Boubakary Soumaré’s Redemption at Sevilla

On December 18, 2020, Gérard Lopez agreed to sell his 95% stake in Lille Olympique Sporting Club to Luxembourg-based investment fund Callisto Sporting after mounting pressure from the club’s creditors, Elliott Management and JP Morgan.


The decision came amidst a financial crisis for the French team and growing concerns over Lopez’s inability to pay back over £100 million in loans, a perfect storm stemming from the LFP’s botched broadcasting rights deal with Mediapro, the economic blowback from the COVID-19 pandemic, a bloated wage bill, and a €618 million stadium project that has not paid the dividends that were expected upon its unveiling in August 2012.


Despite intense scrutiny from the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG), French football’s FFP watchdog, and constant internal turmoil, Lille ended a decade-long title drought and edged Paris Saint-Germain to the championship on the final day of the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season. To no one’s surprise, the title win was followed by a summer exodus: Mike Maignan headed for AC Milan and Luiz Araújo joined Atlanta United, but their biggest sale would see Boubakary Soumaré join Leicester City for £17 million.


Born and raised to first-generation Senegalese immigrants, Boubakary Soumaré began his career at Paris FC before joining Paris Saint-Germain’s academy in 2011. Soumaré rose up the ranks at PSG’s youth facility alongside the likes of Mattéo Guendouzi, Moussa Diaby and Dan-Axel Zagadou, earning the moniker ‘Bougba’ in reference to his similar playing style and physical characteristics to Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.



However, he soon realized that he wasn’t going to break into the first team under manager Unai Emery with Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and Adrien Rabiot ahead of him in the rotation. He decided to leave PSG on a free transfer in the summer of 2017, joining Lille on a three-year contract which automatically triggered a two-year extension on the basis of Lille staying up in Ligue 1. 


He began his time in Lille playing for the reserve side, but on November 5, 2017, he made his professional debut in a 3-0 victory over Metz. He continued to impress under manager Christophe Galtier, who replaced Marcelo Bielsa midway through the season with Lille ensnared in the relegation zone, but he would have to wait until the final weeks of the 2018/19 campaign to get a consistent run of starts in midfield.


Soumaré took advantage of Thiago Mendes’s departure to Lyon in July 2019 to consolidate a starting spot, forming a solid midfield duo with Benjamin André in Galtier’s 4-2-3-1. His performances attracted interest from the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Napoli, but it was Newcastle United who came closest to signing him.


The Magpies had agreed a £45 million deal with Lille in the waning days of the January transfer window, and had even charged French players Allan Saint-Maximin and Florian Lejeune with giving Soumaré a virtual tour of the club’s training facilities via FaceTime, only for the player himself to reject the move. “I do not see myself leaving. I feel good here. A departure is not on the cards,” Soumaré said in an interview with L’Équipe.


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Having previously rejected a £36 million move to Wolves five months earlier, Soumaré’s desire to remain at the club for the rest of the season and join a Premier League top six club in the summer caused plenty of consternation within the Lille boardroom. Owing to an internal conflict with the board, Soumaré did not play a single match for over a month before making a brief substitute appearance in a 1-0 victory vs. Lyon, the final match before the cancellation of the 2019/20 Ligue 1 season.


Soumaré quickly regained his starting spot in midfield this season, playing an integral role in the title-winning form of Lille. Arguably his biggest test came on December 20, when he faced off against his former employers at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. The 21-year-old midfielder was everywhere, keeping the flow of possession ticking, using his ample physique to shield off opposing players, and maneuvering his way out of pressure.


Perhaps even more impressive was his performance out of possession; constantly in the right position to sweep up loose balls, sticking a foot in to win the ball back without running the risk of conceding a foul, and pushing forward at the right moment and to snuff out attacks, a testament to both his physical skill set and anticipation.


It was little surprise when Soumaré finally secured a move to a Premier League club, joining Leicester on a five-year contract and making his debut in their 1-0 win against Manchester in the FA Community Shield. Soumaré started in nine out of ten league matches between September and December, the last of which saw him hauled off at halftime in a 2-2 draw at Southampton. However, he was unable to build on his momentum, racking up just five appearances following the turn of the new year.



The 2022/23 season, however, would see Soumaré fail to adapt to the quick rhythm of the English game as Leicester’s spell in the top-flight came to an end after nearly a decade. Rather than stick around in the Championship, Soumaré parted ways and joined Sevilla on loan until the end of the season.


It has been a turbulent campaign for the Andalusian side, who have gone through three different managers and who currently find themselves six points above the relegation zone, but Soumaré has nevertheless been able to brush off a challenging start and become a regular starter in midfield, making 27 appearances across all competitions.


Boubakary Soumaré seems likely to return to the King Power Stadium after his loan spell — the question is, will he remain put or instead seek greener pastures? The Foxes currently sit atop the Championship, although they face tough competition from Ipswich Town and Leeds United, and with Dennis Praet and Wilfred Ndidi’s contracts set to expire at the end of the season, there could be a changing of the guard in the central midfield area. Only time will tell whether or not third time will be the charm for Soumaré at Leicester.


By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images