by one name, like some in­ter­na­tional soc­cer play­ers, but be­cause any­thing more than that can be a mouth­ful for most peo­ple.

“For many, I know it’s hard to say my full name,” he ex­plained. “I’ve al­ways been Zan­zan. It’s easy. It’s the only rea­son.”

The 28-year-old has found a new home in Montreal, thou­sands of kilo­me­tres from his na­tive coun­try of Togo, of­fi­cially the To­golese Repub­lic. The West African coun­try is bor­dered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burk­ina Faso to the north, and ex­tends south to the Gulf of Guinea.

Zan­zan signed a two-year con­tract with the Im­pact on April 15, and has started and played all but 43 min­utes of the team’s last six reg­u­lar-sea­son games in the United Soc­cer Leagues First Divi­sion, af­ter sit­ting out the sea­son opener on April 18 in Charleston.

“He’s the nat­u­ral left back we’d been looking for since the de­par­ture of Mauri­cio Vin­cello,” Im­pact head coach Marc Dos San­tos said, re­fer­ring to the for­mer league all-star de­fender from Ar­gentina who re­tired in Fe­bru­ary 2008.

“We see Zan­zan’s ex­pe­ri­ence and his pas­sion for the game ev­ery day,” the coach added. “He al­ways fights for the ball like it’s the last one he’ll ever see. That at­ti­tude has brought a lot of in­ten­sity to the team.”

Zan­zan played with CS Otopeni in Ro­ma­nia be­fore join­ing the Im­pact. Be­fore that, he spent six years in Bel­gium’s First Divi­sion with sev­eral clubs, in­clud­ing Lok­eren and FC Brus­sels. He still keeps a home in Dil­beek, in the Flan­ders re­gion of Bel­gium. That’s where his wife is, along with the cou­ple’s two chil­dren, the sec­ond born only two weeks ago, with Zan­zan re­turn­ing home for two days to be with his fam­ily.

Zan­zan also played 35 in­ter­na­tional games with the Togo, and be­cause of na­tional-team du­ties, will prob­a­bly miss the Im­pact’s next four games, beginning tonight against the Tim­bers in Port­land (10 p.m., USLlive.com).

The Im­pact, with a 2-3-2 record, will be looking to win back-to-back games for the first time this sea­son af­ter beat­ing the Rhi­nos 1-0 in Rochester last Satur­day.

Zan­zan left the Im­pact on Mon­day for Togo to join his na­tional team for games against Gabon on Satur­day and Morocco on June 20 in the pre­lim­i­nary round of qual­i­fy­ing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. He’s been a reg­u­lar with the na­tional side since 1999, and was part of the coun­try’s en­try in the 2006 African Cup of Na­tions.

Zan­zan is the sixth of 10 chil­dren in his fam­ily, in­clud­ing seven boys, and soc­cer has al­ways been part of his life. In fact, it’s the only sport he ever played. His brother Is­maila, 24, plays with Fiokpo-based Maranatha FC of the To­golese First Divi­sion, and has also played for the To­golese na­tional team.

“(Soc­cer) was all we did, me and my friends,” Zan­zan said of grow­ing up in Lomé, the cap­i­tal and largest city in Togo, with a pop­u­la­tion of less than one mil­lion. It is the coun­try’s main busi­ness and in­dus­trial cen­tre as well as its ma­jor port.

“Life was hard at times, but it is like that in a lot of places,” added Zan­zan, who learned English – con­sid­ered Togo’s sec­ond of­fi­cial lan­guage af­ter French – in school.

Zan­zan be­gan his pro­fes­sional ca­reer in 2001, play­ing for JS du Ténéré of the Nige­rian Premier League. The next sea­son, he played for Satel­lite FC in Côte d’Ivoire, be­fore mov­ing on to play in Bel­gium later that year.

Coach Dos San­tos said Zan­zan came to the Im­pact’s at­ten­tion through scouting and dis­cus­sions with in­ter­na­tional player agents. DVD footage of the 5-foot-8, 172pounder also made an im­pres­sion.

“At this point, his re­spon­si­bil­ity has been to mark the most im­por­tant player the op­pos­ing team has on the right side,” Dos San­tos said. “Be- fore we found Zan­zan, we had to ask play­ers like Si­mon (Gatti) and Leonardo (di Lorenzo) to adapt to some­thing that wasn’t their nat­u­ral po­si­tion.

“Alex (Sur­prenant) is a nat­u­ral left back for us, but he’s young and not ready to take over the first po­si­tion as a left back,” the coach said of the 19-year-old Que­be­cer from St. Alexan­dre. “Zan­zan is solid at the po­si­tion be­cause of his ex­pe­ri­ence. He’s been do­ing an ex­cel­lent job.”

Zan­zan, who in­tends to pur­sue hu­man­i­tar­ian work when his soc­cer ca­reer is done, said he’d like his younger brother Is­maila, a 6-foot-3 mid­fielder, to join him with the Im­pact.

“Montreal is a great place from what I have been able to see,” he ex­plained, “and be­cause the club is so pro­fes­sional as an or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“This is a good team,” he added. “When I came here, I didn’t know what to ex­pect. There’s a good men­tal­ity for soc­cer here. They re­ally wel­comed me to the team.”

ALLEN MCIN­NIS THE GAZETTE

Im­pact de­fender Zan­zan (right) in action May 17.

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