Orel Mangala – Player Profile

Orel Mangala is a Belgian international midfielder who joined Lyon from Nottingham Forest in the January transfer window of 2024. The move was initially a loan, but the French club have an option to make it permanent when the deal expires at the end of June 2024. It remains to be seen whether or not they will choose to do so, as Mangala hasn’t been a regular starter during his time with Lyon, but he has, nonetheless, made some important contributions.

Serial youth semi-finalist

Orel Mangala was born in Brussels, Belgium, to a family of Congolese descent. He was on the books of local giants Anderlecht in his teens and represented their Under-19 team in the UEFA Youth League, helping them reach the semi-finals in both 2015 and 2016.

By then, he had already been turning out for the Belgian national age group selections for several years, having made his debut for the Under-15s in 2013 and been a regular squad member ever since. He had a particularly busy year in 2015 when he was a key part of the Red Devils U17 team that made it to the UEFA European U-17 Championship semi-finals in Bulgaria, where they lost to eventual winners France on penalties.

Later that same year, he also went to the FIFA U17 World Cup in Chile, where Belgium again reached the semi-finals. This time they lost out to Mali, but did have the consolation of beating Mexico in the Third Place Play-off to pick up the bronze medals.

An early move abroad

Mangala went on loan to Borussia Dortmund in Germany for the 2016-17 season and turned out for their Under-19 team in the UEFA Youth League and A-Junioren-Bundesliga, which is split into three regional divisions. His Dortmund team won the Western division and went on to secure the national U-19 championship title in the play-offs, beating Bayern Munich on penalties in the final, although Mangala was suspended for that match, having been sent off in the semi-final second leg against Wolfsburg.

That summer, Anderlecht opted to cash in on their prospect and sold Mangala to VFB Stuttgart for €1.8 million. He went straight into the first team squad at VFB, but was primarily used as a substitute during his first season with the club as they finished seventh in the Bundesliga. Due to the strong competition for places in central midfield, Stuttgart decided to to send Orel Mangala out on loan for the 2018-19 season in order to gain experience as a regular starter at Hamburger SV in the 2. Bundesliga.

Gaining experience in the 2. Bundesliga

Mangala became a cornerstone of the Hamburg team that finished fourth in the 2. Bundesliga, just missing out on promotion, and also reached the semi-finals of the DFB Pokal, losing to RB Leipzig. He enhanced his reputation as a combative, tough-tackling, defensive midfielder during that campaign and was eagerly welcomed back to Stuttgart the following summer in the wake of their own relegation to the 2. Bundesliga.

Upon his return, the twenty-one year old Mangala quickly became established as an automatic first choice in the centre of the Stuttgart midfield as they bounced straight back to the top flight with a second place finish in the 2. Bundesliga in 2019-20. He only missed one of the first twenty-five games of the following season before a torn muscle prematurely ended his campaign in mid-March with Stuttgart safely in mid-table.

Stuttgart form earns an international call-up

2021-22 was to prove much more challenging for Stuttgart as they only narrowly avoided the relegation play-off thanks to a final day win against Köln. Mangala was again a consistent performer in midfield and was rewarded with his first full international cap for Belgium in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in March 2022. Manager Roberto Martínez summoned him from the bench to replace Arthur Theate in the 75th minute of a 2-2 draw.

Mangala got a few more minutes for Belgium as a substitute in a friendly against Burkina Faso three days later, but was then discarded by Martínez and didn’t feature in any further national team squads under the Spaniard’s tenure, thus missing out on the 2022 World Cup finals. The arrival of Italian Domenico Tedesco as Belgium manager in February 2023 saw Orel Mangala immediately restored to the squad and he has kept his place ever since, accumulating a total 14 caps. He’ll get his first taste of a major international tournament at Euro 2024 in Germany, where he’s part of a highly fancied Belgian selection.

A move to the Premier League

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2022, Mangala had moved to Nottingham Forest for a fee of €13 million, one of twenty-seven players signed that season by the newly promoted Premier League club. He managed to hold down a fairly regular first team spot in the face of stiff competition for places during his eighteen months at the City Ground as Forest toiled at the wrong end of the table.

However, Forest’s transfer policy had landed them in hot water with regards to the Premier League’s Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations and would ultimately lead to a points deduction before the end of the 2023-24 season. Therefore it became necessary to cash in on some of their bankable assets, so they happily accepted when Lyon made a sizeable offer to take Mangala on loan.

On loan to Lyon

Mangala’s Lyon debut came as a substitute in a 2-1 win at Montpellier in February and he then started the next three fixtures, scoring a crucial winner against Nice, before missing the next six matches. He made his return for the final four games of the Ligue 1 campaign and scored another priceless winner at Clermont Foot on the penultimate weekend. That match is the only occasion on which he played the full ninety minutes for Lyon during his initial loan, so he has yet to cement his place in the team, but he could be seen as a long-term replacement for Corentin Tolisso.

His goals played a large part in Lyon’s unlikely late surge into the Europa League qualification places and securing European football for then 2024-25 season means that Lyon are better placed financially to make his loan move permanent. Mangala is reportedly keen to extend his stay at Lyon, so there’s a decent chance that we could be seeing him in the club colours again after the summer.