Football fairy tales are incomplete without N’Golo Kante’s Leicester City episode. The Foxes charmed hearts with an aggressive, expansive brand, culminating in the Premier League. Diminutive yet powerful, Kante was the linchpin that pulled all strings together.
Since that remarkable run, the Frenchman has grown in pedigree. Never mind stature. He clinched another league crown at Chelsea, picked up an FA Cup winners medal and began this term as World champion. The sort of achievement feasible only in fantasy football.
In Ligue 1, there’s a similar theme. Toulouse is hoping to do a Leicester. Even though they neither wear blue or belong to the animal kingdom. At the centre of Les Violets’ quest is 20-year-old, Ibrahim Sangare, acting as it’s own Kante. The only difference, however, physique and youthfulness.
Toulouse began this season like they ended the last; beaten mercilessly by Marseille. That shock slump triggered their campaign. Les Violets, subtly translated as Purple, have painted every other opponent that came their way. Bordeaux. Nimes. Guingamp. Only PSG and Dijon have brushed them off for points and goals. Young Sangare is leading the run from the middle.
Having made his debut as an 18-year-old back in 2016, the Ivorian only really established himself as a first team regular under Alain Casanova midway through last season, starting 18 times in Ligue 1. In that short time, his ball-winning trait was clear. Sangare racked up the most tackles - a feat previously achieved by his idol, Kante.
Born in Abidjan, Ivory Coast capital, Sangare received his first football lessons at hometown club, Tout Puissant Koumassi, aged 13. Only one year with the amateur side alerted several of the country’s top dogs. AS Denguele showed more intent.
Sangare continued his meteoric rise there. He started out in the youth team before climbing up the ladder in four years. In that period the midfielder displayed exceptional traits beyond his teenage years. His work rate, selflessness and ability to marshal an entire third of the pitch set him apart.
Hence Toulouse’s sudden upturn in fortunes isn’t a coincidence. To a large extent, they owe it to Sangare lunges. He is currently averaging 4.5 per game. None has achieved such figures. Not only does Sangare attempt to break possession, he does it with efficiency too, boasting over 90 per cent success rate. He’s that kind of player rarely beaten.
Sangare isn’t just a destroyer, though. His ball retention and distribution ability are equally superb. He can ghost past bodies, seldom loses possession. He’s the first and only player to reach double figures for tackles and dribbles in Europe, highlighting relevance in a Toulouse side that has now won three on the spin.
Besides physique, the two-capped Elephant flaunts superior offensive prowess compared to Kante. Rather than interrupt play or dribble for the fun of it, Sangare goes further, utilizing the ball in attack. He notched his first goal of the season in the most recent victory at Guingamp. Before that, he had registered an assist in the win over Bordeaux. Kante’s sole contribution was against Huddersfield.
It’s a big ask for Toulouse to dislodge PSG, especially with a huge wallet, enough to shop an entirely new XI in the winter market. If Sangare can maintain this form until the season’s end, he may be rewarded elsewhere. Etienne Capoue and Moussa Sissoko are typical examples of Premier League stars who made headway at the Stadium Municipal.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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