SPEAK to any Huddersfield Town supporter and few would argue with the suggestion that when it comes to defending, Terence Kongolo floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
The 24-year-old may not talk the talk of his all-time sporting hero – the late and supremely great Muhammad Ali – but he has walked the walk at the John Smith’s Stadium since joining Town, initially on loan, ahead of a club record £17.5m permanent move in the summer.
A man-mountain of a defender described by head coach David Wagner as a ‘warrior’, Kongolo does his talking on the pitch by deeds, not words.
It will not be lost upon many of a Town persuasion that the club secured their first victory of the season, alongside a clean sheet, in Monday night’s priceless 1-0 triumph against Fulham, with the Dutch international back in the starting line-up after being sidelined since the end of September with a hamstring problem.
Kongolo himself is not one to indulge in personal praise. Doing his job as a footballer is good enough, a job that is 24-7.
Should extra motivation ever be required, it is there in the form of one such documentary about his great hero Ali which he holds in high esteem.
The When We Were Kings documentary, telling the story of perhaps the most famous heavyweight fight in history – the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and George Foreman in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa in October 1974 – strikes a personal chord with Kongolo and one part will always resonate throughout his professional career.
Kongolo told The Yorkshire Post: “I have been watching the same documentary for four or five years.
“I saw the stuff about the Rumble in the Jungle fight in When We Are Kings. That fight was in my country, in Congo.
“One sentence Ali said was that the training starts when you are tired. That stays in my head, as a lot of things that he says also do.
One sentence Ali said was that the training starts when you are tired. That stays in my head, as a lot of things that he says also do.Terence Kongolo
“I think he is the number one sportsman in the world and I think you can get a lot of inspiration for your work out on the pitch, and off it, from Ali.”
Ali may have also famously said that it is hard to be humble when ‘you are as great as I am’, but Kongolo is rather more self-effacing with no promises to ‘handcuff lightning’ or ‘wrestle with alligators’ either.
He leaves it to others to bark out the orders in the Town rearguard, although the impression remains that on those rare occasions that Kongolo chooses to talk, others instantly listen.
Kongolo, hoping to play his part in Town crowning a memorable week at home against West Ham today as Wagner’s men seek to record back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since the end of February, added: “The defenders here are really good players and we have now played for eight months together and we know each other better and you can see that on the pitch.
“We communicate much better. (Christopher) Schindler and Jonas (Lossl) talk a lot. Zanka is silent, but very powerful. Chris Lowe speaks also, while I keep quiet. When I talk, I have to talk.”
A lion-hearted defender on the pitch, Kongolo is the consummate professional off it.
As someone who likes nothing better than quiet downtime with friends and family in his relaxation away from work, he is also studious when it comes to his craft, and self-critical too in his pursuit of perfection.
The ex-Monaco player is the first to admit he is by no means the finished article, but most in the know expect him to do something about that in the years ahead in his own quiet way.
Kongolo candidly added: “I am not yet on my level and can do better. I have to show more things.
“I am really critical and know that I can do better. Now I make small steps, but my goal is to make big ones this season.
“I was struggling with myself in the last ten minutes (against Fulham). I felt tired after the game, but I was also happy with the clean sheet. It gives us a lot of confidence for the next match.”
As for his understated demeanour off the pitch, he continued: “I am a quiet person and really shy and I like to be with my friends and family. On the pitch, I am a different person.
“That is good as you have to switch. When you are on the pitch, it is your work.
“On the pitch, I am a soldier. But off it, I am an easy guy with my family.”
Back on deck with Town, Kongolo also has one eye on kick-starting his international career again with the Netherlands – with his last of four senior caps arriving in May when he featured in a friendly against Slovakia in Trnava.
On that count, there is hope for the versatile defender, capable of playing as a left-sided defender in a back three or four.
Kongolo is well known to Oranje manager Ronald Koeman, who handed him his Eredivisie debut when he was at the Feyenoord helm in August 2012 and is hoping to propel himself firmly back into contention for the Dutch in the weeks and months ahead.
Kongolo, who moved to the Netherlands at the age of four, added: “That is my next goal this season. First, I have to improve myself at Huddersfield and then if the coach wants to take me in the squad, it is on him.
“I have been injured, so I understand why he (currently) takes other players as I have to prove myself and have to also be fit first.
“But the most important thing at the moment is to be fit and get some points with Huddersfield Town.
“But in my time with the national team, I have learned from training with big players like (Wesley) Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Robin van Persie.
“They are big players with a great career and you can learn from these kind of players.”