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Wilfried Bony: Where did it go wrong for Africa’s most expensive player?

00:07 GMT 06/02/2019
Wilfried Bony Manchester City Leicester City Premier League 04032015
Having briskly leapt out of the blocks in his early days in England, the Ivorian’s subsequent decline has been a massive letdown

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Wilfried Bony was a near-instant hit in the Premier League after arriving at Swansea City in 2013 as an upgrade on Michu, who lost his way in Wales after a fine start to life in the top flight.

The Spanish attacker was signed on the cheap from Celta Vigo at the start of 2012/13, and proved a truly inspired purchase in his first season – scoring 22 goals in all competitions and helping his side to League Cup success, which represented the Swans' first major trophy..

Michael Laudrup had initially wanted to deploy the playmaker in the hole, but, owing to the Welsh side’s dearth of quality upfront and sheer number of options in the attacking positions behind the frontman, he was employed as the leading striker.

Knowing full well he needed another offensive talent, with the sole intention to allow Michu return to his favored playmaking role and playing him in tandem with a prolific scorer, the Danish trainer plumped for the highly productive Bony whose 53-goal return in 73 appearances from 2010 through 2013 for Vitesse Arnhem was nothing short of outstanding.

In his final season in Arnhem, before the Premier League side acquired him for a then club record fee of £12 million, the Ivory Coast international scored a staggering 37 times in 36 games, with 31 of them coming in the Eredivisie.

To put the aforementioned tally in perspective, it should be pointed out that the forward featured in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, which saw him miss close to a month of football at the turn of the year.

Vitesse won just once in all competitions in his absence, demonstrating his importance to the side. He ended the season top scorer in Holland and deservedly won the Golden Shoe as well.

The aforementioned tally of 31 goals is the highest ever return by an African in the division (Morocco’s Mounir El Hamdaoui recorded 23 in 2008/09 with AZ Alkmaar), while no player has touched the 30-goal mark in the subsequent five years.

Irrespective of the fact the jury was still out on Bony in some quarters, he continued to thrive in front of goal, and ended his first year with 25 goals in 48 appearances in all competitions.

He formed a decent on-field relationship with Michu before the latter’s form collapsed and injuries accumulated, and as the Spaniard faded, Bony stepped up as Swansea's leading man.

While the fear of being another one-season wonder might have played on his mind, the frontman picked up where he left off at the start of the 2014/15 campaign, and ended the calendar year with 20 league goals.

The forward may not have won any titles with the Welsh side, but his impact was visible enough to make Manchester City swoop at the turn of the year, making Bony Africa's most expensive player ever in a deal worth up to £28 million.

With the benefit of hindsight, that’s probably when the forward’s luck took a turn for the worse.

No sooner had he made the quantum leap to join Manuel Pellegrini’s side than he departed for Afcon duty in Equatorial Guinea.

Ivory Coast won the tournament and Bony’s performances earned him a place in the CAF Team of the Tournament, but things were to turn sour on his return to Manchester.

Making a move in the winter often requires the player to hit the ground running, but the Afcon absence may have proved costly as Bony's integration into the City squad was delayed.

When he did finally return, he struggled for playing time; making just 10 league appearances - of which only two were starts - before the season's end.

Having scored nine before New Year, Bony would only score two more before the season's end.

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get worse, malaria hampered the forward’s pre-season, consequently affecting his fitness and further hindering his ability to establish himself at  City.

The context also didn't help, as the squad's focus and direction appeared to get lost during Pellegrini's last season in charge.

Bony made 26 appearances, but only 13 were starts, and he'd end the campaign with only four goals. Tellingly, he scored only half as many as wonderkid Kelechi Iheanacho, who comfortably outperformed the older player in his first Premier League season.

Par for the course with managerial changes often means a change in playing style and personnel, and Pep Guardiola immediately tried to jettison the forward.

Loaned to Stoke City, the frontman couldn’t replicate the form he showed at Swansea and fell out of favour with Mark Hughes.

Not even a return to the Liberty Stadium in the summer of 2017 could spark the one-time African champion into finding his best form. The Swans, who had abandoned attacking principles from his first spell, struggled for goals and were relegated.

Bony, by now struggling with knee problems, was largely a bystander.

He departs, albeit on loan, to Qatari side Al-Arabi probably with a feeling of what might have been had circumstances been different: the timing of his City move, the lack of appearances, illness and injury slowing him down, Pellegrini's loss of control, and the last few nomadic, unhappy years.

They may seem like a long time ago, but Bony's goals at Vitesse and Swansea ensured he was once Africa's most expensive player, and the impact he enjoyed earlier in his career ought not be forgotten amidst his more recent struggles.

Had a few small factors been different, Bony might be departing British football as one of the most decorated African players of his generation.