x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Al Nasr's Ismael Bangoura primed for the Premier League

The Guinea international forward has loved his time in the UAE but is set for a move to England.

Ismael Bangoura proved prolific in the Pro League last season for Al Nasr and his form has drawn the attention of Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League.
Ismael Bangoura proved prolific in the Pro League last season for Al Nasr and his form has drawn the attention of Bolton Wanderers in the English Premier League.

In the summer of 2010, as Ismael Bangoura considered his options, the Guinea international made a choice to quit the glamour of European football to follow is dream of playing in a Muslim country.

The striker had made his reputation in Ukraine where in two seasons with Dynamo Kiev he established himself as scorer of repute with admirers across some of the top European clubs.

His blistering pace, versatility, composure and an obvious eye for goal had made him a hot property and the forward was being linked with a number of clubs in the English Premier League, including Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Fulham.

"Wigan Athletic are a good team, they are doing well in the league, however there are other teams looking at me in the Premier League, according to my agent," Bangoura told skysports.com at the time.

The interest from the English clubs was obvious given his stunning 25-yard goal in a 2007/08 Champions League match against Manchester United.

He also scored against Arsenal and Roma in Europe that season and played an influential role in taking Dynamo Kiev to the semi-finals of the Uefa Cup, scoring against Paris Saint-Germain in the previous round.

In two seasons at Kiev, Bangoura scored 28 goals in 46 games, including two hat-tricks. He also picked up the 2007 league title and was voted Ukraine's best foreign player in the same year. During the same period, he scored a 22-minute hat-trick for his country against Namibia in a 2010 World Cup qualifier.

Then the French Ligue 1 club Rennes jumped the queue and signed him on a four-year deal, worth €11 million (Dh52.6m), in July 2009.

Bangoura scored on his debut with a spectacular overhead kick against Boulogne, but a year later he was packing his bags to leave for the UAE. He had scored only eight goals in 39 appearances for the French club.

It was a shock move for a player who was 25 at the time and seemed destined for bigger clubs and leagues.

At the start of this season, Bangoura gave his reasons for trading the allure of European football for the Maktoum Stadium, where there have been no trophies since the President's Cup of 1989. The last time Al Nasr won the league was in 1986.

Bangoura said it had been his ambition to play in a Muslim country, a place where he could entertain fans with his skills but also perform his obligations as a Muslim. After eight years of wandering through the streets of France and Ukraine, he wanted a return to more familiar surroundings.

"Every day, when I wake up I thank God for giving me this opportunity of playing in a Muslim country," Bangoura, who is now 27, said. "Mentally, me and my family have not felt as comfortable as we do here in the UAE. For the first time in my career, I enjoyed training and playing during Ramadan. I did not have to feel awkward.

"I did not experience these feelings before in the stadiums of Europe."

Arriving in the UAE in September 2010, Bangoura quickly established himself as a favourite among Nasr fans. His 10 goals in 17 league matches helped the club finish third in the league and clinch a spot in the Asian Champions League. He scored 10 more in the Etisalat Cup and the President's Cup and was looking forward to more success this season.

"I have no regrets about leaving Europe," he said. "Instead, I am having fun and looking forward to helping Nasr win trophies."

However, four league games into the new season, the Nasr management decided to give him "international leave" and brought in the Brazilian Rodrigo Vergilio on transfer deadline day.

Guinea had qualified for the 2012 African Cup of Nations and Bangoura would have missed a crucial part of the season on international duty, so Nasr thought it prudent to go with an alternative.

Away from the limelight, he kept himself busy in training at the club until he left to join his national team in late December.

While he may have been out of sight, Bangoura has not been out of mind; Bolton have made a bid for the striker and are close to finalising a deal with Nasr.

The Premier League club, according to English media reports, have already started the proceedings for a work permit and must be hoping Guinea suffer an early exit from the tournament so that the deal can be finalised before the close of the winter transfer window.

Nasr, however, are not keen on selling their star, and Khalid Obaid, the team director, has been quoted as saying they would prefer a six-month loan deal.

Nasr's reluctance is understandable. Bangoura's footballing qualities are widely recognised and few of his ilk venture to the UAE. But more important is his professionalism and commitment.

Asked what he could bring to the team, on his introduction at Rennes, Bangoura said: "My body, my speed, my goals and my desire. I will do anything to help you become champions or finish in the top three."

At Rennes, he failed; but he did help Nasr achieve a top-three finish. After the end of the season, he talked about the sacrifices he has made to succeed in football.

"I have been away from my family for 18 years now," said Bangoura, who was born in the Guinea capital of Conakry and started his career at the Corsican side Gazelec Ajaccio in 2003 before moving to Le Mans in 2005.

"I have made a lot of sacrifices, staying away from friends to focus completely on football.

"I know a lot of players from Guinea who started with me but have disappeared now because they deviated from the path of professionalism and could not make the necessary sacrifices."

Bangoura had the same advice for the Emirati football players: "Commit yourself fully to football; forget about your social life till the end of your football career.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

 

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