Benoît Milandou: field player, from Brazzaville to BonsecoursPhotography : Photokiff - Text : Lucas Delattre
« There is no really bad stuff going on here. We went close to it, but with the work we did, things settled down, » says Benoît Milandou about the Bonsecours neighbourhood in Senlis, a social housing area located at the city’s eastern end. He knows the place very well, having lived there for seventeen years. Elsewhere, they would call it a « hood ». But the « hoods » of Senlis are not made of towering blocks: buildings don’t rise higher than a few storeys. They may be described as a bit sad but not rundown and certainly not no-go zones. If things stand up, it is because everyone did their part to the best of their ressources and abilities: public institutions of course, but also simple citizens like Benoît Milandou, who has been dedicating himself for years to appeasing tensions between residents, talking to young people and their elder, identifying the needs of all and building bridges with the lessor, the Public Office for Development and Construction, and the city administration.
At the centre of the housing estate, a « city-stadium » which never empties, where young people play soccer and basketball. Slides built in the open air for families, a coffee house open to teenagers every afternoon, a parking spot for the disabled, and coming soon a small running path with various gymnastics apparatus, planned for summer 2017. « Beforehand, there was nothing » says Benoît Milandou, who ceaselessly speaks in favour of the local community to elected officials and social housing administrators. He has never held any official mandate, but always been instrumental in making things happen: « I act through personal initiative, that’s it ». « I know the young ones and they listen to me, I always go and talk to them, for example when they hang out in the staircases, scribbling everywhere, and the moms can’t go through… ».
The « Milandou method » consists in acting early, as soon as tension rises and before it gets worse, picking out the leader of the group responsible for the problem and having a conversation with them, of which something positive always comes out. « Sports taught me everything », he explains. Benoît Milandou is a former professional soccer player: he played center-forward for the national team of Congo. In the Moungali district of Brazzaville, where he was born in 1960, he started playing soccer in the street with a group of friends. Their team met a « unique fate » : « we played together since childhood up to becoming Congo champions in 1982-1983 ». The team was called Kotoko Mfoa. In parallel, Benoît Milandou joined the national team of Congo, with which he continued playing until the start of the 2000s. In the meantime, a French entrepreneur had asked him to come over and play, at 21 years old, for the Orléans Sports Union (USO).
From there on, everything falls into place : Orléans’ soccer team in the mid-1980s, a « fantastic time, with great players even if we were playing only in second league : Serge Chiesa, Guy Stephan, Marc Berdoll, Luizinho Da Silva, … » He was then « lent » to Châteauroux’ soccer club for a year and a half before joining Senlis, which needed a professional player under contract with the club’s sponsor, the Electrolux company.
An athlete’s career only lasts for a time. Between soccer trainings, Benoît Milandou prepared his switch back to ordinary life by studying for a degree in management. Electrolux offered him a job in their IT teams and paid for his training at IBM. « I started out as a junior system operator, and ended up as a manager. »
With strong credentials as a player, Benoît Milandou could have taken up the presidency of Senlis’ soccer club. And indeed he was offered the position. But he declined the honour, and went for being merely a member of the board (« when I do something, I want to be able to do it full-time »). The club is currently playing in « CFA 2 », which is equivalent to the fifth league. While waiting for a synthetic playing field (planned for 2018), which will allow the teams to train throughout winter, the club has no other objective than maintaining its current level. The soccer pride of the city is Kevin Gameiro (born in Senlis in 1987), now an attacker at Atlético Madrid after having had his start in Chantilly and Orry-la-Ville.
Today, a new page is opening in Benoît Milandou’s life. Electrolux recently offered him a job at their Italian branch near Venice. But that would have meant a tremendous change in his family life. « I have made myself available for my children » says Benoît Milandou. He thus preferred to turn down the proposal and be able to stay close to his wife and three children, a daughter of 22 going through higher education (« I don’t want to uproot her »), and two 18-year old twins, both of which aspire to a professional soccer career. And he is now seizing the opportunity to start a new adventure as a free-lance worker, first in consulting and IT maintenance, including assignments for his former employer Electrolux. In the long term, he dreams of starting an import-export business with his country of origin, Congo.
To Congo, by the way, he goes back sometimes but he has never brought his children. He would like to show them the country’s beautiful colours, not the endemic political violence that has plagued it for years. So he is waiting for better days, in the future, perhaps …