‘He’s been described as Paul Pogba without the baggage’.
With that, Sky Sports News introduced Lille midfielder Boubacary Soumare to an English football audience horny for anything resembling a January transfer rumour.
Those nine words sent Man United and Chelsea fans into instant meltdown and spawned more than 100 @SoumareSZN Twitter accounts before Kaveh Solhekol had even finished his sentence.
Unless you’re a keen observer of Ligue 1, or managed to take in any of Lille’s Champions League group stage campaign, you’re unlikely to have come across Soumare’s talents.
Lucky, then, that Sky Sports News were able to paint such a vivid picture of a player just three years removed from PSG’s B team.
In the interest of fact-checking, it’s only right to assess the similarities between Pogba, baggage in hand, and Soumare, without a Louis Vuitton backpack in sight.
Let’s start with the basics. Soumare is six years Pogba’s junior, so no similarities there.
In terms of positioning, Soumare has operated almost exclusively as a defensive midfielder throughout his budding career, whereas Pogba is at best in the final third of the pitch.
Soumare averages 0.6 key passes to Pogba’s 2.3 in league games this season, but in fairness he’s required to be more disciplined in possession with a pass success rate of 90.2% far exceeding his compatriot’s 82.8%. While Pogba averaged 5.9 long passes per game, Soumare keeps it shorter with 2.
Despite Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer’s preference for counter-attacking football, Pogba averages nearly 27 more passes a game than Soumare. All things considered, it’s hard to find any similarities in their passing game.
Soumare’s unwillingness to cross the halfway line is apparent in Pogba taking 20 times more shots per game, while defensively he loses out to the senior statesman in tackles and clearances.
Unless Solhekol was referring to the similarities in dribbling- 1.3 per game for Soumare compared to 1.1 for Pogba- there is very little resemblance in their game when you break it down.
If you were being lazy, you could point to the fact that both are French. Soumare has represented France since the Under-16s, as was the case with Pogba. If Soumare makes his debut for the senior side before 27 February he will be doing so aged 20, as Pogba did.
But being French and loosely playing in midfield shouldn’t be worthy of comparison. You’d be ridiculed if you compared Bruno Fernandes to Ruben Neves, so why should this be any different?
As for baggage, were they referring to the World Cup medal that hangs around Pogba’s neck? Maybe the four Serie A titles, or Europa League trophy?
We live in an age where data and footage are only a Google search away, creating an rush to know everything about everyone. If you don’t know the name of Gremio’s highly-rated centre-back’s first pet then you’re a fraud with no footballing knowledge.
But it’s okay not to know. It’s better to learn than make ludicrous comparisons, completely exposing your attempts to be ITK.
Let Soumare be Soumare. As for Pogba, if United had a few more players with his ‘baggage’ they might not be 27 points behind Liverpool in January.
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