In a globalized football world, there is no more room for dreamers. Thanks to the Football Manager gaming series, I knew Mamadou Sakho way before his debut. In the early 2000s while he was just a teenager learning the job within his local Paris SG academy, I was watching with admiration what was his future according to the data managers of these games. His prospects were brilliant and he always went on to be one of the best defenders in the world. That is the virtual world.
At first, in the real world, everything started as the fortune teller said. Born and raised in Paris, he signed for the local flagship team aged 12. There he would captain all the youth squads he played in, being more often than not playing in categories above his age. He would also be wearing the armband for the national U16, U17, U18, U19 and U21 teams. Most recruiters would agree that it is a pretty perfect resume so far...
Then, Mamadou turned 17. On his birthday in 2006, he earned his first start for the professional team in a Europa League encounter against AEK Athens. Less than a year later, he signed his first professional contract and collected the captain armband to become the youngest captain in the club history. The individual story goes on perfectly for a while: praised for his athletic abilities, his natural leadership and his strength, he never left the starting lineup bar days spent at the injury room.
In 2011, he completed his 4th full season within the club, collecting along the way a league cup and a French cup, and was awarded with the Ligue 1 Best Youth Player trophy. That season also saw him make his debut with Les Bleus, when he came in at half time for Philippe Mexes in a friendly game played in Wembley.
The dream was seemingly coming true. That was until January 2012 and the takeover of the club by Qatari investors. Big money spenders, they brought in many players to challenge every players already at the club. Alex was the first to drop his luggage there, shortly before Thiago Silva did the same. New coach Ancelotti liked it best with two Brazilians at the back, pushing Sakho towards the substitute bench for most of the season. Thanks to injuries he took part in 27 league games and fulfilled the dreams of his youth when he lifted the Ligue 1 trophy with the Paris shirt on his shoulders.
On the last fixture of the season he wore the goalkeeping jersey following the sending off of the one in place and after all three substitutions had been made. He conceded no goals in ten minutes but the initial penalty kick.
In the meantime, things were getting sour with the French squad too. Left out of the Euro 2012 by Laurent Blanc because he was not playing regularly with his club, he suffers of the same problem now with new national coach Didier Deschamps. To make things worse, his new club coach Blanc signed yet another Brazilian defender in the name of Marquinhos, making of Sakho a potential fourth choice for a place as a centre back.
The Qatari chairman recently said that he wanted Mamadou to stay at the club, but he is not fooling anybody here, as this looked exactly like the kind of thing you would say to raise the stakes a few days before the market closed.
It definitely makes me sad to see him leave the club but I have to agree that according to the current conditions, the time for a change is now and as I am convinced that he currently is the best centre back to play alongside Koscielny for France, he has to go and get some playing time abroad in order to convince the national coach that he is a first choice for the next World Cup.