At a packed Anfield, with the home fans chanting as one and baying for blood, the nerves of even the most audacious of visiting players could quickly fray – just ask maybe the greatest to ever do it, Lionel Messi.
It is, however, a thought that Enock Mwepu would laugh at (oh, and he loves to laugh!).
The only time he played away at Liverpool, in the colours of Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of October 2021, Mwepu scored a goal that required all the nerve a player could summon – and then some – to pull off.
It was, viewed from any angle, a thing of rare beauty.
His team had gone down 2-0 within the first half-hour, and only a VAR review – highlighting a handball to rule out a Sadio Mane goal – spared Graham Potter’s side from going into recess under a heavier deficit.
The only respite they had, even as Liverpool threatened to wrap up the result before Mike Dean ushered the teams off the pitch for a break Brighton desperately needed, came from the boot of Mwepu – and in some style.
Picking up a tidy cut-back by teammate Solly March around the edge of the Liverpool box, Mwepu scooped the ball over the home defence and past a back-pedalling Alisson Becker to halve the deficit.
Anfield, not easily impressed by opposing players, gasped; only a considerable measure of self-restraint could have stopped them from doing more in reacting to this peach of a strike.
It left Brighton buoyed and Potter’s half-time team-talk spiced.
Brighton would salvage a draw in the second half, courtesy of a Leandro Trossard equaliser, securing another memorable result in a season that would see them record the highest-ever placement in their Premier League history.
Later in the season, Mwepu would score another – of a different kind, but no less spectacular – when the Seagulls visited the capital to face Arsenal, drilling low a volley to give a well-worked move the climax it deserved.
That goal – which could be justifiably filed under both ‘brilliant team efforts’ and ‘solo stunners’ categories – was ranked Brighton’s third-best of 2021/22; that against Liverpool topped the chart.
Mwepu signed off on that debut season in England with three goals and six assists in 22 games across all competitions, making a very good first impression and raring to do even more in his sophomore campaign.
Brighton started the new season brilliantly, fetching four victories and a draw from their first six league games, but it took Mwepu a while to get going on a personal level.
His first start only came five matches in, an away loss to top-flight returnees Fulham, but his next was a lot more memorable, as a sorry Leicester were thumped 5-2 (more on that later).
The following game – due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, an industrial strike action, and an international break – was another trip to Anfield, and, surely, Mwepu must have relished the prospect.
What he – and we – didn’t know at the time was that Mwepu wouldn’t kick a ball again – not just against Liverpool – following the diagnosis of a hereditary heart disease whose symptoms came up en route to reporting for national team duty.
The news has certainly broken hearts – especially of those in Mwepu’s inner circle – and few would feel the blow more intensely than Patson Daka, his long-time friend and fellow footballer.
Teammates at Kafue Celtic back in their native Zambia, before moving to Austria to play for Red Bull Salzburg and its feeder club Liefering, Daka and Mwepu have had their stories intertwined for as long as each could remember.
Summer transfers to separate destinations in England last year split them physically, but the brotherly bond they share – forged through faith and football, joys and sorrows, thick and thin – remains intact, strong as ever despite the distance between them.
It’s only fitting, then, that on what would turn out to be Mwepu’s last day at work as a professional footballer, he shared the pitch with Daka, albeit versus each other.
And if it’s any extra consolation, both made significant direct attacking contributions for their teams, with Daka setting up Leicester’s first goal and scoring the second either side of Mwepu assisting Moises Caicedo to open eventual winners Brighton’s account.
Yet, while Brighton would certainly miss a much-loved player, one that new head coach Roberto De Zerbi was particularly hopeful of working with, the greatest loss is really Mwepu’s country’s.
By the time this tragedy struck, Mwepu was still some way off establishing himself as an integral part of the setup at Brighton; in any case, the club’s smart, proactive recruitment team probably has a replacement lined-up already.
It’s a luxury that Zambia, for whom Mwepu had been a central figure and captain, don’t have.
A decade after winning a maiden Africa Cup of Nations title, the Chipolopolo seek to return to more successful times, having lost their way a bit in the intervening period.
The generation entrusted with that responsibility is a youthful and exciting one, featuring Mwepu, Daka, and Rangers star Fashion Sakala. That task of getting the southern African nation back to the top of the continental game is still achievable without Mwepu, but it would be a lot harder.
Ultimately, though, walking away from all that is in the young man’s best interests. Choosing to play on would simply have been foolhardy and reckless, potentially exacerbating a predicament that doctors say could yet get worse.
He still has a future in football, Mwepu has already confirmed, in a yet-to-be-determined capacity.
At 24, he has many, many years to explore whatever options – from the wide range available to him – there may be. Armed with a remarkably positive outlook on life and a footballing brain that earned him the nickname ‘The Computer’, Mwepu has all he needs to navigate what lies ahead.
This – Mwepu, with one of his big smiles, would tell you – is no shutdown at all.