Meet Souleymane Coulibaly, Tottenham Hotspur's New Baby Drogba
Having scored a goal every 40 minutes at the U-17 World Cup, Ivory Coast sensation Souleymane Coulibaly could be the new Didier Drogba. Tottenham Hotspur who have just snapped him up certainly hope so.
Denmark’s group match with Ivory Coast at the ongoing U-17 World Cup in Mexico was meant to be all about Ajax’s latest signing Viktor Fischer. And while the cultivated Danish forward did not disappoint, it was a raw 16-year-old opponent by the name of Souleymane Coulibaly who stole the show, scoring all his side’s goals in a 4-2 win and inevitably attracting the attention of Real Madrid.
A virtual unknown going into that match, Coulibaly followed up with an even better hat-trick against Brazil and departed Mexico having scored nine goals in four games, equalling the tournament record set by Florent Sinama Pongolle in 2001. Now one of the hottest teenage properties in world football, the Siena-based Ivorian has Real Madrid trailing his signature, though his Italian club are determined to hang on to him.
It’s not hard to see why. Nicknamed Solo, the stocky Coulibaly has brute physical power to go with his pace and exquisite touch. His upper body strength, combined with a low centre of gravity, two-footedness and a willingness to take opponents on, made him a handful for every defence he came across in Mexico, even if his decision-making occasionally let him down, a common failing among his peers also. As adept at hanging off the last defender as he is at finding space in the box, Coulibaly presents as much of a threat from 30 yards out as he does from six.
The inevitable comparisons with Didier Drogba have already been made, and they’re comparisons he’s happy to accept: “Ever since I was a kid my idol’s been Didier,” he told French mag So Foot. “I’m not as big as him but if I can carry on working hard, then I think I can achieve a third of what he has, which would be great.”
Yet, with his more compact stature and elusive running on the ball, the dextrous youngster is perhaps more of a cross between Wayne Rooney and Arsenal target and compatriot Gervinho, capable of playing the lone spearhead or dropping out wide to harry unsuspecting full-backs.
So good were his performances in Mexico that Ivory Coast coach Alain Gouamene was compelled to dampen expectations of him on a daily basis. “He just a kid from the slums and if my team doesn’t play well then neither does he,” he said after Coulibaly’s recital against Brazil, which ended with him receiving a standing ovation from the Guadalajara crowd.
That poverty-stricken background sets his goal-scoring feats into even sharper focus, Coulibaly seizing his opportunity to impress on the world stage after only being called into the Ivory Coast squad in May. Absent from the African qualifying competition in January, the Ivorian prospect came to Gouamene’s attention after starring in Siena’s youth set-up over the previous two seasons.
With Mourinho having now assumed control of all areas at Madrid, a move to the Bernabeu may prove irresistible as well as cheap
The God-fearing striker, who doesn’t turn 17 until Boxing Day, arrived in the Italian city in early 2009 to join his father, who is married to an Italian national. His first port of call was an amateur team in nearby Arezzo, where he started out as a central defender. Switched to a striking role in Siena’s U-16 team, he scored 19 goals in 16 games in the national league to earn promotion to the club’s U-20 side in January this year, scoring just the once in ten appearances but doing enough to earn a slot at Gouamene’s pre-Mexico training get-together. With the journey has come belief, as he told So Foot: “I didn’t have faith in myself to begin with and I didn’t know I was this strong.”
Currently taking a well-earned break, Coulibaly has yet to decide whether to remain with the Tuscan outfit or pack his bags for Spain. With Mourinho having now assumed control of all areas at Madrid, a move to the Bernabeu may prove irresistible as well as cheap: Coulibaly has yet to sign professional forms with Siena, which means Madrid would only need to stump up training compensation.
According to Giorgio Perinetti, the Italian club’s Director of Football, the player’s parents have given him their word that he will be going nowhere. “Real Madrid are interested but we don’t want to lose him,” he told Spanish daily AS. “When he comes back from the World Cup we’ll give him a new contract, though I can’t say for certain that he’ll stay with us. We’ve got an agreement with his parents but in football words count for little sometimes.”
Siena, who have just returned to Serie A, are also set to offer the player the incentive of a first-team place for the season ahead. Though Coulibaly is likely to be involved in a relegation battle should he stay, continuity is what he needs at this delicate stage of his career, for all the talk in Madrid of Mourinho building a youth dynasty to challenge Barcelona’s.
“Hearing that Jose Mourinho wants you is like being in Disneyland when you’re six. It’s like living in dreamland,” a star-struck Coulibaly told Sky Sports Italia on his return from Mexico. “I want to play at the highest level but right now I belong to Siena.”
If he pays any heed to the cautionary tales of Nii Lamptey and other shooting stars to flicker at the U-17 World Cup and then fade from view, Siena is where he should stay, for the next couple of seasons at least. Whether Coulibaly Sr sees it that way is a different matter.
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