An ode to Souleymane Bamba
Other than the occasional shrug of indifference, pleasure and anger are the two main forces eminent in the mind of the football fan when watching their teams. However, when certain players are involved, it's more complicated that.
Ivory Coast and Trabzonspor defender Souleymane Bamba is one of these: a player who defies description, who makes you scratch your head and wonder what makes him tick. Indeed, you need a whole new axis with which to measure the 29-year-old, as it can be a bizarre experience to watch him play football.
Referred to as "Sol" for short, attempting to describe the centre-back's form on the pitch is a bit like attempting to explain the plot of "Inception" to your dog. A large man, with a tall body and a broad chest, his skill set is relatively limited: He doesn't have pace; he doesn't have agility; he doesn't have balance. But equally, he is strong, powerful and a bit like a stereotypical old-style defender.
But the thing about Bamba is that, rather than try to enhance the basic skills he has, he has decided to develop skills that don't play to his strengths. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking that he has selectively hand-picked characteristics to add to his game from things he has watched on TV; mainly from players who have no parallels with his actual ability.
For example, he struts about the Ivory Coast backline like teammate Didier Drogba does when moodily awaiting service up front. He emits the composure of German legend Franz Beckenbauer, casually knocking it back to his goalkeeper, despite a plethora of on-rushing opposition attackers. Every pass he makes feels reminiscent of Thierry Henry when Arsenal were 4-0 up and the fans were Ole-ing. Somehow, Bamba simultaneously manages to be everything and yet nothing.
Miraculously he doesn't incite anger or outrage from the fans. Usually his efforts are met with a hysterical disbelief that just makes you eventually sit back and smile. Like that bloke in your 11-a-side Sunday league who plays in defence but "fancies himself" as a midfielder, Bamba has an innocent quality about him that makes him quite loveable.
Like those Sunday league players, it feels like he is almost on a constant quest throughout his career to prove to his managers that he has the assets to play further up the pitch. Yet he remains frustratingly entrenched just in front of his goalkeeper , dreaming of dictating the tempo like a deep-lying playmaker.
What makes him the most interesting, however, is that Bamba is in many ways a fine (if slightly extreme) symptom of where Ivorian football finds itself. Despite having some of the finest talent the continent has ever seen, there are also a number of players who you struggle to believe have so many caps. Indeed there are some positions which make you wonder if this is honestly the best that the country can find: to put it into context, uninspiring left-back Arthur Boka has 80 caps; goalkeeper Boubacar Barry has the same; while Bamba now has 44 to his name.
But these are the types of players we are likely to see more and more for Les Elephants, as the veterans of the current group -- such as Drogba, Kolo Toure and Didier Zokora -- get put out to pasture. Looking through the squad, at those who may be pulling on the orange of Ivory Coast at this World Cup, it does make you wonder whether the Toures and the Drogbas were really a one-off for this country. Will the reputation of the Ivory Coast slip in future years, who knows? At least it'll be fun watching Sol Bamba in the meantime.