Sunderland confirmed the signing of Abdoullah Ba yesterday, with the French midfielder arriving from Le Havre for a fee of €1m.
Although the 19-year-old had been a regular for the Ligue 2 side and features prominently at youth level for the French national team, we know little about him.
Thankfully the player spoke in-depth about what kind of player and person he is with French magazine Onze Mondial, in an interview published at the end of last year.
Despite being described as a defensive midfielder, Ba says he sees himself as a creative player and has the most fun as a player when he’s making something happen;
I’m a creative player, I like to dribble, I play well, I like to run. When I have the most fun, it’s when the ball is at my feet. As I’m technically good, I really like feints, eliminating the opponent, fixations, good passes...what a pleasure. I play football for that.
That’s why we play football, to get the ball. I don’t know any player who prefers to defend and run rather than have the ball. I run a lot though. I have a big chest. In my position, it’s not enough to be good with the ball, you have to be good in all areas. You have to defend, recover the ball, make a lot of runs, press, go back and forth.
That’s not to say the player won’t contribute defensively but he says he does not like passing backward, with his first thought is to get the ball forward:
I like to be at the heart of the game. I like to combine defensive and offensive work. I like this role, it corresponds to my qualities. I like playing in midfield because I’m a very calm person. I don’t panic, I don’t stress. I see quickly, I try to orient myself well, I always look for the best solution.
When I’m on the pitch, I try to anticipate. Before receiving the ball, I already know where I want to put my pass. I calculate everything. I’m trying to find out if what I’m going to do will be dangerous or not.
As a midfielder, I don’t like passing backwards. I always want to play forward. If I pass backwards, it’s because the game doesn’t allow me to do otherwise. The goal is to score. And for that, you have to go towards the opposing goal.
Ba then says what his strengths are but also the area of his game where he still needs to improve:
My hard work, my technique and one against one. Otherwise, I have to improve my heading game, it’s important for a midfielder to have a good heading game. I also need to strengthen my muscles to become even better in duels. And more generally, I am very sulky and stubborn. These are traits of my personality that are reflected in my football and in everyday life.
Regarding his sulky and stubborn demeanour, Ba says he is trying to overcome those traits but that it’s part of his character:
When something doesn’t go my way, I’ll easily sulk. I’m stubborn in some things. I couldn’t explain to you why. It’s like that. I always want to have the last word. I always want to be right. I am often told that it is a defect. It can be seen as character too. But some people don’t like people who like to be right. And I get it, over time I try to be less stubborn.
He also describes himself as a leader who will not hesitate to let himself be known on the pitch:
I am a leader. But people don’t necessarily see it. I am a discreet person, I am not the person who will give long speeches. On the other hand, on the field, I can be a technical leader, I can encourage others, I can replace them. I’m not going to raise my voice off the pitch, but on the pitch, I don’t hesitate to take matters into my own hands.
Always looking to improve his game, Ba undertakes extra sessions, even during his days off:
I try to differentiate myself from others. I do what people don’t like to do. Working only in the group sessions is not enough. You always have to do extra sessions. For example, during the holidays, we set up things with my agency, Sport Cover. I have a physical trainer at my disposal who does two or three sessions a day. And not everyone does that during their holidays. Most people prefer to have fun on holiday. After my club sessions, I also do some extra work. I do some weight training or running to feel good. I’m always looking to improve.
Although others describe him as nonchalant, Ba disagrees, does not understand why people have always had that impression of him and has a different view of himself:
I am calm and reflective. I attach great importance to my family and my close friends. In everyday life, I am discreet, reserved and a homebody. I always give back what is given to me. Especially with my family. I am honest, I am very generous, I am also very demanding with myself. I give my all in everything I do, despite my apparent nonchalance.
I always give my all. But sometimes I’m told I’m nonchalant. I don’t know why I am returning this impression. Ever since I was little, I’ve been like that. People see it that way. But me, I give everything. They just don’t feel the same as me. I’m trying to change that, but it’s difficult, it’s anchored in me.
When asked whether it’s good to hear about highly he is rated, Ba is appreciative but is at pains to point out that he is still not the finished article:
It’s good. It’s good to hear praise about me. But that’s not enough, you have to work, not rest on your achievements and move forward. We must not stop on that and say to ourselves: “It’s good, I’m a very good player, I’ve arrived”. I still have a long way to go.
If people speak well of me, it’s because they noticed something. They are right. Now it’s up to me to manage this and show what I’m worth on the pitch. It’s the pitch and nothing else that talks.