Stade Rennais epitomizes the French midtable team; their last 5 finishes have been 13th, 12th, 9th, 8th, and 9th. 2017 was a big summer for the French club: they spent nearly €35M in the market, allocating almost 50% of their funds to the signing of Senegalese international Ismaila Sarr, from FC Metz. Their expenditures have yet to pay dividends, with Christian Gourcuff’s men sitting in 15th place, with only 2 wins in 10. Rennais fans had high hopes heading into the season, but only 10 games into their club’s calamitous season, hopes have dimmed and heads have been called for. Nevertheless, Rennais fans will certainly have something to cheer for once their Senegalese star returns to action.
Hailing from the same nation as Liverpool winger Sadio Mané, Sarr’s career path follows a nearly identical trajectory. Both played for variations of Générations Foot in their homeland (a Senegalese academy with a professional team) and then headed over to France to perfect their trade for FC Metz. What differentiates Mané and Sarr is their height and playing styles, with Sarr standing over 2 inches taller than his Senegalese compatriot. Despite the comparisons, Sarr is keen on cementing his own legacy, and is certainly on the right track.
Born in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, Sarr gained global exposure after catalyzing Générations Foot’s progression into the top-flight of Senegalese football. In the summer of 2016, his career jumped by a massive increment, as he traded the fields of his home country for the glitz and glamour of France. Signing a 5-year deal with Metz was a climactic moment in Sarr’s brief career, and the trip overseas can be a make-it-or-break-it moment for most young African stars. Luckily for Sarr, when opportunity knocked on his door, he grabbed it by the scruff and took full advantage of the chance at hand. Ligue 1 quickly got a taste of what Sarr brought to the table, a full 3-course meal that left Lille stuffed on the opening weekend of last year’s season.
Sarr’s explosiveness and dynamism transcends statistical data — his tenacity and drive injected Metz with a necessary spark to stave off relegation. His fearlessness and direct nature contributed heavily to Philippe Hinschberger’s side, but his anonymity and invisibility frustrated supporters at times. His game is much more than pace and strength: there is a sense of unique delicacy, as he elegantly glides past defenders with relative ease. The sight of an onrushing Sarr leaves defenders in a split state of mind, bamboozled and perplex by the long strides and deft touches of the Senegalese youngster. Erratic as his performances were to begin the season, Sarr flourished after his return from the African Cup of Nations, displaying a newfound hunger to improve.
With grit, humility, and a hunger to improve, Sarr trended upwards towards the end of the 2016/17 season. A relative newcomer to Ligue 1, he ended with a respectable 5 goals and 5 assists, as he aided Metz’s campaign to remain in the top flight. His ambiguous playing style meant he lacked any manifestation of consistency, but his glimmers of brilliance were undeniable. Smart in the final third and big in the air, Sarr has plenty of traits that should catalyze his climb up the footballing ladder. The foundations for a future African star are there, and Sarr has a good amount of time to progress and blossom.
Although the grass hasn’t necessarily been greener for Sarr at Rennais, fans should remain optimistic about the Senegalese prospect. If he can develop into a more consistent player, whose explosiveness and electrifying nature can prove to be impactful day-in and day-out, Sarr will certainly be on the radar of several big European clubs. He’s played exclusively as a striker this year, and grabbed 1 goal and 2 assists in 7 matches before being injured. At the Stade Saint-Symphorien, Sarr notched up multiple top-notch goals, and Rennais fans will certainly hope that trend continues with greater regularity at the Roazhon Park. His pace, strength, and tenacity strongly augment Gourcuff’s side, and his return from injury will be graciously welcomed by Rennais fans and teammates alike.
Since Sarr’s injury, goals have been few and far between for Gourcuff’s Rennais side. The Senegalese’s explosiveness, unpredictability, and dynamism has been sorely missed, and his return will inject Rennais with much-needed attacking dimensionality. Sarr has his heights set for the lofty heights of Europe’s top level, and this will be his year to conquer Ligue 1. Should his progression continue steadily upward, look for Sarr to emulate Sadio Mane’s recent success, and become one of Europe’s most dominant attackers in the upcoming years. Whether he dons the red and black of Stade Rennais, the green of Senegal, or any jersey he may wear in the forthcoming years, Sarr will undoubtedly find success wherever he is.
By: Brandon Duran/@Alcxntara6