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Meet Lille’s Moussa Sow – Europe’s best free transfer last summer

Meet Lille’s Moussa Sow – Europe’s best free transfer last summer

Forward has come from obscurity with Rennes to top the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 21 goals so far this term

By Robin Bairner

When Lille announced that they had signed a pre-contract agreement with Moussa Sow around a year ago, there was almost muffled laugher as les Dogues had snapped up a player with no real goalscoring record. Twelve months on, it’s Lille who are having the last laugh as the striker has proven himself to be one of the outstanding free captures of the summer.

Seven matches remain this season in France’s top flight, and Sow lies well clear of his rivals at the top of the scoring charts, boasting 21 tallies prior to this evening’s encounter against Lorient in Brittany.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may be making a mockery of scoring records in Spain, to put Sow’s achievements this season into better context, he is the first player to have reached 21 goals at such a stage in a Ligue 1 season since Jean-Pierre Papin in 1991-92. Incidentally, when Papin achieved this feat, he was the reigning Ballon d’Or winner and would make a summer move to AC Milan for a then world record fee.

Sow’s achievement is made all the more remarkable by his relatively modest background. Though he boasted experience with France’s Under-21 sides and also Senegal’s national team, domestically Sow had achieved nothing remotely worthy of note.

Having debuted as a professional as early as 2005, the sturdy striker had prior to this season amassed a modest 18-goal tally, despite having featured in more than 100 league games. Six of those had been struck in a loan spell in Ligue 2 with Sedan and a further nine registered the following season with Rennes, the club he joined as a professional aged 17.

Despite a commendable tally, Sow would be squeezed out of the picture at the Stade de la Route de Lorient due to the arrivals of Ismael Bangoura and Asamoah Gyan and spent last term featuring mostly from the bench.

Ligue 1 Stats
Appearances/ Starts
Minutes per goal
Shots/ On target
Yellow card
Red card
Fouls committed
Fouls suffered
31/ 28
39/ 86
Rennes’ loss has proven to be Lille’s gain in rather spectacular style. Scoring at a rate of nearly one goal for every 100 league minutes he’s played, Sow fits Lille’s system wonderfully.

Ammunition coming from wide is plentiful, with Eden Hazard and Gervinho supplying the centre point of the LOSC attack with plenty of quality possession from which to score. Such has been the impact of the winger in the north of France in recent times, Sow’s incredible contribution has been rather spectacularly overlooked.

Additionally, he’s proven to be valuable because of the variety of goals he’s scored, and not just the weight of numbers. Bicycle kicks have become something of a speciality – much like Papin – though his strength and pace mean that he can run in behind defences and cause problems in that manner too.

Indeed, his physical attributes should earmark him as a potential target for Premier League clubs in the summer, as they doubtless recognise such qualities to be vital in succeeding in England.

Though he’s achieved a stellar campaign, the Ile-de-France born attacker should also recognise flaws in his game. With a rather brash, all-action style, he is somewhat lacking in grace, which could see him struggle in Spain or Italy, and the sheer volume of chances he is presented with by his wide players is also of great benefit to a player whose finishing could yet be improved, despite all his goals.

These criticisms shouldn’t be allowed to detract from what has been a remarkable season for a player who is just starting to flourish at the age of 25. It looks likely that it will be his goals that shoot Lille to the Champions League next season, and perhaps even a first league crown since the 1950s.

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