How Yves Bissouma and five overseas-based players slipped through Downs’ fingers 

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Football is just a game of inches. So is scouting for talent. Because in either game, football or scouting, the margin for misses is so small.

Mamelodi Sundowns scouts have over the years cast their eye on African talents but opted against signing them for various reasons.

FARPost looks at six of those talents who have gone on to make it big elsewhere with three of them in the English Premiership.

Yves Bissouma

Without a doubt, Malian central midfielder Yves Bissouma is Sundowns’ biggest miss. The 25-year-old midfielder caught the eye of Downs scouts at the 2016 African Nations Championship (CHAN) held in Rwanda.

At the time, aged 20, he was in his second season with AS Real Bamako, who play in the top Malian division. He was praised for having a “perfect understanding of his central midfield position, great passing ability and vision” by the scouts who recommended that the club further assess him.

The Ivory Coast-born star, who was raised in Mali, has since developed into a much more rounded midfielder in the English Premiership where he turns out for Brighton & Hove Albion.

Interestingly, Zimbabwe journalist Petros Kausiyo described Bissouma as “Mali’s best player on show” in that edition of CHAN.
“Mali’s best player on show in their opening game was central midfielder Yves Bissouma and given the manner in which the 20-year-old AS Real Bamako player tormented Uganda, Callisto Pasuwa [then Zimbabwe coach] has every reason to worry about his own midfield.

“Bissouma is not only enterprising but has precision in his passing and [Blessing] Moyo was likely to be employed to check his movements especially given that the Eagles are also good at counter raids,” Kausiyo wrote in the Herald.

Exactly five months after that CHAN tournament, Bissouma was signed by French side Lille in July 2016. Brighton then signed Bissouma from the Ligue 1 side for an undisclosed fee two seasons later.

According to The Athletic, Arsenal will have to pay over £40m [R690 million] if they plan on luring the talented midfielder to north London next summer.

Bissouma was voted as Brighton’s Player of the Month twice successively in April and May. After the first month of the 2021/22 season in August, he again won the award.

Nobody else in the 11 seasons Brighton have been running these monthly awards has ever won three in a row.

Enock Mwepu

Bissouma’s new Zambian teammate could have landed at Chloorkop in 2017. His former coach at Kafue Celtic, Lee Kawanu, has previously told FARPost that he was hesitant to let him join Sundowns as he knew the boy had what it took to end up in Europe.

Former Downs scout, Floyd Mogale, spent 10 days in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, scouting Mwepu and Patson Daka.

“I was in Lusaka for 10 solid days, I went to the hotel where these boys were camped and I spoke to the boys and they were keen to come to Sundowns.

“Unfortunately, I was told the club was focused on the Caf Champions League so there was no time to look at these boys.

“But there was a recommendation to invite Patson Daka and his teammate Enock Mwepu to Chloorkop, but nothing materialised,” Mogale said recently.

However, Kawanu would have never let his two gems move to South Africa. “I was reluctant to have these boys move to South Africa because I felt they could make it in Europe and I’m glad it has worked out for them,” he told FARPost.

Kawanu tips the 23-year-old, who joined Brighton in July, to be the reincarnation of Ivorian great Yaya Toure.

“I told Enock that he can become the next Yaya Toure. I honestly felt that he can get to the level of Yaya Toure if he takes his game seriously,” he said.

The Seagulls paid over €23 million [R400 million] for the services of the Chipolopolo midfielder, according to media reports. The fee made him Brighton’s record signing and one of the five most expensive sales of Austria side RB Salzburg.

Patson Daka

Sundowns’ head of methodology and academy Shawn Bishop first saw Daka back in April 2015. He was playing at the African Union Sports Commission (AUSC) Region 5 Youth Games in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

It was about six months before his 17th birthday. Bishop recalls stalking a teenage Daka as he terrorised defences in Bulawayo. According to the scout, only Daka’s age stood between him and an opportunity to pen a Downs contract.

It would not be the first and last time a proposed deal between the Pretoria side and the Zambian prodigy would fall through.

“I saw Patson as a 15-year-old in the Zambian national team in Bulawayo,” Bishop told FARPost last year.

“He was playing there. I think that was 2015. We followed him for a while, but we must be respectful of the laws. He was underage. In South Africa, a boy is a minor until the age of 18.

“The laws are clear that a child needs to go to school until 18. The club these two boys were at in Nkana [Kafue Celtic] was doing excellent work with them to ensure they progressed to become world class players.”

Mogale recalls how he made attempts to stop the Leicester striker, who turns 23 next month, from moving to Europe.

“The day Patson Daka was flying out to Europe, I even went to OR Tambo to beg his agent to cancel the flight, but he wouldn’t because there were no guarantees from Sundowns. The boy wanted assurance, he asked if Pitso [Mosimane] wanted him,” Mogale said.

After scoring 34 goals in 42 appearances last season to help Salzburg to the Austrian title, Daka signed for Leicester City with the fee thought to be around £23m [R398 million].
Daka has grown into the Zambian national team’s talisman alongside his compatriot Mwepu.

Ibrahima Sory Sankhon

Sankhon’s name was also mentioned in the corridors of Chloorkop after an outstanding CHAN tournament for Guinea. When that tournament kicked off, he had just turned 20 exactly two weeks prior.

His club career was just taking off for Horoya AC. Guinea played him as a central midfielder or wide on the left, a role balanced between attack and defence.

Sundowns scouts described him as ‘energetic and industrious’ with a ‘good passing ability’ and a ‘great tactical sense.’

They also said he had great tactical movement to attack space and read situations. He was also commended for his excellent finishing ability and winning mentality. However, no action was taken to pursue the midfielder, who signed for Belgian side Sint-Truidense in 2018.

The 25-year-old currently turns out for another Belgian side RWD Molenbeek after joining them earlier this year. He is now valued at €1.6 million [R27 million].

Meschack Elia

The Congolese forward finished the CHAN 2016 tournament as top scorer with four goals and two assists. He was also named best player of the tournament after helping DRC lift the CHAN title before joining TP Mazembe the same year from CS Don Bosco.

Elia, who was thought not to be a perfect fit at Chloorkop, was in the starting line-up when Swiss side Young Boys edged Cristiano Ronaldo’s Manchester United 2-1 last week on Tuesday.

The former Caf Most Promising Young Player nominee joined Young Boys last year after a potential move to Belgian giants Anderlecht fell through.

The 24-year-old was caught up in age-cheating controversy and contractual impasse with Mazembe. FIFA, however, cleared him and overturned a year-long ban that had been imposed by the Congolese Football Federation.

Chisom Chikatara

While the Nigerian striker was identified as a player who could easily fit in at Chloorkop, the former Abia Warriors star was immediately snapped up by Moroccan giants Wydad Casablanca where he spent two seasons.

Chikatara was praised for his pace, mobility, and striking power. In the 2014/15 season, aged just 19, he scored 13 goals for Warriors in the Nigerian Professional Football League.

His career has since taken him to Egypt, Bahrain where he spent a season with Al-Shabab Club before moving to Iraqi and India where he recently joined Gokulam Kerala.