Mamadou Sakho – Problems of the past revisits French defender in Liverpool

A fan’s favourite – admittedly also a favourite of mine – Sakho “The Beast” is once again out of favour with a world class manager: Jürgen Klopp. The 26-year-old French defender has had a few problems like these with Paris Saint-Germain managers Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

Before Ancelotti became the French club’s manager in 2011, Mamadou Sakho was in indispensible player at the big French club based in his home town Paris. Ancelotti replaced Antoine Kombouare, and benched Sakho before eventually stripping him of the captaincy. A severe error made towards the end of the 2011 / 12 season saw Sakho coceding a penalty and being sent off in a crucial game against Olympique Lyonnais; a match PSG lost 1-2. Since that costly error, Sakho faced an uphill battle at the Parc des Princes and Laurent Blanc’s arrival sealed his fate.
As stated in an article written by Jonathan Johnson for ESPN FC’s Paris Saint-Germain blog and published online the 2nd of september 2013:

The heart and soul of PSG on and off the pitch, you only need to look at what a first title in 19 years meant to the player to know how committed he was to the capital club. Vocal in how he bleeds Rouge-et-Bleu, Sakho led the title celebrations that followed victory at Lyon back in May. He even got carried away in his own jubilation with the title win and was disciplined for anti-Marseille chanting as he finally got to savour the league success he and the club craved.”

After winning that Ligue 1 trophy in 2013, Carlo Ancelotti resigned to become the new manager of Real Madrid. Laurent Blanc was his replacement. A title winning season with Paris Saint-Germain would be Sakho’s last season in France, as he was sold to Liverpool for a fee of £18 million soon after Blanc’s arrival at Parc des Princes.

Not long after being signed by Liverpool, ESPN FC’s French football expert Jonathan Johnson remarked:

When on top of his game, the 23-year-old is unplayable and tailor-made for Premier League football. Brute-like strength, athleticism and aerial prowess are just some of his main strengths; he also reads the game well and is as strong on the ground as he is in the air, losing little mobility. However, despite those traits making Sakho a potential world-class defender, the Frenchman has some character flaws that were eventually too severe to overcome in Paris. His attitude, a lack of discipline including poor dieting habits and fractious relationships with certain members of staff, particularly in the early days, put his future at the club in jeopardy a long time ago. Many of his coaches were unhappy with his unprofessional demeanour, peaking with a nasty altercation with a journalist regarding his social habits, and PSG actually almost got rid of him as a teenager. However, at that time Sakho focused enough on his football to stay, although he arguably never embraced being a true professional.”

Mamadou Sakho was born in Paris (13 February 1990) and raised in the northern neighborhood of Goutte d’Or. This neighbourhood has been working class at least since the 19th century. Émile Zola set there the plot of his novel L’Assommoir, depicting the life of alcoholic workers. As of 2012, at least 35% of the residents of Goutte d’Or were of immigrant origin, including West African and Algerian, a figure unchanged from 2006. Today, a large part of the population is either foreign or of foreign descent. As of 2006 the INSEE estimated the proportion of foreign nationals at 34.6 per cent.

I have only ever been to Paris for a single day back in 2001. I was, as a matter of fact, on my way to Nigeria, West Africa, and was only meant to change from one passenger plane to another, but my plane was late. I had to spend a day in Paris, spend one night at a hotel close to Charles de Gaulle airport and then take a morning flight from Paris to Lagos the next day because of this. It was funny though. As it happened, at the Air France hotel connection, I got in touch with two Nigerians who also were put up there to wait for the moring flight, and we spent the afternoon and evening together in the northern neighbourhoods of Paris where a lot of Africans were to be met with all the time. One of these Nigerians was a professional footballer based in Portugal, the other Nigerian was a business man based in Germany. An agent or something and a good friend of the young attacking midfielder Sonny Rufai who had played for Panathinaikos and now played for Vitoria Setubal close to Lisbon, just like his senior brother Peter Rufai – a famous national team goalkeeper – had done before him. Both these Nigerian young men were interesting people and nice people, too. Honest and open, all smiles all the time.

As I returned to Norway a French citizen living in Oslo told me the neighbourhoods I had visited in Paris were known for high crime rates and big, serious difficulties for the locals living there as well as for the predominantly white people living in upper middle class areas of the French capital. I can easily imagine Goutte d’Or is a neighbourhood in a district known for organized crime and a French type of mafia social environment where one must be either very careful or very street wise.

Mamadou Sakho has time and again explained the reasons why he does s much communal work for the poor and very disadvantaged in Liverpool, just like he did as a professional Paris Saint-Germain player. He feels this is a thing he needs to do as a testament to his own troubled life as a little kid in an extremely rough area of a very large city in France. In all dignity as he himself has now become a rich young man with a sense of social responsibilty.

In a This Is Anfield column, Jack Lusby reflects on the latest Sakho news:

Ancelotti, Blanc and Klopp are all top-level managers, with considerable experience and, crucially, a ruthless edge that has made them so successful across Europe, and in this comes the ability to make tough decisions.

As [ESPN FC’s] Johnson recalls, Sakho experienced weight problems, concerns over his attitude and disagreements with coaches, which are all issues that have arisen during his time at Liverpool.
It was believed that Sakho played a role in the breakdown in the Liverpool dressing room under Brendan Rodgers for example, and it could be that he now faces another manager capable of putting his foot down. Perhaps Klopp’s reported intention is genuine, and a spell with a club such as Stoke City, Sunderland or West Bromwich Albion is designed to restore Sakho’s standing and allow him to see the errors of his ways.

According to Empire of The Kop columnist Jordan Chamberlain

Liverpool’s out of favour French defender Mamadou Sakho will leave to join Sunderland on loan [transfer deadline day, August 31, 2016], a source close to Empire of the Kop has explained. The same source has correctly provided us starting Xis this season (although we haven’t published them due to fans not appreciating leaks) and was spot on about Jon Flanagan moving to Burnley before it reached the newspapers… For this reason, we’re pretty confident he’s right this time, too.”

Let’s hope Sakho learns a lesson in life we as fans of the club have not been aware of might be anythng more than bad rumours and the well-known case of stories made up by biased English sports journalists with a favourite club readers know about; rival clubs of Liverpool Football Club.

As a social anthropologist by education, I have both conducted fieldwork / social research in South-Eastern Nigeria, both getting to know the wealthy and the poor people living there. Since all my university studies were over and done with in June 1999, I have lived amongst very poor people in reasonably big and rather small cities and towns in South-Eastern Nigeria time and again. I know how things can be like for poor people in Africa, and I certainly also know what poor life in Europe is like, both in England, Belgium, France, Portugal and Norway. One shall have to understand that growing up in rough areas of big cities and town in Africa as well as in Western Europe certainly has an impact on a young boy’s development as a person, and this impact tend to stick with us until we turn forty years of age. All these personal experiances made in adolesence and as a youth are for better and worse. Yes. For better and worse.
But if you are so lucky to become a very talented person in a very popular activity amongst young people and in fact also become a big star in a big entertainment busness of a high standing in the society you live in and the culture you reside in – like in Liverpool and Merseyside (or should I say England) – you shall also have to know how to behave in an environment of big stars like yourself, and also in terms of your relationship to people who you had better respect and also to this very big business venture – a football club like Paris Saint-Germain or Liverpool F.C. – who actually pay your wages for doing a good job for them. If you do not know how to behave in an environment such as this, you certainly will have your career at a club like Liverpool F.C. cut short – if only the manager and the owners find your behaviour out of order on too much of a regular basis.

In Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp’s own words, as revealed in an interview with Lynsey Hipgrave a few weeks ago, leadership to him is about many things, but “discipline is very important, very important, but discipline is relative, especially when you work together with young players.” Klopp then adds: “Leadership to me is give the right advice in the right moment, that’s all.”  

As it turns out in the end, Mamadou Sakho has decided to stay put in Liverpool. Klopp adviced him to leave town in order to get game time and also to prove he wants to be a Liverpool player. Sakho refused to do so, rejecting loan offers from Stoke City and Besiktas. If he did so Mamadou Sakho might be made to think about how lucky he is, being a Liverpool player.

The question is: Is Sakho defying orders or is he genuinely trying to make amends by staying put? And would that be a very wise idea? I believe Mamadou Sakho in effect leaves Jürgen Klopp with no other option than selling him off to another club in January or May 2017. Mamadou Sakho may not realize that Klopp is sincere, that he is stubborn and that he can’t handle players with a lack of respect for the game. It looks as if Sakho is unable to learn simple lessons. Would any big club with a world class manager ever come to really like a guy like that? I don’t think so.

Written by @magneleokarlsen

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