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Who is Willy Kambwala? From Unknown Talent to Rising Man United Star: Salary, Top Speed, More

Who is Willy Kambwala? From Unknown Talent to Rising Man United Star: Salary, Top Speed, More

Willy Kambwala became Manchester United’s surprising hero in their chaotic 2-2 draw against Liverpool. He only played the game due to injuries ruling the likes of Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez and Jonny Evans out of action. However, in only his second senior start for the Red Devils, Kambwala produced an admirable effort.

The Frenchman was an energetic, efficient presence at the back for his side. He kept Darwin Nunez quiet, produced a number of pivotal goal-preventing challenges and won over the Old Trafford faithful. Kambwala seems to have all the traits of being a solid modern-day centre-back and a key part of the Red Devils future too.

At 6’4’, he already has the ideal physical structure for a Premier League defender. He is blessed with pace, having amazed fans with one specific moment of flash-like speed. It happened in the fifth minute itself after Kambwala committed himself too far forward into the Liverpool half.

But in 10 seconds he went from being within Liverpool’s half to darting back to edge of United’s penalty box, forcing Nunez to scuffle an opportunity. In FC 24, where he’s rated at a 61 overall, Kambwala is given a 78 sprint speed – but this proves he definitely deserves more!

The Frenchman also deserves a bigger salary than his shockingly low £7,500-a-week (£390,000-a-year) wages. In comparison, Kambwala’s yearly salary is a bit higher than what Marcus Rashford earns in a week (£375,000-a-week). He can probably negotiate that for a new contract – with his current deal expiring in 2025. 

With that being said, it’s been a challenging road to the top for the young Frenchman. He was actually born in DR Congo before moving with his family to France at the age of five. Fortunately for him, Kambwala’s parents played a key role in shaping his football career.

The 18-year-old has admitted that it was his mother who inspired him to become a footballer and how he promised her to play for Manchester United, a club he’s supported since he was a child – admiring Anthony Martial and Patrice Evra.

The Frenchman had remarked: “”It may seem crazy, but when my mother made me start playing football, I made her a promise that I would become a professional at United when I turned 16. It’s my childhood club. Ever since very little, I say I’m going to play there.”.

Kambwala started his football journey at the age of eight, joining the Elan Chevilly Larue youth academy in Essone, France. After one year, he joined the youth academy of French club Les Ulis, which plays in the sixth division of French football.

He made his first visit to Old Trafford as an 18-year-old when Martial reportedly invited the Les Ulis academy players to take a tour of the stadium. After this visit, Kambwala promised to the statues of the Holy Trinity (George Best, Bobby Charlton, Denis Law) that he would play for the Red Devils in his career. This would ultimately come true.

Then, as a 14-year-old, he joined the highly-respected FC Sochaux youth academy – renonwned for producing talents like Inter Milan star Marcus Thuram and French striker Cedric Bakambu. Kambwala was able to showcase his talents properly at Sochaux and got to develop the shortcomings in his style under their impressive coaching structure.

After spending two years with the French club, Kambwala started attracting the interest of Manchester United – who were impressed by his performances for FC Sochaux’s under-19 side despite only making four appearances.

Ultimately, Sochaux were compelled to accept a £3.5 million bid to sell their highly-rated youngster. However, their sporting director at that time, Thomas Deniaud, hinted his sadness for selling him and tipped Kambwala to be ready for senior football soon. He had told L’Est Republicain: “It’s a desire of the investors that I respect. Now, our club policy, my vision, is still to develop our best young players so that they can eventually join our professional structure.

“Willy wasn’t given that time, and we can understand the frustration of our center director and all our coaches, who work primarily for that purpose. We’ve been with Willy for two years. As he’s physically almost ready, having him for another year or two might have allowed us to sell him for more!”

Kambwala’s journey at Manchester United had a shaky start after joining in October 2020. He suffered an awful knee injury that caused him to miss months of action. But from 2021 onwards, he started taking his climbing the ranks at Old Trafford.

In the 2021/22 and 2022/23 seasons, he didn’t really play that much (21 appearances for the under-18 and under-23 sides) – but managed to earn Erik ten Hag’s interest anyhow. At the beginning of this season, he was promoted to train with the senior side and started showing the traits to excel for the senior team – despite not having that much experience with the youth teams.

Kambwala impressed in his debut for United, starring in a 2-0 loss to West Ham United in December 2023. Because of the constant injuries to the Red Devils’ centre-backs, Kambwala has remained in the fray and stayed with the senior Manchester United squad.

His performance against Liverpool might have now moved him up the pecking order above some of the more ‘senior’ centre-backs. Despite his impressive rise, which has also seen his Instagram followers soar to over 205,000, Kambwala has stayed humble. In fact, he revisited the Les Ulis academy earlier this year and voiced his gratitude to the club.

The 18-year-old is unlikely to get this new-found fame get the better of him as he realizes that a long journey lies await. But if Kambwala wants to become a legend like any of the Holy Trinity he idolizes, he’ll need to produce even more special performances consistently for the better part of the next decade.