British journalist Ed Dove believes struggling French club Sochaux have enough quality African players to lead the team to a brighter future.
Sochaux are in deep trouble; 21 games into the Ligue 1 season, the Montbeliard-based club sit in 19th place. They are currently 10 points off Evian and safety, and there appears to be little reason for hope.
Since arriving at the club in early October, Herve Renard has struggled to prompt a reversal of fortunes. They managed a tight home victory over Rennes at the end of December, but so far, that result has not provided the impetus for a charge up the table.
Renard has a squad laced with African players and whilst they may not retain their spot in the top-flight this term, the former Zambia manager should have the personnel to ensure a swift return to Ligue 1.
These are some of the men that have the team’s future in their hands.
Congolese forward Cedric Bakambu is possibly Renard’s greatest hope for a Ligue 1 survival. The hitman is Sochaux’s top scorer with six goals in 18 starts, but it’s a ratio that will need to improve over the coming fixtures if the Lions are to survive.
He is a former French youth international, but now 22, and perhaps lacking the pedigree to make Les Bleus’ squad, he might opt to represent the land of his parents.
Newcastle have been linked with a potential transfer and the nippy frontman would be a good fit for the Magpies’ Francophone squad.
Writing for the BBC in early August, I tipped Razak Boukari to star as one of the finest Africans in England's Football League.
However, his opening time at Wolves had been wholly inauspicious; only weeks after moving he was struck down by a calf injury and was ruled out for an extensive period after his recovery was compromised.
The £3-million Wolves paid to lure Boukari has not, at this stage, been money well spent. Nonetheless, the right winger made a name for himself in France, at Chateauxroux, Lens and Rennes, and if he can ever manage to steer clear of seemingly-incessant injuries, certainly has the ability to be a ray of light for Sochaux.
Strasbourg-born veteran Cedric Kante knows what it means to spend time treading water in the lower divisions, he will surely not be keen to close his career in the confines of Ligue 2.
Having broken through at his hometown club, Kante switched to the other side of France and was a key figure as Nice sealed consecutive top-10 finishes. After a stint away from France, with Greek giants Panathinaikos, he returned to the North-East with struggling Sochaux.
Kante has appeared for Mali at two Nations Cup tournaments.
There is a fair risk that Emmanuel Mayuka might become another great lost African talent.
Back in 2012 the Zambian forward was named by English newspaper the Guardian as the 85th best player in the world—he wouldn’t be close to the top 200 if the list were to be rewritten now.
As the Chipolopolo triumphed at the 2012 Afcon, the sprightly striker was a key figure—he won the tournament’s Golden Boot and also scored in the shoot-out against the Cote d’Ivoire in the final.
A move to Southampton didn’t quite work out and Mayuka moved to Franche-Comte in order to reignite his flagging career. So far, he’s struggled to impress, but could former national boss Renard be the man to rediscover his electric talent?
Senegal could well be on the brink of an exciting era. The Under-23 team looked terrific at the 2012 Olympics and the likes of Sadio Mane, Idrissa Gueye and Cheikhou Kouyate should ensure that the Lions of Teranga don’t remain in the doldrums for too much longer.
Such is the broad quality of the squad that Joseph ‘Romaric’ Lopy missed out on the trip to London in the summer of 2012. He is yet to make his international debut, but could become a useful squad player in the future.
This season the defensive midfielder has had his work cut out fighting fires in the heart of the pitch for Sochaux — the signings of Nathan Sinkala and Stoppila Sunzu should bolster the team, but may affect Lopy’s playing time.
Lionel Zouma doesn’t possess the profile nor the quality of his younger brother Kurt, but he is still a promising young defender who could have a long future in the sport.
The 6’3 stopper made one appearance for France Under-19 but might be more likely to build an international career with the Central African Republic, the land of his parents.
It’s been a stuttering career thus far for Ivorian midfielder Thierry Doubai. He was signed by Udinese in 2011 and, in principle, was in one of the best environments for developing African players in the world; Kwadwo Asamoah and Mehdi Benatia both became stars in the North-East and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu looks set to follow.
It could have been ideal for Doubai. However, Sochaux came in for him, first on loan, and then with a permanent deal.
His one appearance for Udinese is mirrored by his one appearance for the Cote d’Ivoire national side. Since making his debut in 2008, Doubai has been thoroughly overlooked by his nation’s selectors. Emerging forces such as Bobley Anderson and Abdul Razak look set to prolong his international absence.
The Marseille striker certainly has the pedigree and the natural gifts to be a fine forward in the French top-flight, but even today, five years after his initial emergence, the world is yet to be convinced by either his attitude or his desire to realise his potential.
His international career his been riddled with controversies, while at Marseille, his goal-scoring return was below-par.
I had suggested, before the January window, that a loan move to lowlier surroundings might be the best medicine to reinvigorate a flagging career. Herve Renard answered the call and now, Ayew’s destiny is back in his own hands.
Nathan Sinkala & Stoppila Sunzu
The Zambian pair were recruited by Renard in early January and could hold the key to Sochaux remaining in the division. If they can adapt quickly to Ligue 1, then the duo certainly have the qualities to make the Lions tough to beat.
Sunzu, let us not forget, was once linked to Arsenal.
The process of finding their feet in France will not be easy, however. Beneath the tutelage of Renard, the man who made them both African champions in 2012, Sinkala and Sunzu have both the conditions and the incentive to make the most of their opportunity in the Doubs.