FEATURE | Sékou Mara to Southampton: What to Expect

There hasn’t been a great deal worth salvaging from the wreckage of Bordeaux’s 2021/22 Ligue 1 campaign. Les Girondins were mired in turmoil on and off the pitch, shipping 91 goals and finishing rock bottom, while also seeing their financial situation take a nosedive, to the point that their very existence has been under threat.

One shining light has been young striker Sékou Mara, who constantly embodied a much-needed spark off the bench to put to shame the seasoned pros in the team with his dedication and toil. Although his breakthrough season would ultimately do little in changing the fortunes of his formative club, the French youth international has at least announced himself to Ligue 1 and beyond.

The 19-year-old’s disarming poise and seemingly innate ability to draw fouls have seen him stand as a searing contrast to the team’s transient cast of languid, undependable forwards. Mara chipped in with just six of Les Girondins’ fifty-two goals, but his impact across the attacking half of the pitch has made him a breath of fresh air as his playing time increased in the spring.

His eye for a threaded pass, especially in the heat of a counter-attack, made him a valuable asset in a Bordeaux side whose matches were played at a frantic pace. Although he typically drifts out to the right-hand side, he’s equally as adept on the opposite wing and through the middle. His defensive contributions, albeit in vain more often than not, showed a level of commitment almost unmatched among his teammates.

He scored the winner against Rennes on his first professional start during the previous season, a 1-0 win which proved vital in helping the club stay up by the skin of their teeth. The tumultuous behind-the-scenes action meant that it took time for Mara to truly kick on from that performance, but his moment finally came this year as he effectively took charge of a sinking ship. He notably grabbed the consolation goal in a 6-1 drubbing by Lyon before scoring a double on the final day of the season against Brest in what was Bordeaux’s second league win post-January. The Frenchman ends his time in the south-west of France with a record of seven goals and four assists in 36 appearances: a respectable tally, but one which belies his talents and the adoration he garnered from an otherwise despondent fanbase.

His impressive performances continued at this summer’s Maurice-Revello Tournament (formerly the Toulon Tournament), where he finished as top scorer with five strikes and helped France to the title. The Paris native will face stiff competition within his age group to break into the senior squad  – Arnaud Kalimuendo, Hugo Ekitike, Mohamed-Ali Cho are all peers – but there’s little doubt that in more advantageous club conditions he will be able to stake his claim.

The dire financial straits Bordeaux find themselves in have precipitated the striker’s admittedly unavoidable Premier League move. Their agreement with Southampton over a deal which could rise to €13m is a generous lifeline, coming at a time when many clubs were circling over the moribund club, waiting for its demise to take apart the squad.

The weight of an entire club’s fate weighing on his shoulders does not seem to have troubled Mara, who is no stranger to the limelight. The son of TF1 presenter Audrey Crespo-Mara, he spent time in the Paris Saint-Germain youth ranks, while also being a Clairefontaine graduate before moving to the banks of the Gironde. A move across the Channel is yet another challenge he will take in his wiry stride.

But the Saints’ move to pick him up is far more than just a gesture – they are getting a French international in the making, who has already delivered on his promise in a less-than-favourable environment. The Premier League side have been building for the future this summer, but with Mara the impact is sure to be immediate.

Raphaël Jucobin

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