There was a time in the Premier League, not so long ago, where the presence on the pitch of hard as nails box-to-box midfielders was a regular sight; we could even say mandatory. Roy Keane of Manchester United and Patrick Vieira of Arsenal were the most popular of them. A few years later, their role faded out, not only because of a global change in football strategy, but also because the breed seemed to be on the verge of extinction. Only a few players of that ilk are still making it to the top. Luckily for Newcastle they have just signed one.
Sissoko was born in 1989 and grew up as a Paris suburban kid, in what we can consider a rough area. He emerged quickly thanks to his footballing qualities and joined his local club, and former national glory, Red Star 93. He did not stay there for long. With the club in the lower leagues their youth development could not help nurture the qualities of the prodigious teenager, and at 13 he moved to Toulouse, where he quickly moved up the youth squads, always accompanying his local progression with games for the national squad of his age group.
Before the 2006/07 season started, aged only 16, he was included in the reserve team playing 4th tier league games. A few months into the season and he was offered his first professional contract. By the end of this term, he was promoted to a first team position and made his official debut in the opening fixture of the following season. He then enjoyed his first starting appearance a week later at home against Lyon before having a glimpse of Champion’s League football when playing in the qualifying round against Liverpool.
His qualities as a holding midfielder rapidly caught the eye of many keen observers: strength, pace, ball cover, passing accuracy - everything you need in the middle of your team line up to link perfectly the offensive block to the defensive one. 36 games played in his full first season, 40 in the following one, displaying constant progress both physically and mentally, turning the teenager into a man leading his troops to war on the field.
He gained his first two caps for France in the two World Cup 2010 qualifying round against Faroe Islands under Raymond Domenech in 2009. Following a 47 games season, he (luckily and) narrowly missed on a call for the squad that travelled to South Africa. He then suffered a period of relative stagnation with a club struggling to bring on new challenges, through European encounters. Two seasons during which he led the shaky Toulouse ship as best as he could.
And then came the 2012/13 season. A rebirth for him and his club with which he enjoyed a return to more regular performances setting the club in contention for European spots again. The new France coach, Didier Deschamps, did not miss Sissoko’s performances, picking him for the three world Cup qualifiers played this autumn, more than two years after his last cap.