Tottenham’s move for FC Metz midfielder Pape Sarr came somewhat out of left-field, and left plenty scrambling for YouTube compilations and news on just who the exciting 19-year-old talent was.
And, since the move, little more has surfaced. Many Tottenham fans are just as in the dark about the man set to return from loan this summer as they were when they initially signed him.
Speaking exclusively to 101greatgoals.com, French football expert and Metz fan Jeremy Smith offered a summary of Sarr’s season to date, just how good he can be, and whether he can be a key figure in an Antonio Conte Tottenham side next season.
🙌 We are delighted to announce the signing of Pape Matar Sarr from Metz.
The Senegalese international will remain on loan at Metz in Ligue 1 for the rest of the 2021/22 season.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) August 27, 2021
So how does Sarr profile? Smith explains: “He’s one of those midfielders that, a bit like [Eduardo] Camavinga, has got a bit of everything.
“Whichever he decided, whether defensive midfielder or proper box to box midfielder or even an attacking midfielder, if he decided to stick with one of those positions he could probably make it his own. But I think he’s probably best as a true box-to-box.
“In his youth career he was probably more attacking, and when he started out at Metz more defensive, but I think somewhere between the two is his best.
“He’s a decent tackler with relatively good stamina and he’s a really good passer, both short and long. He’s very good at breaking the lines and comfortable with the ball at his feet, so he’s happy to dribble past players as well as give-and-go.”
Despite the strong skillset, there are still weaknesses to his game, however, perhaps to be expected from a player who is in only his second full top-flight campaign.
“One of them is possibly his head a little bit,” says Smith. “He is young so it’s understandable but I don’t know whether some of those motivational issues this year have been because he’s already got half a mind to moving to Spurs next year.
“And I know I said decent stamina, but there have been some matches where occasionally he seems to run out of steam in the final quarter of matches, but I think that these are all things that you’d expect from someone so young.”
When a move for Sarr was in the works, there were many that described the Senegalese midfielder, currently on duty for the Africa Cup of Nations, as the “next Paul Pogba”. However, there may be a player closer to home that Spurs fans can draw parallels with.
Smith explained: “Spurs fans won’t necessarily like it, but there are some comparisons to Ndombele, as in he’s a really good footballer, really good line-breaker in terms of dribbling and passing, but is he always there, on it, 100% of the time for 90 minutes?
“I feel like Pogba is often the lazy comparison; he’s a midfielder, he’s multi-talented but we can’t really put our finger on what he does best .
“I don’t think Sarr has got the force of personality or the physicality of Pogba to compare in that sense. Maybe it will come but I’m not sure it will.
“The comparison is that he can do a bit of everything: he can do your defensive job for you, he can be box to box, and he can be creative, so I think they have got that in common.”
Signed before Conte joined the club, Tottenham and Sarr himself only have to look across north London to see what happens to those caught in transition. William Saliba, signed before Mikel Arteta took the helm at rivals Arsenal, is currently on his third spell away from the club on loan, to the bemusement of many who watch the defender.
William Saliba has been nominated for the Ligue 1 Team of the Season so far. pic.twitter.com/KVIBQOTtzY
— Patrick Timmons (@PatrickTimmons1) January 3, 2022
There are cases in the Tottenham ranks too; Ryan Sessegnon has failed to kick on after a big-money move to north London, while Jack Clarke has not made an appearance for the Lilywhites since his £10million move in 2019.
And, like Ndombele, who found himself booed off in Tottenham’s most recent win over Morecambe, there are doubts about Sarr’s ability to play in a Conte side, with the demand for high-intensity work rate, combative tackling and industrious action.
🗣 “I think there’s a good chance he’ll leave on loan, overseas.”
What’s next for Tanguy Ndombele? 🤔 @David_Ornstein has been discussing his possible exit from Tottenham on the Transfer Gossip Daily podcast.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 10, 2022
Unlike Ndombele, though, there is potential for him to blossom into a key player for the Italian coach.
“At this stage of his career,” Smith went on. “I don’t think that he’s a Conte-style player, and I think it [the move] is a little bit similar to Thomas Lemar going to a Simeone team, in that it could be the making or breaking of his career.
“I feel like the great engine, real intensity, bombing up and down the pitch for the full 90 minutes non-stop, if Conte is able to get to get that out of Sarr, then they have a proper World Class player on their hands because the footballing ability is already there.
“If Conte can get that out of him, then he’s a real gem. If he can’t, then I can’t see Conte being too patient with him.
“I think he’s malleable enough to fit into any system and become a very important team player. I just think that with Conte’s high-intensity, fast-breaking attacking football, there will be a lot of onus on him to put in a really good shift in midfield.”
Still only 19 years old, Sarr has a long career ahead of him, and while Tottenham are in desperate need of midfield reinforcements that are of a good enough level to see regular European action, there is no need to rush the Senegalese midfielder.
But, if needed, would he be ready to step into the Spurs side next season?
According to Smith, he might not be quite there just yet: “I think he was definitely right to stay in Metz for the season, last summer was a little bit too soon.
“For next season, I suppose it all depends on how he adjusts to Premier League football.
“On pure footballing ability, I think he could get straight into the first team but I wouldn’t be surprised if next season would be more bit-part and being used in the reserves to get him used to English football.
Meanwhile, the form of Sarr’s side, Metz, has been a cause for concern this season. Following on from an impressive 10th place finish last season, they find themselves sitting in the relegation zone in Ligue 1 this campaign, with just three wins to their name all season. And Sarr has not been exempt from criticism, failing to stand out for the struggling French outfit thus far.
“He’s been symptomatic (of their struggles this season) I’d say. It wasn’t entirely his fault because he was being shifted around and probably there was a little bit too much onus on him to be the creative midfielder, which isn’t really his job,” Smith admitted.
His versatility has cost him too, having been deployed all over the pitch as Metz seek solutions to their poor form, something that may have done him more harm than good.
Smith said: “I think it has stunted him a tiny bit. I think for any player if you’re given this one position and you’re able to develop in that position it’s always going to help you. He’s moved around the midfield and even played at left-wing a couple of times which really isn’t his position.
“It shows that he has got the basic football ability to adapt and play anywhere but I think for a 19-year-old you have got to give him the chance to become accustomed to one position, so I think it has affected him.”
Worse still, there seems to be some dissent among the ranks in the Ligue 1 strugglers, with Sarr one of those involved.
“A few players have seemed a little bit unmotivated and to be fair at times he has been one of those players and was dropped recently (as a result), which I think was a bit of a wake-up call for him to get his head back in order,” Smith added.
And while there is certainly plenty of promise in the signing of the Senegalese international, Smith was quick to point out that it may be a case of a Spurs having a slow burner on their hands, rather than a player ready to explode onto the scene next season.
A reluctant Smith admitted: “I really hope he succeeds, because as a Metz fan myself, I’m a big fan of his and I’ve enjoyed seeing his development over the last year, but I’m not going to promise Spurs fans that it’s going to go swimmingly, at least not straight away.”
At 19 years old though, that’s okay. The bigger question remains, can he be moulded into the sort of player that Conte demands to have in those central midfield roles?
Jeremy Smith is a French football writer who has appeared on CNN, The Guardian and GetFrenchFootballNews.
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|Dennis, Emmanuel||Watford FC||8|
|Antonio, Michail||West Ham United||8|
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|Son, Heung Min||Tottenham Hotspur||8|
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|Sterling, Raheem||Manchester City||7|
|Maupay, Neal||Brighton & Hove Albion||7|
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|Mahrez, Riyad||Manchester City||6|
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|Salisu, Mohammed||Southampton FC||0||6|
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|Tarkowski, James||Burnley FC||0||6|
|Laporte, Aymeric||Manchester City||1||5|
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|Skipp, Oliver||Tottenham Hotspur||0||6|
|James, Reece||Chelsea FC||1||4|
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|Silva, Bernardo||Manchester City||0||5|
|Pogba, Paul||Manchester United||1||4|
|Cancelo, Joao||Manchester City||0||5|
|Robertson, Andy||Liverpool FC||1||4|
|McGinn, John||Aston Villa||0||5|
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|Jesus, Gabriel||Manchester City||7|
|Pogba, Paul||Manchester United||7|
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|Mount, Mason||Chelsea FC||5|
|James, Reece||Chelsea FC||5|
|Kovacic, Mateo||Chelsea FC||5|
|Cancelo, Joao||Manchester City||5|
|Robertson, Andy||Liverpool FC||5|
|Antonio, Michail||West Ham United||4|
|Mahrez, Riyad||Manchester City||4|
|Saka, Bukayo||Arsenal FC||4|
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