‘Bromley left me contemplating quitting football. I just wanted an arm around me’: Portsmouth’s Haji Mnoga on his nightmare loan spell – and how Weymouth saved him

Instead the nightmare spell left a demoralized Haji Mnoga contemplating walking away from the game he loves.

The National League club was identified by Pompey as a suitable loan destination for the then 19-year-old to flourish through regular first-team football.

Arriving in August 2021, what actually unfolded was just a single first-team start in a total of seven outings for Andy Woodman’s side.

Indeed, to compound Mnoga’s misery, he found himself turning out in the Suburban Football League for Bromley’s under-23 team.

His agony was eventually cut short, with Pompey facilitating his return two months early, before next sent out on a hugely-productive stay at Weymouth.

Now Mnoga has lifted the lid on the confidence-sapping Bromley experience which left him questioning his footballing future.

‘I just needed someone to just put their arm around me,’ he said The News.

Haji Mnoga has put last season’s demoralizing loan spell at Bromley to enjoy a strong pre-season with Pompey. Picture: Malcolm Bryce/ProSportsImages

‘I wasn’t playing, I was away from home, away from my family. I had a lack of confidence and was questioning whether I was good enough to play at that level – or whether I wanted to play football at all.

‘The previous season I’d made my Football League debut, there were a couple of appearances in Pompey’s first-team, now I was at Bromley asking myself whether I was good enough.

‘When I first joined Bromley, I thought they were quite fond of me. Maybe the opinion of the manager (Andy Woodman) changed, but the whole situation was a bit of politics.

‘I arrived on the last day of the transfer window, with their regular wing-back suspended for three games. I would start one match the whole time I was there, some weeks I wouldn’t even be in the squad.

Haji Mnoga has made 15 first-team appearances for Pompey since making his debut as a 16-year-old in October 2018. Jason Brown/ProSportsImages

‘I didn’t feel valued, people weren’t thinking about me. I doubt they even really cared to be honest.

I had a lot of conversations with the manager. He would say “You are going to ask me how to get in the team, aren’t you” and then tell me he didn’t know.

‘I stuck at it for a long time, trying to do my best, trying to get the most out of it. I would come on and play the last 5-10 minutes of games, I felt I did well, then the following week I wouldn’t be in the squad.

It was a roller coaster, up and down. I was contemplating whether I even wanted to play football anymore, that was how bad I was feeling.

Haji Mnoga made his first League One start in November 2020, for the visit of Crewe to Fratton Park. Picture: Joe Pepler

‘I wasn’t playing games, I felt really low. It just wasn’t a good time. That’s why I give myself credit for turning it around at Weymouth.’

Danny Cowley had promised to find as many as 35 matches for the 2021-22 campaign.

Despite making his Pompey bow at the age of 16 in October 2018, the defensive prospect was short of first-team opportunities to aid his development.

There was a cameo outing for Bognor but, aged 19 last summer, his career progress craved a productive loan spell.

On the August 2021 transfer deadline day, Mnoga signed a new three-year Fratton Park deal – and was immediately loaned to Bromley until January.

He added: ‘People remember my tackle for Bromley in the FA Cup against Rotherham in November 2021. It was a bad one and I deserved to be sent off.

The 20-year-old, seen here against Leyton Orient in pre-season, has been praised for his ongoing development by Danny Cowley. Picture: Simon Roe/ProSportsImages

‘At the time I was down in the dumps. It would have been hard for me to climb out of where I was and then be able to play a 90-minute game of football and actually perform well.

‘I stayed in digs at Bromley and, to be fair, my host family were really nice. They’d had a lot of players come in over the years so understand how it gets. There were two players living there, both not playing, so we came home grumpy and they put their arms around us.

‘When football is going well, you don’t think about being away from home. It’s when it’s not going well that it’s the problem.

‘I am really close to my mum, I live with her in Portsmouth, just me and her, so missing that at the age of 20 can creep into it a little.

‘Bromley is 90 minutes away, so I ended up coming home all the time. I didn’t want to be there anymore. An hour-and-a-half is not the worst, you can commute.

‘There were times when I found out I wasn’t in the squad and drove home without watching the game, that’s the place I was in.

‘When you’re not enjoying football, you don’t really want to be around it the same way. It’s the same when you’re injured. You come into the training ground, watching everyone do what you want to do – but you can’t.

‘I never received any negative backlash from driving back after not being selected, the (Bromley) manager never spoke to me to ask “Why are you doing that?” or anything like that.

‘I don’t think he was bothered really. Some managers care, some managers don’t. I’m sure if he had a problem with it then he could have said something.

‘My actions are not something I regret because mentally I needed an escape from being around it, watching the games is not nice when you want to be playing.

‘It was the environment, I didn’t want to be there. The best thing for me was coming back to Pompey to train because I just didn’t want to be at Bromley.

‘During my time at Weymouth, there was one match when I wasn’t named in the squad. They wanted to have a look at other players whose contracts were coming up for renewal.

‘However, I instead went to watch with my missus and mates. I was enjoying the environment.

‘I did play a couple of under-23s games for Bromley and enjoyed them. The under-23 lads were good footballers and good people, the coaches were really nice as well.

Admittedly, that wasn’t the level I wanted to be playing at, but at least I was enjoying it. If anything, that was a bit of a highlight from when I was there.’

It would be a red card which marked Mnoga’s final appearance for Bromley.

Recalled to the side for the FA Cup first-round encounter at Rotherham, the loanee was handed his marching orders following an awful challenge on flying winger Chiedozie Ogbene, who had to be substituted as a consequence.

Warranting a three-match ban, Mnoga returned to Fratton Park to train – effectively signaling the end of his time at Bromley some two months early.

In January, he was instead loaned to National League rivals Weymouth, where he appeared as a first-team regular, regardless of relegation to National South.

With 19 appearances and three yellow cards, the youngster flourished, primarily at centre-half, as he transformed what had been a wretched season on a personal level.

He said: ‘The FA Cup game against Rotherham was an opportunity for me to impress, but I was playing without confidence.

‘It was a bad tackle to be fair and I was sent off. I never go into tackles intentionally to hurt anyone, it was mistimed, and after that all the ‘reckless’ comments came out. But it was probably the best thing for me at that time.

‘My loan wasn’t up, I wasn’t going to get sent back, but, while suspended, I returned to Pompey. I was back home, training with the first-team, everything just started to fall back into place again.

‘When Bromley were initially interested in me on loan, Weymouth were as well. They had been interested for a while – and thankfully still were.

That’s why football is about a bit of luck. After what happened at Bromley, Weymouth were the only club for me in January. I went there and Sean O’Driscoll was there as well, a familiar face, which helped.

‘I felt valued at Weymouth. I had two managers during my time there and both were quite fond of me, which was a bonus. They wanted to play me, they wanted me to do well – and I did that to be fair.

‘I managed to hit the ground running. My first training session was on Thursday, they don’t train on Fridays, and I was straight into the team against Southend on Saturday, playing at right-back.

‘I felt I had a good game and it just flowed from there. The fanbase were really good to me, I was in a driving school with Tyler Cordner and Ollie Harfield, who looked after me, with training in Wimborne, an hour away, so I stayed in Portsmouth and traveled in.

‘At Weymouth, I played a decent amount of games, barely got booked, and didn’t put any bad tackles in.

It was a season where I learned a lot. If anything like that happens again, now I know how to overcome it, so it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

‘Harry Kane had four loans at Spurs, not every one of those was a success, so it can happen to the top players. It’s all part of the journey.

‘Most of all, I turned my season around, so I can give myself a bit of credit. I could have kept moping around, just thinking I wasn’t good enough and performing badly – ​​but I put it behind me and showed that I could play at the National League level.

‘Just because someone doesn’t think you are better than what they’ve got, someone else somewhere probably does.’

Rejuvenated from his Weymouth loan spell, Mnoga has enjoyed a strong pre-season with Pompey.

Following Sean Raggett’s back problem and before Michael Morrison’s arrival, the youngster was promoted as a regular starter alongside Clark Robertson in the center of defense.

His performances drew praise from Danny Cowley, acknowledging giant strides made during last season’s contrasting loan experiences.

Now Mnoga must wait to discover what Pompey has planned for him in 2022-23.

He added: ‘I’ll be disappointed if I’m not going to play at Pompey this season.

‘But I would be more disappointed if I stayed around here, didn’t play, and wasn’t given the opportunity to go somewhere else for football.

‘My goal this season is to play games at the highest level I can. If it’s not here then maybe another team in the Football League. I wouldn’t mind the National League, but I’d like to go higher now I’ve been there.

‘I would be open to going on loan somewhere that wasn’t necessarily local, I believe I could get over it better than last time. That’s the whole point of football, you learn.

‘Growing up, you become more mature, you start taking the negative things out of your game, it’s about learning and gaining more experience both on and off the match.

‘My advice to young players would be to stick to it. No matter how hard it feels, now matter how far away you feel from getting into the team, stick to it. If you don’t you’ll keep moping around and won’t be ready to play because you won’t be doing well in training.

‘At Weymouth, I proved to myself and everyone that I am capable, with the Tanzanian call-up another opportunity. That’s why football is about luck.

‘You need confidence in yourself, you need opportunities, you need confidence in yourself and also maybe from a couple of people around you, such as the manager.

‘And I’m in a really good place with Pompey at the moment.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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Haji Mnoga in the thick of the action on his Pompey debut at the age of 16 in October 2018 at Crawley. Picture: Joe Pepler

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