The transfer window train is rapidly speeding up and the next young French player to leave these shores looks set to be Paris Saint-Germain’s man mountain, Mamadou Sakho. With his place seemingly taken at his boyhood club, and France national team coach Didier Deschamps putting pressure on the 23-year-old to play regular games with the upcoming World Cup potentially on the horizon, the time has come for Sakho to move on. Liverpool is his next destination.
One of the greatest potential talents in recent French football history, Sakho is no longer just a prospect and has the attributes of a legendary central defender (not least because of the comparisons with Lilian Thuram). Now is the time that he showed the world what he is capable off. The skills he possesses arguably make him perfect for the English Premier League and there is no doubt that Liverpool, despite paying a reported fee in the region of £15-20 million – depending on who you believe – for a wonderful centre-back and someone who can help Brendan Rodgers’ team grow in stature over the coming years.
It was back in the 2010-11 season that Sakho came of age, and was an absolute rock in the heart of an unexpectedly strong PSG defence, narrowly missing out on the Young Player of the Year award to title-winning Lille’s Eden Hazard. His performances led to him being given the armband by then-coach Antoine Kombouaré, despite only being 21 at the time, shortly before the arrival of Qatar Sports investments in the french capital. His experience belies his 23 years of age though, already having three full campaigns under his belt. Few players are better in the air than Sakho and he is as powerful as he is quick on the ground, tailor-made for the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.
Raised by the club’s sometimes sieve-like youth academy since 2002, ‘Kirikou’ has gone on to become one of the club’s best recent graduates, and to the PSG faithful he is the identity of the club and embodiment of its spirit and progress on the pitch. Strong, athletic and vastly intelligent with great reading of the game, his considerable height and aerial ability makes him a formidable opponent, at times akin to a brick wall. It’s just a shame that Laurent Blanc and QSI don’t seem to totally agree with their customers.
There is also a feeling in Paris though that Sakho’s potential remains unfulfilled. Two years ago, he was being touted as a possible future France captain and perhaps the most legendary of all of les Bleus’ celebrated stoppers. However, he has not really moved on since then. Sections of the PSG support believe that the club and its supporters’ reluctance to openly criticise the home grown star has contributed to his stunted growth.
The 2011-12 season didn’t go very well for the centre-back. PSG lost a league title that they arguably should have won to Montpellier, and the player suffered a series of injuries that saw him lose his place in the side. The new money in Paris heralded an influx of new players to challenge for Sakho’s spot, something that would only get worse for the Frenchman.
Brazilians’ Alex, Marquinhos and Thiago Silva have since joined the club, and every time Sakho has had to watch from the stands and then fight for his place. There have been no major mistakes made, no disgruntled moaning about playing time. This is a boy who wants to play for his team and is hurt by not being able to represent the club that he loves, but it seems like his face just doesn’t fit anymore. On paper the partnership of Thiago Silva and Sakho looks mouth-watering, and when they’ve had a chance to play together there is nothing that has proved otherwise.
If this was not the season before a potential World Cup appearance then it is possible that the big Frenchman would have stayed to fight for his place, bleeding bleu et rouge for his team and winning the position that he is the heir to. But Deschamps has made it clear to Sakho that he has to play to get into his future squads. If he wants to have any chance of being on the plane to Brazil next summer, he needs to be playing games and he needs to be playing them now.
For Liverpool this is a great move, they are getting a superb defender. If he can adapt to the British game then he is potentially better than both Daniel Agger and Martin Skrtel. In a few years’ time, when Steven Gerrard has hung up his boots, there is a strong chance that the new Liverpool captain could be the Parisian-born monster.
If that were to happen, it would be hard for any French manager to not make that call.