Shropshire Star

Former Wolves midfielder Prince Oniangue on Molineux career and life after football

If you take Wolves’ past and next opponents – Newcastle and Leeds – and head back six-and-a-half years to the short-lived reign of Walter Zenga, those fixtures offered a perfect illustration of the glorious chaos which ensued.


Away to Newcastle, then second in the Championship, brought a superb 2-0 victory just days after a dramatic capitulation at home to Barnsley.

But then, just five weeks later, with Wolves having won only once in the following seven, a disappointing 1-0 home defeat to Leeds proved the 17th and last of Zenga’s games in charge.

Into this frenetically turbulent environment as Fosun took the helm and a host of new faces arrived had come the tall figure and gentle personality of Congolese international midfielder Prince Oniangue.

Oniangue played the full 90 minutes of the win at St James’s Park, but was an unused substitute against Leeds. He wouldn’t kick another ball for Wolves’ first team again.

One of that new signing tally which stretched into double figures that summer, as Fosun had very little time to strengthen the squad after the takeover was completed, the then 27-year-old was thrown straight into a situation which was always going to prove tricky to navigate for all involved.

Building a team – especially with so many new faces drawn from so many different parts of the globe – takes time. And time was a commodity which was short for Oniangue and company.

“It was a bit difficult at first because everything was changing inside the club,” says Oniangue, who joined from French side Reims for £2million.

“With all those signings, players were coming in from Portugal, from France, from everywhere, and they were trying to build a team.

“For me it was a new country, a new language, and I didn’t have pre-season to settle in, I came and just started playing straightaway.

“I thought I did well, and managed to adapt, but overall, it was a difficult situation and Walter Zenga left after just three months and Paul Lambert came in.

Meeting youngsters in Congo as he plans to build an orphanage

“The project with Fosun has gone on to be really strong, and Wolves have been incredible, but I think it needed that first year to settle down before things started to happen.”

Oniangue made only 11 appearances for Wolves, scoring two goals, and whilst he enjoyed plenty of success elsewhere for club and country, ultimately it is clear that the highs and lows of football are not what defines him.

He hasn’t played since the expiry of his contract with SM Caen at the end of last season, the club where he had begun his career as a young player, returning to make 125 appearances at its conclusion.

But he has remained very busy with various off-field commitments.

Oniangue possesses a strong and unshakeable faith which helps drive an equally strong social conscience. He is currently involved in trying to set up an orphanage which would take in 12 children from different parts of Congo. He is also a sporting ambassador for the suburb of Herouville Saint-Clair where he grew up, encouraging people to pursue ‘sporting and humanist values’, with one eye on tapping into the positives of Paris hosting the Olympic Games in 2024.

Those and other ‘acts of love’ and philanthropy will, however, continue alongside football, as Oniangue studies for coaching qualifications with the aim of working with young players in the future, helping them make the transition from youth to senior football.

So of course, his love of football remains powerful.

“Ah football, football is the life,” he says, when asked if it was always his ambition whilst growing up in the Normandy region of North-West France.

“For me, it’s the best job in the world, and for any footballer, it is always so difficult when you have to stop.”

Having left Caen for Rennes, Paris-born Oniangue made a handful of appearances but would particularly emerge onto the French footballing scene during a loan spell with Angers in Ligue 2, which secured a permanent switch to Tours, also in Ligue 2.

Three successful seasons at Tours paved the way to step up to the French top-flight with Reims, where he notched 18 goals in 98 appearances as a box-to-box midfielder.

It was then, in the summer of 2016, that Wolves came calling, but Oniangue might actually have crossed the Channel some two years earlier, and in the Premier League, to West Ham.

“It was a dream when I was young to come and play in England,” he explains.

“There was definitely the chance to go to West Ham, and I went to the house of the chairman, David Sullivan.

“They wanted me to join, but then Reims sold a midfield player to Sevilla and so the President of the club would not let me go.

“I was keen to go but it couldn’t happen and eventually I was given a new contract instead.”

Two years later another chance arrived and, whilst there was interest from a club in Portugal, it was with the ‘strong project’ of Wolves, that Oniangue’s attention was captured.

It was that changing of the guard and changing of the circumstances in Fosun’s early days that brought very contrasting results and emotions, often moving from the sublime to the ridiculous with a few days’ notice, which eventually ended Zenga’s short-lived reign.

But even in that brief time, there were highlights for Oniangue to enjoy, all starting from the moment he came on as a 65th minute substitute in the local derby win at Birmingham which ended with Zenga on his knees and bowing in front of the packed away following.

“There were some nice memories, and the wins at Birmingham and Newcastle were great experiences, as well as playing in another big derby atmosphere at Aston Villa,” he recalls.

“I scored two goals as well, and I suppose it’s just a shame that I didn’t end up with more time on the pitch to show what I could do.”

Lady Luck certainly didn’t shine on Oniangue following that initial burst of appearances.

He picked up an injury before Paul Lambert arrived to succeed Zenga, and, when due to be named in the matchday squad in the January, went down with illness.

Eventually it was decided – by the club rather than the player - that he should build up his game time out on loan, with Bastia in France, but when he returned to Wolves in the summer, it was all change once again.

Lambert had departed, and Nuno Espirito Santo had arrived. And Oniangue was quickly left in no doubt about where his future was to lie.

“As soon as Nuno came in, I spoke with him, and he said, ‘Prince, you will not play for me this year’.

“He told me this was because of the ideas he had – a clear idea of how he wanted to play, the new signings he was bringing in, and how he wanted to go and win the league.

“My discussions with Nuno were very good, and for me, even though I never played for him, he is the best coach.

“He was true and honest, and I learnt so many things from him even just in the training.

Becoming a sporting ambassador in the suburb of Caen where he grew up

“Even now I tell people Nuno was my best coach and they say, ‘yes but you didn’t play a minute’, but it’s because of what I learned which was incredible.”

Oniangue returned to former club Angers on loan for the 2017/18 season, before then making a permanent switch from Wolves to Caen.

It was with a heavy heart that he said farewell to Molineux, not just because he had enjoyed his time at the club, but also got on well with many of his team-mates with whom he is still in touch.

But he is also able to put any disappointment into perspective, not least because of that strong faith and belief in doing the right thing.

‘A pencil in the hand of God’ are words which form part of Oniangue’s Instagram bio, and that unshakeable conviction certainly underpins his daily life.

“My model is Jesus Christ,” he explains.

“My difficulties are nothing like what Jesus Christ had to go through but he paid the price for us and for me and so, when I have difficulties, I have to be strong and I have to do the right things.

“My faith helps me to stay positive and so at Wolves, when I wasn’t playing, all the people were saying that it’s not normal to still be happy when you don’t play.

“But for me it was about staying positive, and I think if you asked the chairman Jeff Shi whether we had good relations, hopefully he would say yes.

“Even if I didn’t play so much at Wolves, I now look at my son who is growing and wants to play football, and what I went through means I can make sure I help him.

“I want to help him make good decisions and good choices so that my mistakes of today or my past are not the mistakes of my son.

“We all have to pass through difficult moments, and it is best to try to stay positive and keep going.”

Oniangue and wife Raphaelle are part of a large family, which is understandably of huge importance and significance.

When Oniangue was 18, he donated his bone marrow to help cure brother Tresor’s sickle cell anaemia.

“Of course, I was always going to help my brother, and he’s still doing really well,” he reports.

A couple of weeks ago he travelled to Egypt where another brother Salomon Yedidya was part of the Congo squad which reached the quarter finals of the Under-20 African Cup of Nations.

There was a certain irony in that trip as, when Oniangue himself was eligible to play in the very same tournament, his mother made him stay behind to ensure he completed his final High School exams.

“I was like, ‘please no, let me go’, but I obeyed my mother, and did the exams,” he says with a chuckle.

With wife Raphaelle and others involved in the new orphanage

As a young man, Oniangue spent time in both France and Congo – the land of his parents –and his father, who passed away last year, was a particular inspiration.

He was five when his father, a Congolese basketball international – like another brother Giovan - was working as a bodyguard for the President of Congo and was shot six times in an assassination attempt.

Thankfully he survived, passing away only last year, and it is no wonder that Oniangue has such pride in representing the country, for whom he made 41 appearances and scored nine goals.

The undoubted highlight was in captaining Congo at the 2015 African Cup of Nations, and scoring the only goal of the game to secure victory against Gabon, Congo’s first success in the competition for 41 years.

“We went on to reach the quarter finals which, for a country like ours, was amazing,” he recalls.

“Hopefully I was part of a fairytale which will pass on to the next generation.”

But it was another international trip which helped pave the way for the orphanage project which harbours the ambition of building a facility for a child from each of the 12 ‘departments’ across Congo.

It was ten years ago that Oniangue was part of a visit to an orphanage in Pointe-Noire, and, shocked by what he saw, the idea was created to try and pursue his own similar project later in his career.

Several years of planning and administration work has taken place with a view to constructing and overseeing a facility where orphans will be taken in to receive education and work with a specialist team to develop values of truth, justice, love and integrity.

Entitled ‘Born Again To Be Happy’, Oniangue hopes the children will indeed be born again and, out of tragedy, be given an opportunity to make an impact and enjoy a better life.

“This project is something that is very important for me,” he explains.

Football is never far away

“I think as footballers we receive a lot, and it is important that we give back, and help people if we can.

“I already had these plans but, with losing my Dad last year, I know what that feels like, and for a small child it is difficult to imagine.

“I think if we can help then we have to do it, to give these children food and support, and a new chance at life.”

This week Oniangue is away in Senegal with a group of young people and the French ambassador as part of his sporting ambassadorial role.

He can share his own experiences and motivations, in a view to inspiring them to be the best that they can be, both within sport and life in general.

Another example of having an impact, making a difference.

Oniangue talks of meeting people in France, who know of Wolves as a big club, and are full of admiration that he once played for them.

It’s a feeling that he shares, even if ultimately it didn’t last as long, and was nowhere near as successful, as he would have hoped. It was however another step on his journey, more experiences to learn from and develop.

As a Prince among Wolves, it didn’t quite work out. As a Prince among men, he’s only just beginning.

• To follow the progress of the orphanage plans, visit or email