Le50 2016: Issiaga Sylla – Gazélec Ajaccio
When a footballer, freshly arrived from abroad and still in his teenage years, impresses his coach so much that it inspires him to change his formation, he must be a little special. Issiaga Sylla has had a tough 18 months or so but, if he can continue to build on the potential he has already shown in his short career to date, he could grow into a full back of the highest quality.
Born in Guinea on New Year’s Day 1994, Sylla arrived in Toulouse aged only 18, as a Guinean national champion, having played one match for Horoya Conakry. By this time Sylla was already an unofficial international, having played an unratified friendly for Guinea against Venezuela as a 17-year-old (he eventually made his full debut against Senegal one month after his nineteenth birthday).
Sylla worked his way through the reserves at Toulouse for the majority of his first season, before coach Alain Casanova gave him his first full team appearance, naming him as a starter against Lille in May 2013. He started the match in his customary position at that time, on the left wing. The ability that Sylla had shown in training had convinced Casanova to change his formation from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2, seeing the youngster as someone with the profile to become an excellent wing back, gushing: “he is sound technically, with an excellent left foot, good in tight spaces and able to end long runs with a cross, he’s comfortable with the ball, he’s fit – and can go up and down the pitch all match – and he’s hardworking and altruistic”.
Sylla retained his place for the final three matches of the season, scoring against Sochaux in his third appearance. Then the following season he made the left sided position his own, featuring in 32 matches, 26 of which he started, and providing one assist and three goals – two of which were assisted by Serge Aurier, who said of Sylla: “right from the first training session I was impressed by his strength in one-on-one situations.” Another team mate, Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro, offered further compliments – and constructive criticism: “he’s everywhere – which is great because it means he can cover the mistakes of the rest of us! He’s a great team member. But he needs to work on his concentration”.
His 2013/14 season having so impressed watchers that there were rumours of interest from Bayern, last season should have been another of progress for Sylla, who was by now an established international. But things did not quite go to plan, as various changes unsettled him. He began the campaign in the team, but was moved around a little, sometimes asked to play on the right flank and then being benched a few times as Toulouse struggled. His trip to the African Cup of Nations provided some respite, as he featured in all of Guinea’s matches in their run to the quarter finals, but on his return to Toulouse he found that he had lost his place in the squad and when Alain Casanova was sacked weeks later, it became clear that he was not part of new coach Dominique Arribagé’s immediate plans.
Sylla therefore went on a one season loan to GFC Ajaccio and he has acquitted himself well this year in a struggling team. Playing as a more traditional left back (though also filling in at right back and at left wing), he has played 28 matches and consistently been one of the team’s higher ranked players. On the plus side he has three assists to his name – two excellent crosses from the left and one clever pass to set the team on a speedy counter-attack. On the minus side he has received two red cards, both of which cost the team vital points against relegation rivals. Intriguingly one was against parent club Toulouse, who went on to score an injury time equaliser; in the other season’s match against TFC, he scored an own goal – after having set up GFC’s opener.
With the attributes already mentioned, as well as his ability to ghost in at the far post to put away chances, Sylla has all the basics to succeed as a full back, particularly if he can improve his discipline and concentration. It is possible that both his parent and current club may find themselves in Ligue 2 next year. Sylla deserves to be in the top tier.