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FEATURE | Djibril Sidibé arrives on Merseyside in search of redemption

It is hard to find a journey more fluctuating in form and fortune than Djibril Sidibé’s wavering route to Goodison Park.

A domestic title triumph and a prestigious World Cup honour for a 27-year-old player making the much-lauded move from Ligue 1 to the Premier League would undoubtedly paint a false picture for observers who have not followed Sidibé’s with scrutiny over the past two seasons.

On Thursday evening, Everton confirmed the signing of the French right-back on a season-loan deal with an option to buy for €14m, and excluding the overly hectic summer window at Goodison Park, the signing felt distinctly low-key.

Sidibé, who began his career with his hometown club Troyes before four years at Lille, makes the move on the back of a chastening injury-disrupted campaign with a turbulent AS Monaco side who, at numerous stages throughout last season, appeared clear relegation fodder, finishing just one place above the relegation zone.

The French international’s form was made accountable to such a degree during 2018/19 that he was labelled by many pundits as one of the worst performers in Ligue 1 – a notion endorsed by the remarkable stat listing Sidibé at having lost possession 480 times last season, at least 126 times more than any other Monaco player.

That he may now be labelled as a player who has left his best days behind him can be traced to an ill-fated moment in April 2018 when a meniscus injury struck the hitherto burgeoning French star – who had indeed been integral to Monaco’s title win the previous season – during a defeat to PSG, all but curtailing any hopes of a starring role for his country at Russia 2018.

Fortunately for Sidibé, the full-back was able to belatedly recover and make a solitary appearance at the tournament, accordingly collecting a World Cup winners medal. Yet the dawning reality for the player was that he had not only lost his established place as Didier Deschamps’ preferred right-back – having appeared in all 10 of France’s tournament qualifiers – but that he was undergoing the unfavourable metamorphosis into a markedly confidence-stricken and error-prone player.

Such a downturn is a far cry from the heights reached in his maiden season on the French Riviera following his 2016 move from Lille, on the eve of his first international call-up. Sidibé had the option of a move to Arsenal but chose to depart instead to the Stade Louis II for guaranteed playing time and subsequently played an intrinsic part in Monaco’s glorious title victory, the Principality club culminating a dominant campaign by finishing eight points superior to PSG under the now-returned Leonardo Jardim.

Sidibé’s contribution to Monaco’s title honour cannot be understated, not least for the two goals and five league assists, which added to the further one of each in the Champions’ League run as Monaco reached the semi-finals. His self-assurance and effervescent offensive movement from full-back earned him recognition in the UNFP Ligue 1 Team of 2016/17, only adding to Monaco’s collective sense of prodigious fearlessness, an essential factor in their title triumph. He was an integral element amongst an assortment of precocious youngsters, not fully fledged but strategically utilised by a tactically astute manager and prudently assembled by low-risk investment with maximum sell-on value potential.

Sidibé remains a valued player despite the previous inadequate season, respected for his versatility and athleticism that in theory makes him a suitable fit for the Premier League: a strong carrier of the ball in possession, a dynamic presence in offering progressive options forward from the defensive into the attacking third while he boasts a height advantage that only adds to his fibrous physical style – one that can also prove his downfall as he is often overly rash in the tackle. Indeed, this tendency for overzealousness and positional negligence only became more frequent last season as errors and cheap fouls increased in Sidibé’s game.

The move to Merseyside should surely benefit both clubs and player, a fresh start away from the tumultuous environment that had festered at Monaco last season. The hampering knee problem may be an issue that needs to be continuously managed and Sidibé will be conscious that he arrives at the Toffees as the secondary right-back option. However, the combination of his wide array of physical and footballing attributes, and the requisite application of the desired attitude could eventually push Seamus Coleman – who is four years Sidibé’s senior – for a starting berth.

H.W.

 

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