Bakary Kone – The Small man of Ivorian Football
Bakary Kone the Cote d’Ivoire and Nice striker could pass as the ‘Small man of Ivorian Football’. That is because the diminutive striker is only 1.63m tall. Almost unknown two year ago, Bakary ‘Baky’ Kone has come a long way since wearing out his boots in the streets of Abidjan’s Williamsville district.
Jean-Marc Guillou, founder of the ASEC Abidjan academy recalls: “One day, when I was passing through his district, some kids stopped me. They kept saying, ‘We’ve got Pele living here, you’ve got to take a look at him’. Then Kone came along. He was slightly built but I never doubted for one moment that he was a real find. I took him into the academy after a trial of just ten minutes, but I did tell him that the Pele nickname would have to go. That’s when he became Baky, and I think it’s better that way.”
Instantly bedazzled by Kone’s quality, Guillou took the time to shape this rough diamond, just as he had done with Kolo Toure, Aruna Dindane and Didier Zokora. Then, like his more celebrated elders before him, it was time for Baky to leave the nest. His initial destination in 2002, the Al-Itthiad club in Qatar, may have been somewhat surprising, but it was to prove a mere staging post in a journey that has continued to the highest level.
The following year, after signing for the Breton club Lorient in the French second division, his first season mirrored his career as a whole: a dizzying ascent. Despite a poor start, he rapidly got into the swing of the French game, finishing the campaign with a respectable ten goals in 33 appearances. But it was during the 2004/2005 season that Baky really made French football sit up and take notice. A class above most defenders in the division, his sensational displays stood out a mile throughout the season and left Lorient’s opponents punch-drunk. Clocking up 24 goals in 25 matches, he ended the campaign as top scorer and was voted player of the season by his Ligue 2 peers.
While the Merlus missed out on promotion, there was never any doubt that the only way Baky would go was up – to the top flight. His suitors were numerous, before Nice finally won his signature. While he knows that the Mediterranean outfit may not be ready to challenge for silverware this season, Kone is content to progress stage by stage. “I believe this club’s got everything I need to develop as a player,” he says. “I just want to keep on learning and improving.”
“Kone has all the qualities needed to become a truly great football player.” After just a few weeks of training, Nice coach Frederic Antonetti was already bowled over by his new recruit. For in the short time since leaving Ligue 2 outfit Lorient for the French top flight and the Côte d’Azur, Kone has certainly risen to the challenge with great panache. In his five appearances so far for the Ligue 1 side, the 23-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire has already succeeded in silencing any sceptics with his instant adaptation.
This desire for development also extends to the international stage. Called up last year by Côte d’Ivoire coach Henri Michel, the small striker is already firmly in the Frenchman’s good books. “He’s an explosive talent,” says Michel. “When he gets the ball, he seems to takes opponents out and create goalscoring positions effortlessly.
For the moment, however, Baky is not guaranteed a starting place with his country. “When opposition defenders are a bit tired late in the game, he’s the ideal player to bring on, as he’s likely to get us a goal through his blistering acceleration,” says the coach.
Winning Michel’s confidence and establishing himself alongside Didier Drogba or Dindane is just the kind of challenge Baky relishes: “Like all players, I want to be more than just my side’s secret weapon. I want to show that I can make a contribution to the team over the game as a whole. That’s what I’m working on and I’ve set myself a target for breaking into the first eleven. But if I don’t, it will be because the coach feels the time isn’t right and I will respect his decision, as I always do.”
Bakary Kone is one to watch at the World Cup.
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