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FEATURE | Ibrahim Sangaré – the talent that the Premier League missed this summer

Toulouse are not widely regarded as an entertaining team that should attract the attention of neutrals. Yet, the number of neutrals tuning in to watch them play every week has been on the rise for a while. The latest reason is hard to miss. What happens when you hear about a 1.91m midfielder who is as good at tackling as he is at dribbling? You watch Toulouse play so you can see for yourself.

Ibrahim Sangaré is that guy, the man many have been comparing to Yaya Touré since he joined Toulouse as an 18-year old, three years ago. He arrived from Association Sportive Denguélé in his country, Côte d’Ivoire, and it did not take long for him to show everyone why the comparison to Yaya made so much sense.

2017/18 was the season when it became clear that Toulouse had a big talent on their hands. Sangaré helped them avoid relegation with a monster showing in his first full season with the first team. That season, he made 3.6 tackles per game, the fourth highest in the league, while completing a remarkable 81% of his dribbles at a 1.5 per game volume – the 3rd best dribble success rate of the best 50 volume dribblers in the league, behind only Youssef Ait Bennasser (86% at 1.6 volume) and Marco Verratti (82% at 1.9 volume). A star wasn’t born. No. A star had knocked down the door and walked in.

What stood out about Ibrahim that season was his towering presence in the middle for a Toulouse side that had to play in the relegation play-offs against AC Ajaccio to remain in Ligue 1. In most of their games, they had to endure wave after wave of opposition attacks. Without Ibrahim’s excellent ball-winning, things would have been a lot worse.

He was thrown right into the thick of things and he stood out, impressing with his interception skills, dribbling and ability to launch counter-attacks through his long-range passing and ball-carrying. With him in the side (20 games), they won 1.2 points per game, conceded less and scored more. With him out of the side (18 games), they won just 0.8 points per game, conceded more and scored less. Only two players in the team created more big chances than him, despite the fact he missed 18 games & played right in front of the defence in many games. It was not hard to see that he had become one of the best and most important players in Mickaël Debève’s team – a man with minimal top flight experience who took over from Pascal Dupraz who got fired in January 2018.

There aren’t many players in football that can boast the combination of size and skill-set that Ibrahim Sangaré possesses. Finding a unicorn might be easier. He can operate as a box-to-box midfielder and as a defensive midfielder, as part of a double pivot or in a midfielder three. Alain Casanova, who returned to the club as manager in the summer of 2018, has spoken of his admiration for Sangaré in the past.

He considers the 21-year old as one of the greatest ever talents that he has worked with and believes he is as complete as they come, even though there is still room for improvement – especially tactically. In truth, Sangaré is still raw and has some important things to improve upon. As with many dribblers, he has a tendency to run into a crowd of two or three players – perhaps due to a certain swagger and self-confidence that he’s developed through a belief that he can get past any opposition player or at worst use his size to keep the ball.

Most times, it works because he is just that good. However, at other times, it can put his team in trouble. His decision-making in advanced positions is sometimes questionable, as well as his movement off the ball which still needs improvement. His passing is also not good enough yet – especially his distribution in the final third when he makes his trademark bursts forward. A player in his position needs to be a reliable passer to become one of the best. Of course, the fact that he plays for a Toulouse side that are often on the backfoot does not help. Also, he has shown a willingness to play risky passes in order to open things up.

In tight/central areas, Sangaré is very reliable and is not easily dispossessed. He knows how to play line-breaking passes as well as long balls that lead to the creation of scoring opportunities. In 1v1 situations against opposition players, Sangaré excels. He is also very mobile, covering the entire length and breadth of the midfield block.

You will often find him helping out his full-backs to create 2 v 1 situations against opposition wingers or covering for them when they burst forward and leave gaps behind. He pulls all these subtleties off while simultaneously taking care of danger in the centre of the field. In this regard, perhaps his greatest attribute is his intelligence, which can easily be overlooked because of his other more obvious attributes.

Ibrahim Sangaré is a high-octane midfielder who combines a unique set of qualities that are too peculiar to ignore. Rumours of interest from some of Europe’s top clubs have been in the air for over a year, and have come as no surprise. With clubs always checking La Ligue Des Talents for the world’s next set of superstars, Sangaré is set to be one of the hottest on the heat map.

A.C.

 

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