In 2015, Anatole Abang looked like the heir apparent to Bradley Wright-Phillips. At 19-years-old, Abang showed all of the signs that he could be a great target striker for the New York Red Bulls. After scoring 10 goals between appearances with the Red Bulls and New York Red Bulls II, the future seemed bright. Three year’s later, Abang’s returned to the Red Bulls after a long strange journey.
Abang: A second chance
Abang arrived at the Red Bulls as a young, raw talent. His size and skill were plain to see, but Abang struggled to put in consistent performances on the field. In June 2015, Abang scored his first Red Bull goal, a consolation goal in a 4-2 loss to the Houston Dynamo. He used the goal as a springboard, carrying the momentum and scoring twice more in his next four appearances and notching an assist against New York City FC. He spent time on loan with NYRB II, and did well in USL. Abang finished 2015 strong, scoring the lone goal in home leg of the Red Bulls playoff series against Columbus Crew SC.
“Well he’s raw talent, Abang,”, said Chris Armas. “He’s raw talent. He’s strong. For a big guy, he’s got soft feet. He’s got a good soccer brain. He doesn’t play like a big guy sometimes, he can play underneath a bit. He can run. He’s unusually graceful for a big guy. We also remember that, you know, he was a young guy. Again, raw. Young in terms of speaking the language, and understanding the tactics of our team. It was challenging. It’s challenging for most guys that come here. ”
In 2016, things started to change a bit. Abang struggled to break into the Red Bulls lineup. As a result, he saw most of his minutes with NYRB II, appearing in just eight matches, none of them starts, for a total of 222 minutes. At the end of August, Abang found himself going out on loan to Hobro IK in the Danish Superliga. Once again, Abang struggled to get on the pitch, appearing 10 times for the club and scoring 3 goals. Hobro cancelled Abang’s loan at the end of 2016, and after a failed transfer attempt to Naestved, went out on loan again, this time to Seinäjoen Jalkapallokerho in Finland.
The loan to SJK was nothing short of disastrous for Abang. After only five months, SJK cancelled the loan, citing the players attitude as the main reason to cut the loan short. Abang had appeared in just six matches for a total of 228 minutes.
Off the rails
In August of 2017, Abang himself loaned out yet again, this time FC Astra Giurgiu in Romania. On the field, Abang’s situation seemed to resolve. He featured in 29 matches for Astra, scoring five goals and notching two assists in 1,779 minutes. With some steady playing time, things looked to be on the upswing for Abang. Unfortunately, off the field drama reared its head.
Reports in Libertatea, a Romanian newspaper, claimed Abang was involved in theft in the locker room. Astra accused Abang of stealing money and cloning credit cards from his teammates. Their were no legal actions ever brought against Abang, and a seperate report from 237Foot.com, painted a different picture entirely. The report claimed, Abang asked for three months of unpaid wages and bonuses, filing a complaint against the club. Astra looked to keep the reluctant Abang, attempting to blackmail and intimidate the striker, including fabricating the reported theft reported in Livertatea.
Equally frightening, according to the 237foot.com report, the police threatened Abang.
Once, towards the end of the season, a player on the team said he lost 100 euros in the locker room.Take a look at who has fallen: the African club, Anatole Abang. The latter was summoned to the police station where he was threatened with a weapon. One of the police officers whispered to him that he had better accept the offer of his club president, otherwise he would continue to suffer, “said a source close to the Lion Indomitable.*
Returning to NY
After his loan expired at Astra, Abang surprisingly returned to the Red Bulls, catching fans and media alike off guard. Despite the strange journey, Chris Armas welcomed the player back, noting how much he has changed during his loan spells.
“We know now that he’s matured a bit,” said Armas at practice Thursday. “He speaks English right now, so when you talk to him, it almost feels like you are talking to a different person. I’m not sure I’ve ever done that. Where you know someone, you think you know them well, but you never really had a conversation. It’s kind of strange. Now, talking to him, exchanging ideas, hearing that he’s going to get married at some point. He’s telling me he’s matured.”
The Red Bulls are lacking depth at the striker position. Abang could provide a big boost for the club should things go right this time. First, Abang must prove that he is ready to take the next step and settle down with the club.
“Look we talk around here, and I think it’s most places, the players have to earn the respect of their teammates and establish themselves with the team,” said Armas. “It’s not about impressing your coaches and putting on a show. He’s got to come in here and show an ability to get right in where he understands how we work around here. Again, we’re not starting fresh here with him. So, he knows the demands are going to be high. That’s the first part of it. I think that, when the guys are around him they are going to see that it is a different picture. We have a different Abang. Someone that is talented but also has grown as a person and as a player.”
Having another natural striker in the group could also allow Armas tactical flexibility. Derrick Etienne Jr. spent time up top for the Red Bulls, but despite his myriad talents, he lacked some physical aspects required in the position in the Red Bulls’ philosophy. Abang could play a role as a second striker in a two striker formation, or spell Wright-Phillips during schedule congestion.
“We’ve talked about it tactically,” said Armas. “For sure it could be two forwards with him. There are times where his form is so good we’ve dropped Bradley Wright-Phillips out wide. We played him up top where Brad can run off him. He’s a big guy we could target. And again, Even a straight swap, he can get some starts and be a guy that can play by himself up top. So yeah, we’ve talked about some scenarios.”
Returning to the Red Bulls, Abang wants to repay the team, and Jesse Marsch, for giving him his initial opportunity. With the right mindset, he might be able to do it.
“We talked about the team,” said Armas. “He says he’s watched us. He still owes so much to Jesse Marsch. He said, ‘Jesse helped me, and I want to thank him’. I said, ‘You’ll get a chance to do that’. So, hearing what is in his mind and heart a little bit, it was interesting yesterday talking to him, and we’re excited to have him in the group. Because you send guys on loan, and maybe you call it a second chance.
“I think in life sometimes you want, you don’t always get that, and you rarely get a third chance. We hope to maximize that.”
*Translated quote from the 237foot.com report
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography