After four successive years of fighting relegation, it is the aspiration of Toulouse is to enjoy an altogether more comfortable season.
Alain Casanova, an emblematic figure at the club having previously spent seven years in charge between 2008-2015, has been asked to lead the charge, with his life complicated by the decision to sell up-and-coming stars Alban Lafont and Issa Diop to Fiorentina and West Ham respectively in the summer transfer window.
The dynamic of Toulouse has changed – they are now a far more attacking side – and they have been rewarded with 12 points in eight games, a tally that suggests relegation will not be on the agenda come May.
And new stars are already starting to shine, though none more brightly than 20-year-old midfielder Ibrahim Sangare, now in his third year as a professional having moved to France from his native Ivory Coast, where played for AS Denguele as a teenager.Gettyimages
“Physically, he’s like Yaya Toure but he reminds me of Michael Essien,” African journalist Alpha Balde explained about the player when he first arrived in France in 2016. “I saw Essien at the start of his career and they had the same physical strength at an equal age. Sangare is also passionate, and I think that Toulouse supporters will enjoy his fighting spirit and desire to move forward.”
The youngster was initially drip fed into the team, but by the end of the 2017-18 season he had become so important that he was playing on a weekly basis. Indeed, he has barely missed a minute of football for TFC in 2018, even being given the responsibility of starting both relegation playoff fixtures against Ajaccio last summer.
Unsurprisingly, Casanova has quickly fallen under the defensive midfielder’s gritty charm and believes that he has the capacity to become a star in Ligue 1.
“He’s one of the greatest players I’ve had at Toulouse,” the coach explained. “I’ve managed high-level midfielders, like Etienne Capoue, Adrien Rabiot and Moussa Sissoko. I think he’s of that level.
“I knew he had potential but I though he needed some time. On the other hand, I’m not surprised because everyone was saying good things about him. I was told: ‘You’ll see, he’s a very, very high level player.’”Goal
Indeed, the coach believes that his charge is almost a complete player, defensively solid and technically strong, but there is one aspect of his game he would like to see him improve.
“His first touch is one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “He’s calm in small spaces and comes out of pressure in incredible ways. He’s also got a great ability to recover the ball, and does a huge amount of running.
“He can still improve tactically, but for the rest, he’s very complete. He can play as a box-to-box player or a No.6.”
And those old comparisons to Yaya Toure? Well, they continue to stick. Club captain Max Gradel, who played with the former Barcelona and Manchester City man for Ivory Coast, has nicknamed his club-mate after the great midfielder.
Now Toulouse are seeking to make the most of his talents while they can, because they know that he is destined for big things.