REMEMBER the dress that took over social media a few months ago and made you question yourself? The one that you swore was blue and black while your mates told you it was white and gold and no matter how hard you looked the colours wouldn’t change? That’s how I feel about Mamadou Sakho right now.
I’ll be blunt. I think Sakho is marvellous at football.
I wish more Liverpool players had the guts he shows every game to get on the ball and play. I pump my fist whenever he slides into one of those magnificent crunching challenges and I think he’s one of too few genuine leaders left at the club. The fact that he throws in a couple of Cruyff style flicks every other game and seems like a thoroughly decent bloke off the pitch is merely the icing on the cake. I know plenty of Liverpool fans who feel the same way.
So why do I feel like so much of the rest of this country seems to believe that this footballer that I hold in such high regard is, in actual fact, some kind of laughing stock?
When I say the ‘rest of the country’, it’s important to point out that I don’t solely mean fans of other teams who only see Liverpool play twice a season and form their opinions of players largely based around Match of the Day highlights. Nor am I only referencing the likes of professional wind-up merchants such as Robbie Savage and Adrian Durham, who persistently spout controversial nonsense solely for attention.
I’m referring to the vast swathes of pundits, journalists and retired players who all share the absolute opposite opinion to me and most Liverpool supporters about a footballer who we have watched intently week in week out for well over a year now.
The overarching narrative from many neutral observers seems to be that Sakho is a liability and I can’t for the life of me understand why.
During last night’s game between Liverpool and Blackburn, Sakho was forced off the field with a hamstring injury. It was perceived by most Reds as another significant blow to their faint hopes of finishing in the top four and yet Mark Ogden (an otherwise fine sports journalist) wrote a piece for The Telegraph after the full-time whistle explaining how the Frenchman’s absence could be a ‘blessing’ for Liverpool and described the player as ‘a magnet for calamity’.
To any objective person who has watched Brendan Rodgers’ team defending with and without Sakho this season, the mere suggestion that an injury to the 25 year old could be positive in any way should be laughed at.
While Ogden was penning his article, former Germany and Liverpool midfielder Dietmar Hamann was apparently laying into Sakho on Norwegian TV coverage of the tie, claiming that Kolo Toure is around the same level as France’s first choice centre half. Sorry Didi, but that’s just ridiculous.
It’s not just last night that Sakho — who is now likely to miss the Wembley semi-final against Aston Villa with a hamstring injury — came in for criticism either. Nearly every time that Alan Smith covers a Liverpool game for Sky TV it takes him less than five minutes to utter something about Sakho’s ‘uneasiness in possession’. Paul Merson (stop laughing) recently claimed on Soccer Saturday that Sakho ‘passes like an amateur’ and Swansea City fans gave the defender that oh so original Soccer AM style ‘the keeper’s about to take a goal kick’ ironic build up every time he touched the ball a few weeks back. They had long since stopped by the time he made a mug of three of their players during a late surge up field in the second half, mind. ‘Top Bantz’, lads and lasses.
The point here is that it seems so many people in the game from fans to journalists to pundits to ex pros appear to be under the impression that Mamadou Sakho is a farcical excuse of a footballer. They don’t think he’s a good player with a mistake in him or view him as a decent or even average centre half, he’s widely perceived as a liability.
Apparently those observers are seeing white and gold while I’m unable to look past the blue and black.
If you speak to supporters who have watched Liverpool regularly this season the majority will likely speak in fairly glowing terms about Sakho. His reintroduction to the team in December correlated directly with the much needed impressive upturn in the team’s defensive performances. If eye-witness testimony isn’t enough to persuade sceptics that he is in fact a good player then the statistics certainly should.
Every bit of empirical evidence shows that Sakho is vital to Liverpool. When he plays the team win more games, concede considerably less goals on average and his pass accuracy that he is often chastised for is actually higher than his rivals in the team and plenty of other ‘top’ centre halves in the Premier League. It should therefore, be crystal clear to anyone who takes a moment to analyse Liverpool’s season, that the Frenchman is performing admirably.
So why is the national discourse that surrounds him so often of the negative variety?
I get that Sakho makes the odd mistake when he’s in possession, but then most defenders do, don’t they? I can accept that his running style can look a little awkward and so perhaps he stands out a touch, but when you’re watching him ping passes accurately into his team-mate’s feet literally nine times out of ten as well as getting his side up the pitch over and over again with intelligent and progressive play, shouldn’t the less prevalent negative aspects of his game get brushed under the carpet somewhat?
It certainly seems that is the case for most players.
Dejan Lovren has endured a horrific debut season at Anfield, particularly when he’s had the ball at his feet, but do you endlessly hear him being criticised in the media for his consistently errant passing?
Martin Skrtel has never exactly been Alan Hansen when it comes to his ability in possession but, again, he receives barely any scrutiny for his technical shortcomings in comparison to his more accomplished French team mate.
So it begs the question: Why is Sakho so often the Liverpool defender who receives the brunt of the criticism when he is clearly the best of the bunch?
Could the answer be as simple as it’s the fact that he reminds people of Djimi Traore?
After all, he’s tall, he’s left footed, he plays for Liverpool, he’s a defender who speaks French and he’s black. Is that some kind subconscious barrier that certain people can’t or won’t get past no matter what the stats or visual evidence say to the contrary? Perhaps.
You need only to type the words ‘Sakho’ and ‘Traore’ into your Twitter search bar to see that the two players are regularly compared by football fans. They may look a little similar physically from afar, but in terms of defensive style and overall quality Sakho and Traore are chalk and cheese. Comparing them is akin to comparing Jamie Carragher and John Scales because they’re both white, right footed, English centre backs who played for Liverpool.
Maybe the Traore ‘likeness’ colours some people’s perception of Sakho, but I also find myself wondering whether there is more to it than that.
Everyone knows that for decades in England black players were seen primarily as athletes with lower technical ability than their white counterparts. Maybe that view hasn’t gone the way of the Dodo quite yet. I could be wrong of course, but when it comes to the baffling analysis of Mamadou Sakho, I’m struggling for reasons to explain it. Would a white centre half who pulls off flicks and tricks from the back every week and completes 90 per cent of his passes be labelled as ‘poor on the ball’ by so many ‘experts’? I’m not convinced.
I must explicitly state here that I’m not suggesting for a second that anyone who criticises or doesn’t rate Sakho particularly highly is somehow a racist. It’s just that when you are repeatedly told that the sky is green by so many different people, you start to look for reasons why. Are they all crazy, just wilfully ignorant or is something just wired differently in their brains?
The only alternative to speculating as I am is to doubt yourself.
Are the stats lying? Do I require glasses? Are all the Liverpool fans who sing Sakho’s praises wrong? Is he really just a huge liability because he makes the odd slip up that people fixate on? Is he in actuality an inferior player when it comes to technique if you measure him against Martin Skrtel or Dejan Lovren? Is the guy that I see as Liverpool’s most important and impressive centre half merely a more expensive version of Djimi Traore after all? I certainly don’t think so, but plenty of people are on board with that line of thinking for whatever reason.
I can’t pretend to have the answer for the contrasting opinions that surround Mamadou Sakho and I’m sure there are multiple reasons rather than just one, but I can’t help but speculate due to how utterly absurd I find some of the criticism so I hope you will forgive my rambling.
I guess that while a lot of people see blue and black, others claim to see only white and gold and, just as with that frigging dress, I have no idea why that is.
Pics: David Rawcliffe-Propaganda-Photo
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Really enjoyable read, this is something I find myself discussing on a regular basis with fans of other clubs. I honestly believe a lot of it is down to people just believing what the media incorrectly says about him and his ‘ungainly’ style, while not bothering to go out of their way to try and view him in a different light. At the same time I’m sure there are plenty of players at other clubs we have all looked at over the years and never understood why others raved about them.
my fave player this season.
Great article. Sakho’s treatment by the ignorant sections of English media is quite absurd and disgusting.
Just because he has a different stance with his longer legs and is very one footed which may make him look awkward, his actual final pass is mostly pin point accurate. He also is bold in going forward with the ball to start attacks unlike the sideways passing and fooling around at the back that we were accustomed to at the beginning of the season when he was out of the team.
Sakho is also outstanding aerially and I don’t think he has conceded a single penalty in his LFC career unlike all our other defenders. His tackling especially in last ditch situations in the box is utterly precise.
I’m with you Dave I think he’s a great player, yes he looks a bit ungainly but it’s just those long legs and the fact he runs like an antelope I hope he is fit for Wembley. As to the second rate players playing at being pundits who gives a shit what they have to say, especially Savage, Smith and Owen.
It’s what’s known as “narrative”. The internet is full of pea-brained youngsters that hold to be true the first thing they hear about something/someone.
Great read by the way-should also mention what a true gentleman he is off the pitch. One of the best players/men on the team.
Been making myself horse all season expressing his merits to people who have that opposing ‘media’ view, people who quite frankly should know better. To be honest I think it highlights how scarily influential the media can be once they set an agenda and also how many sheep are out there lapping it up! Anyway, great read thanks oh and yeah, he definitely should be our captain!!
Could be the next captain /vice captain, great footballer, but the first thing I said when I saw him play was “shit, he’s got the Djimi Traore legs!” he’s far, far from Traore though. Only thing I’m concerned about, reliability wise, is his fitness, seems to be injured quite a lot!!
Great read. Been banging about this all season. Are some folk blind? I see beauty they see ugliness
Sakho looks ungainly but he’s a fantastic player. I was shouting for him to be played at the start of the season when Lovren was being a fuck up but Rodgers had “Brendan’d” him completely out of the squad.
Hopefully he’s gained Rodgers confidence because when fit he has to be one of the first names on the team sheet. If we decide to go 4 at the back Sakho and Skrtel will make a fine team I think. 2 dominant leaders at the back.
I couldn’t give 2 fucks about what others think of him. Hopefully it’ll put off anyone coming in and taking him off us. He’s first choice in a much improved French squad. He keeps Kocielny and Mangala out of the team. We know what he’s all about.
Re the Norwegian TV thing. Apparantly they frequently slag him off there. Molby does it too apparantly. Wonder if it’s an “Agger” thing?!
It shouldn’t be – Agger is Danish.
Ha ha Wattsy didn’t really explain that properly. Molby on Danish TV apparantly constantly slags off Sakho too which got me thinking about the Agger thing.
Bang on the money. Love his progressive accurate passing that bypasses the midfield and takes players out of the game. Love his agressive tackling. We miss him when he’s not playing.
As a regular commenter said after another recent article, if you don’t rate Sakho you simply don’t know football. Simple as. So he has an unusual gait on the ball, so what?! Unfortunately first impressions persist, especially for lazy journalists and halfwits like Savage.
Let them say what they like, let us who know him best cheer and celebrate his talent, and as you say his decency.
What Cou said ^^
When I was reading this I immediately thought to myself that the answer is because of the tired, ignorant narrative that people (disappointingly, many “experts” included in this) peddle incessantly. In short, if you throw enough shit it’ll stick.
I’ve found myself having to justify my admiration for him to a few evertonians a few times, because they swallow the general narrative.
That was a great read. I also get the feeling that I must be watching a different player to these ‘experts.’ A classic case of everyone repeating somebody else’s opinions as their own instead of thinking about it and making their own mind up. It’s easier to go along with a bandwagon than pointing out that it is completely wrong.
French football expert Philippe Auclair on Mamadou Sakho – 2013
“He’s a terrific player, I think he’s a terrific central defender. They probably paid a little too much for him because he was in the last year of his contract. He had a very close link with PSG and really didn’t want to go, so it will be a little more difficult for him.
“He has all the qualities to be a very fine centre-back in the Premier League, I’ve got no doubt about that.
This review of Sakho has been spot on as it took him awhile to settle into the team and for Rodgers to trust the player. This is the three challenge that Sahko has had to face.
1. He resembles Traore, a player who had become a comical figure after an own goal dispute being one of the key figures in Liverpool winning the Champions League final.
2. He is a left-field defender which is displayed in his confidence to try his range of passing and flicks in unusual areas of play. Another player who plays in a similar manner is David Luiz who has also been targeted by the media.
3. He is black player playing in a area of responsibility and that’s seems to be a subconscious problem for certain parts of the media and fans as they seen this as some form of weakness (The Swansea game where the crowd were goading him to make a mistake was a prime example. This is like if the fans booed Gerrard into making a backpass because of his past experiences when his back pass has led to goals by the opposition). This extends to other parts of the game with the lack of black mangers and young black players securing the best contracts for themselves because of the reduced opportunities they face after the end of their careers.
Love him, the difference in quality of distribution when he was replaced by Toure with his aimless punts forward was marked. I would not swap him for any other Centre Half in the Prem. However it would be wrong not to point out that the mix up with Sir Mingealot nearly cost us a goal.
Doesn’t that Fletch fella on BT grate? Never shuts up. Nearly as annoying as
Ian ” Feo” Wright
He looks awkward, but he’s not. He is actually very skilful, and his passing is exemplary. He also never gives up. I love his attitude.
He’s a good player. He gets the Traore stuff because he’s not the most aesthetically pleasing even when doing something good. Do something bad looking like that and it attracts attention. I don’t buy there’s any racism to this (either subconsciously or otherwise). Desailly played in this position of responsibility, hardly avoided the spotlight and didn’t cop the same crap; David Luis did.
He *is* still making one egregious error every 2 games, and as I’ve said elsewhere whilst the press have made mountains out of mole-hills where his deficiencies are concerned, I also think there’s a groupthink amongst many LFC fans that means he gets a pass on stuff for which Lovren and Toure would get excoriated. John Terry still plays centre-half at 103 for the team that’s going to win the league NOT because he has 40 yard passes in hiss locker, but because you can count his season mistakes on one hand and positionally he’s still the best centre-half in the EPL. I’d trade some of those passes Sakho makes for 10% improvement defensively. If he can do the latter without having to sacrifice the former, so much the better.
As for the last-man step-overs and Cruyff turns…enjoy them while they last. When he is dispossessed and this indulgence costs us a goal, I just hope it’s a meaningless consolation for the other side in a LFC victory rather than a mistake that costs us a game. Ask yourself what Shanks or Paisley would have to say about that stuff from their C-H.
Like I say, good player who could be a great player for us – the sort of player you can/should build a defence around, even.
Sakho has made 2 defensive errors all season.
I’m not talking about official stats where the definition probably requires the error leads to a chance for the opposition or whatever. Take the Blackburn game when he tried to leave the ball for Mignolet unaware of the presence of the striker instead of clearing. It’s possibly unfair to call some of these errors; they’re more accurately ‘near misses’. Whatever you want to call them, I’d like to see fewer of them.
I read the Ogden article too and a couple of other ones with similar lines and was equally baffled. I really just don’t get it so am glad you wrote about it too. Incredibly lazy journalism.
Really like this article. I think what this points to is just how lazy a lot of ex pro pundits are. Some like Carra (and Neville it’s got to be said) work hard to analyse the game whereas others like Didi, Merse, Smith & the black hole of personality that is Michael Owen seem to rely on pretty crap ‘instincts’. It’s the same mentality that hinders new technology in the ‘beautiful game’; no one wants to tamper with the voodoo that makes football so special and as a result we live in the dark ages. Rugby and cricket have hawkeye, we’ve got vanishing shaving foam… Cheers lads.
I remember on Sakho’s debut when he got drafted in at the last minute after a knock to Danny Agger, he had a decent game; didn’t speak the language, had barely trained and yet had more clearances and headers than anyone else, all of which found a team-mate (if memory serves) and had his usual 90%+ pass success rate. One or two mistakes but looked solid and the pundits laid into him like he was Bambi on ice.
Must be those dodgy ‘instincts’ telling them he doesn’t ‘look’ good; that doesn’t mean that he isn’t any good.
Good article, no one is impervious to mistakes Sakho included but he’s pretty solid all round.
It’s just lazy punditry and journalism. It’s a bit like Crouch……. “Oh he’s actually quite good with his feet for a tall lad.”
No shit sherlock, he’s playing for Liverpool and England.
Sky had a brief period of enlightenment once Keys & Gray went but unfortunately we seemed to of entered a new era of dickheadness on the TV.
I think a big part of it is that fans of other clubs tend to judge our players based on what they see on MotD. If the “pundits” and “experts” make comments then the general perception will be whatever they come out with. Think about how many idiots around the country believe exactly what they read in the paper and you will understand the perception.
When it comes to the pundits, however, it’s always been the same. It is simply not possible for them to watch every single game and present their opinion by Saturday evening. Instead, I think they are fed what someone deems as the key highlights and they form their opinions based on that. If the guy cutting the highlights doesn’t see something special in a passage of play when Sakho is bossing the game then it won’t make it in to the reel, thus the opinion cannot be formed on the whole.
I actually do not live in England so I am unaware, but what do they say on Sky Sports? Meaning, what do Ratboy and Carra say? I would place more stock in their thoughts than those of people like Savage, Merson or Smith…
Black, foreign and gangling-looking – that makes him eccentric, ill-disciplined, lacking heart, and clumsy.
That is basically the narrative that has allowed so many to mock a top defender. Even if people think he is overrated, his performances and stats simply negate all accusations that he is somehow inept.
Agree 100% This guy is tops.
Against Blackburn in the replay the other night, he made an error in judgement thinking Mignolet was going to help him out. It let the forward in, but he recovered to make an excellent block from the shot. All that, bell end Michael Owen could focus on, was how bad the mistake was. If that was a different defender for any other team, they would say how well the defender “atoned for his error”
I am going to start using my Mute button in future
I actually thought he was improving his heading during his run in the team which was my one criticism of him. Boss player who we’re lucky to have when you look at his international pedigree, captaining PSG as a teen, etc. Other clubs must have been aware of him for a while. Fuck the haters!
Great article. Agree with pretty much every word.
The funny thing about the mistakes that he does make is that they almost never seem to lead to a goal. That letting the ball run against Blackburn is a prime example – he made an error, but still recovered to get the block in and concede a corner.
I know LFC fans who are good people, but have completely swallowed the media narrative on Sakho and are convinced he’s a liability. It’s a shame, because he’s a real gem of a defender, and a possible future captain. He should be getting appreciation from fans for his efforts, not dog’s abuse because he’s a bit gangly.
Thanks for this! I thought it was just me. I think he is outstanding and should play every week. He just looks clumsy, like a gangly teenager trying to find his feet but his touch is amazing. Almost as good as Lallana’s which is sublime – something else people haven’t seemed to notice. If Lallana was Spanish everyone would be praising him to the skies.