Zito Luvumbo is the new big hope of Angolan football. Franco Ficetola highlights what makes him an exciting young player as he embarks on his European career at Cagliari.
Date of Birth: March 9, 2002
At €1 million, Luvumbo is the third-most expensive transfer of an Angolan player
The last time the Angolan people harboured high expectations about an attacker capable of finally putting the former Portuguese colony on the football map once and for all, Pedro Manuel Torres – mostly known as Mantorras – had just joined Portuguese giants SL Benfica, carrying with him the reputation of being one of the most interesting talents of African, if not world football.
It was 2001, and he had everything that it takes to live up to such expectations. Everything but a pair of strong, healthy knees.
Those cursed knees only allowed him to amass a meagre 88 appearances in a decade spent with As Águias, prevented him from being a protagonist in his country’s first participation in the World Cup, and eventually forced him to an inglorious retirement before the age of 29, followed by a request for an invalidity pension at the Lisbon Labour Court.
A few months later, Mantorras got his body back on the field for a brief and ill-fated spell with 1° de Agosto, in his native Angola. The club’s very same red-and-black shirt is the one with which people got to know the man who could now continue Mantorras’ legacy, possibly with a better outcome.
WHO IS ZITO LUVUMBO?
The similarities between Mantorras and Zito André Sebastião Luvumbo are pretty much limited to the flair and the potential role in the history of Angolan football.
The latter is indeed equipped with less strength and more creativity, and favours a completely different area of the pitch.
Luvumbo was born in Luanda in 2002, and joined 1° de Agosto in 2014. After a long and fruitful path through the club’s youth system, he made his first appearances with the senior team in the 2018/19 season, instantly turning heads with a goal against Cuando Cubango on his Girabola debut and winning the league a few days later.
His bid for the title of Angola’s next big thing was officially launched in the national cup final versus Desportivo da Huíla. He deserves much of the credit for a 2-1 win, having scored on 59 minutes and creating the penalty that was converted by Ary Papel four minutes later.
The 2019/20 campaign, although cancelled because of COVID-19, provided Zito the chance to establish himself in senior football, and he paid back the trust of coach Dragan Jović with a fair number of goals and good performances.
The series of impressive displays at the Under-17 World Cup in 2019 served as Luvumbo’s departure gift to the youth national side, coming after his debut with the senior Angolan team in September 2019 versus Gambia.
STYLE OF PLAY
Quality first touches
Dribbling on the counter and against set defensive blocks
Too keen to dribble when better options might be available
The position where Luvumbo feels more comfortable, and the one where he crafted his lightning-quick rise to the pinnacle of Angolan football, is on the right wing.
There, he can maraud the flank with great aplomb, never failing to put his physical brilliance at the service of technical skill and creativity.
The thing immediately catching the eye of the onlookers is the quickness of both his feet and his brain. The young Angolan gives the impression of always knowing what to do way before the ball reaches his boots, often resulting in mouth-watering first touches which leave defenders in the dust.
Right after that, his runs are typically bound for the byline, with occasional detours aimed at getting into the penalty area to try a shot with his left foot.
What is most striking about Luvumbo is his enormous self-confidence, which makes him uncatchable when dribbling at full speed.
He is never afraid of trying to take on two or three opponents in quick succession, and this attitude often bears fruit, helping the talented winger create numerical superiority in the attacking half.
1° de Agosto took full advantage of this, not just in counter-attacks but also when building up more slowly. In almost any situation with the ball at his feet, Luvumbo is able to unsettle his marker, winning fouls and forcing the referee to brandish yellow cards on a regular basis.
Talking of his dribbling skills, Luvumbo has a wide repertoire of feints and tricks in his arsenal. His quick changes of pace and direction, paired with a minute, nimble physique are very aesthetically pleasing.
With no blasphemy intended, his dribbling style can resemble that of Lionel Messi; the way the Angolan moves his body in anticipation of receiving the ball, with the aim of creating a directional advantage before touching it, the composure with which he breezes past opponents and his pursuit of spectacular nutmegs really are somewhat reminiscent of La Pulga.
Besides his ball-carrying ability, Luvumbo’s passing game is also good, even if he does not possess an exceptionally wide array of passes.
Defensively, his high work rate allows him to retrieve quite a few balls, mostly in the attacking third.
Acute readers have certainly noticed how most of Luvumbo’s strong points have to do with technical and physical qualities.
This brings us to Luvumbo's main downside, namely the fact he does not look completely accomplished under the tactical point of view as of yet.
This is most patent every time he gives the impression to be waiting for the ball to be at his feet before turning on his magnificent engine; sometimes, this stillness crucially deprives his teammates of an option other than serving him right where he is.
When he finally receives the ball, he still looks way too in love with it, and often indulges dribbles with his head down, in a stubborn and almost obsessive quest for the byline, no matter how many defenders are there in between him and his object of desire.
Generally speaking, he is a very useful player in a tactical plan aimed at creating goal-scoring chances, especially against a team who has parked the proverbial bus. On the other hand, at this stae of his career, he’s way less suitable for many of the tasks when having to control the game – perhaps even harmful when the team need to slow down and protect the scoreline.
TRANSITIONING TO SERIE A, ITALY AND EUSEBIO DI FRANCESCO
Even considering the sins of youth he needs to do away with, Luvumbo is an exciting young player, with great potential and a very strong attitude.
“He’s a quiet guy, who works hard every single day,” remarked Angolan journalist Avelino Kiala in a recent interview.
“Despite his age, he has complete control over his emotions and just loves a challenge.”
It is also because of these personality traits that so many big clubs showed interest in him.
The list is long, ranging from Manchester City to West Ham, Boavista, Anderlecht and even Flamengo, among others.
The young winger went as far as to have a trial with Manchester United in 2019 but, in the end, it was Serie A outfit Cagliari that had him pen down a five-year deal in September 2020.
As far as the national team is concerned, he can be quite confident about his spot in the squad.
Last year, Pedro Gonçalves was appointed head coach and the Portuguese knows Luvumbo very well, having coached him in Angola's under-17 team; nor is he afraid to bet on young players, as proved by Pablo Cambuta, Maestro, Domingos Andrade and the rest of the group of 15-year-olds he debuted at under-17 level.
Moreover, Gonçalves heavily relies on a 4-2-3-1 scheme with wide wingers, perfect for the Serie A newboy.
In Italy, his aggressive and very vertical idea of football could prove either a blessing or a curse for the young winger.
Eusebio Di Francesco often deploys a 4-3-3 formation, but has proven multiple times to be not an absolute integralist and to be able to adjust his system in order for it to suit the men at his disposal.
In any case, his tactics heavily rely on the wingers, who have the freedom to cut back and carry the ball forward in attacking transitions, as well as to converge towards the box as soon as the centre-forward is tasked with playmaking responsibilities.
Luvumbo might fit very well into such a system, and his dynamism is absolutely suitable for a coach that asks for swiftness in attack and requires players on the same flank to continuously interchange positions.
However, out of possession is where we can imagine Di Francesco losing his cool more often, with the Angolan always willing to rush forward no matter what, whereas the coach demands a quick switch to a 4-5-1 setup, with the wingers instrumental to close ranks.
In a nutshell, there are very few doubts that Luvumbo’s technical and physical qualities can be useful to the former Roma manager.
If anything, some worries loom over his ability to channel this incredible explosiveness and desire to dribble past the whole world into tactical awareness that require a level of concentration much higher than what he was used to in his native land.
“He has a lot of quality, and he’s very skilful, but he's more used to playing by himself rather than with the others,” Di Francesco himself recently declared.
Zito is working hard to get rid of this shortcoming and make Angola proud of him.