The new Dundalk signs Wilfried Zahibo “ a child of the world ” in a globetrotting adventure
Wilfried Zahibo describes himself as a ‘child of the world’ after revealing how he left his parents behind to pursue his football dream halfway around the world.
Dundalk’s new globetrotter recruit was born in France but raised in Guadeloupe – the small French territory in the southern Caribbean Sea, near Saint Lucia and Barbados.
But knowing that he was unlikely to be spotted by scouts on such a small island, he took matters into his own hands.
Zahibo packed his bags in his early teens and went to live with his uncle in France where he joined Sète, now a third-tier team but two-time national champion in the 1930s.
Spells with other French and Spanish lower league teams followed before he was caught by Valencia in 2014.
Zahibo, 27, initially played with their second string team but made two appearances for the first team under current Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and Phil Neville.
Most recently he played in MLS for New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo and in 2019 declared for the Central African Republic where he won four caps.
Atletico Madrid star Geoffrey Kondogbia is the captain of the country – where Zahibo’s mother is from – and the couple are good friends.
Later this summer, the duo will face Shamrock Rovers defender Roberto Lopes as Cape Verde are in the same World Cup qualifying group as the Central African Republic.
Ahead of tonight’s trip to Waterford, Lilywhites newcomer Zahibo said: “Sete couldn’t find me. I went here. I just wanted to show myself.
“Guadeloupe was a very small island so I wanted to play football and embark on a professional career project. My parents didn’t play sports and told me no, but they had no choice at the end of the day!
“I told my family I wanted to move and they said ‘okay’. So I moved with my uncle and the deal was that I was two years old to join a club. It was not difficult to leave my family because I dreamed of being a professional footballer and that is what motivates me.
“I was more focused on football than leaving my parents. It was my motivation. They respected my choice and I’m happy to be here today.
Zahibo continued: “When you’re a child, you always dream of playing on the big stage. I hope that one day I can play in the Champions League.
“But I’m very happy to be able to do what I love. I am a child of the world. I am open to everything. I love discovering different countries, different people and a different language, so I love the experience. “
Growing up, Zahibo idolized French Arsenal stars like Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby.
But he stopped before he became a Gunners fan, laughing: “I’ve always been a Manchester United fan, but Arsenal were a good team to watch with so many French players.
But once in Valencia, he rubbed shoulders with a higher caliber player and believes the progression from second team to first was his creation.
Zahibo credits Andre Gomes of Everton, former Spain star Alvaro Negredo and Valencia legend Dani Parejo as the players who looked after him the most in the La Liga giants.
“It’s good to start your football career with great players. They made me a better player and I’m grateful for that, ”he said. “I had the chance to play a few games and it was a very, very good experience.”
But in January of this year, after his stint with Houston Dynamo ended his course, Zahibo found himself without a club.
Filippo Giovagnoli called and offered him a deal with Dundalk, although the move was still four months in the making.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do because a lot of markets were already closed, so I had this opportunity,” said the midfielder.
“I just wanted to play and do what I love. Dundalk is the best club in Ireland and it’s a club that plays in the Europa League.
“It was a good motivation to come. I really didn’t know Dundalk before, but I watched the Europa League games last year and it’s interesting to be here.
Due to his period of isolation in Ireland, Zahibo was never able to play for Giovagnoli before the Italian left, but was on the bench in his last game against St Pat’s.
He then came to Derry and started last week’s derby victory – the Lilywhites’ first of the season – against Drogheda United.
Zahibo added: “It’s no secret that the team had a bad start, but if we win all the games we can fight for a good place. This is the goal of the moment. “
Meanwhile, Jim Magilton insists Zahibo and Chris Shields can play for the same team after getting the nod alongside the skipper of Lilywhites in Saturday’s derby victory over Drogheda United.
It was his first start for his new club and both are traditional No.6s, but interim boss and sporting director Magilton believes it can work.
“We get our best players on the park by the minute and maybe that’s something we adapt that could be horses for the courses,” said Magilton.
“You want players who are going to handle the situation and it’s a new situation for a lot of them, where confidence is slowly but surely coming back.
“When they see players like them take the ball and play us, that’s an important message to send. Both should be able to dominate matches. “
And Magilton added: “I think Zahibo is going to be a quality player for us. He has physicality, presence, stature, and technical ability. Looks like he should be at Real Madrid! But he ticks all the boxes for us.