Finally one of the longest running transfer sagas in Ligue 1 history is over. Yesterday Modibo Maiga completed a £4.7 million move from Sochaux to West Ham United; at last the Malian international has completed his dream move to the English Premier League and finally forced his move away from France.
Speaking to the press last August he made his intentions know:
“I want the deal to be done with Newcastle. I met everyone there, they want me and it’s not just any club. To play in England is a dream. I want to leave and the president must agree to negotiate. I do not want to leave Sochaux on bad terms.”
This is the second time the Malian has completed a medical in London, the first one blocked his move to Newcastle in January, a problem with his knees stopping Alan Pardew adding Maiga to his squad. Interesting that this new medical has gone through without a hitch.
There is no doubt that Maiga is supremely talented on the pitch, but it is when things don’t go his way that trouble starts, and trouble starts quite a bit around Maiga. In his last season at Sochaux he twice went AWOL and completely undermined the leadership of coach Mehmet Bazdarevic; questions were asked over the coach’s strength when he allowed Maiga instantly back into the squad, showing just how much influence the forward had. Although Maiga was obviously causing disruption in looking to force a move, Bazdarevic would always include him in the first team.
Maiga spent two seasons in Sochaux after making his Ligue 1 debut for Le Mans. Starting as a powerful winger, it was the previous Sochaux coach Francis Gillot who moved Maiga more central and teamed him up with Nigerian striker Ideye Brown to devastating effect. With the deadly African duo upfront causing defences problems, behind them was French international Marvin Martin, and together the trio would combine for 33 goals and 27 assists. Maiga and Brown would score 15 each and Martin provided 19 assists, most of which aided one of the two frontmen.
While at Le Mans, Maiga had shown an excellent turn of pace, which, combined with a strong physique, made him a handful for smaller full-backs. When Gillot moved him inside it didn’t stop his development. His physique proved powerful enough to deal with anything the Ligue 1 defences could throw at him. He also seems to thrive on the big occasions; in fact his last goal for Sochaux came in the intimidating atmosphere of the Parc des Princes as Sochaux gave PSG a quick scare before they went on to beat Les Lionceaux 6-1.
His sense of positioning is really impressive and his 6 foot 2 frame makes him a real threat in the air; he doesn’t tower over defenders but his runs can be perfectly timed and he is always willing to provide the headed finish. His instincts often lead to a run to the back post and, once free of defenders, he usually finds the back of the net.
Impressive in the air, but also adept on the ground; he can hold the ball up or burst away from a defender before calmly applying the finish in a one-on-one situation, and when facing a goalkeeper he is always cool and more importantly very deadly. At only 24 he is definitely at the moment in his life where his career will be made, or indeed, finished. With 22 goals in 88 games for Le Mans and then 24 in 59 for Sochaux, you can see the progression that he has taken over the last four years. The question still seems to be “what if?” Even after this season’s turmoil he still managed 9 goals in 24 appearances, and this for a team that flirted with relegation for most of the season.
In Maiga’s first season Sochaux finished the season in a completely unexpected 5th place and qualified for the Europa League preliminary rounds. However the new season would start with a sour taste for the striker, as Ideye Brown was sold to Dynamo Kyiv and coach Gillot moved to Bordeaux. Maiga expressed his interest in moving, but with one star striker gone Sporting Director Alexandre Lacombe wasn’t keen to see his other forward leave the Stade Auguste-Bonal.
After an excellent 2-2 draw away at Marseille to start the season Sochaux would face Caen at home, and with only hours to go before the game Maiga announced he would not be part of the playing squad, leaving new coach Bazdarevic with only six substitutes to pick from. Caen would win the game 2-1. He would then miss the 1st leg of the Europa League play-off away against Metalist Kharkiv and the league trip to Nancy (a wonderful 0-0 draw in the play-off was followed up by a 2-1 win in the league). Maiga then decided he had better play, with only a week left in the transfer window. It was a disaster. Sochaux lost 4-0 at home to Metalist and dropped out of the Europa League. He also started in the win at home to Saint-Etienne and a 1-1 draw away at Lorient, but then things turned sour for a second time.
Maiga again went AWOL from training and this time Coach Bazdarevic seemed to punish him; instead of travelling north to take on Champions Lille, Maiga would play for Sochaux II in the fourth division. Perhaps the two goals in 13 minutes that Maiga scored against Amnéville didn’t quite have the effect Bazdarevic had hoped. While he was scoring goals his teammates fought majestically in Lille and came away with a well-deserved point as the game finished 2-2. Confidence must have been high; the players showed great spirit and took a point off the French champions. One has to wonder what goes through the minds of some players when a disruptive colleague is then brought straight back into the first team as if nothing had happened. In Sochaux’s next game they lost 6-2 to Rennes. Maiga started upfront.
Off the pitch it seems the player has his problems, but with his dream move to the Premier League realised, hopefully this will keep Maiga’s concentration and there will be no more leaves of absence. After his second protest he would go on to score nine more goals for Sochaux, so the talent is undoubtedly there. For everyone concerned, including new club West Ham United, let’s hope he does his talking on the pitch rather than everyone talking about him off it.