The Marseille defender Chancel Mbemba was on Tuesday awarded the Prix Marc-Vivien Foé to hail his performances as the outstanding African player in the French top flight during the 2022/2023 season.
The 28-year-old headed a list featuring the 2022 winner Seko Fofana from Côte d'Ivoire and the Nigerian Terem Moffi.
The Prix Marc-Vivien Foé was established in 2009 by RFI to commemorate the Cameroonian footballer who died in June 2003 at the age of 28 from a heart attack while playing for his country during a Confederations Cup match against Colombia in Lyon.
Mbemba, whose stellar performances have helped Marseille's surge to third spot and a berth in the qualifying rounds for next season's Champions League, becomes the first defender to claim the trophy.
He is the second player from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to win the accolade awarded by a jury of sports journalists at RFI, France 24 as well as consultants and former players.
Claude Le Roy, who spotted Mbemba while he was playing at MK Étanchéité in the Congolese second tier and later drafted him into the DRC squad for the 2013 Cup of Nations, recalled: "Even at that age, he already had great intelligence for the game and a natural tactical sense. He had power, speed and, above all, great technical ability for his position."
"He could play in central defence, on the flank or in midfield. He was multi-functional."
Mbemba was part of the DRC squad that came third at the 2015 Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea. He also featured in the 2017 run to the last eight in Gabon and in 2019 in Egypt.
But it has been his brilliance during his debut season in France that have brought plaudits following four trophy laden years with Porto.
"I'm very proud to have won," Mbemba told RFI. "And it has come after my first year in France too. I really worked hard because there's a lot of talent in Ligue 1."
Mbemba's success comes two years after compatriot Gaël Kakuta won the prize. "When I arrived in France, I said to myself that I had to work hard and show my qualities to everyone," said Mbemba.
"I have a strong relationship with Gaël. We're always together in the national team. He was an example for me to follow when I arrived in France."
Boasting nearly 70 caps with the DRC national team, Mbemba is one of the cornerstones of Sébastien Desabre's team.
The 46-year-old Frenchman was appointed last year with the brief to take the squad through to the 2026 World Cup. Mbemba insisted the coach would be able to bank on his support.
"When you're called up to the national team, you have to be proud," Mbemba said.
"I was called up in 2012 for the first time by Claude Le Roy. Back then I was in Anderlecht's reserves and he called me to come and train with the senior team. I jumped at the chance and played my first game against the Seychelles in Kinshasa.
"Nobody knew me, because I hadn't played for any of the DRC's big clubs like Mazembe or AS Vita," Mbemba added.
"But everyone in family was really proud. When I finished the match, I went back to my neighbourhood and it was a party."