“Konate will delight Anfield! – New Liverpool signing destined to become “one of the best center-backs in Europe”
As he prepares to move to Merseyside, the defender’s former coach and team-mates at Sochaux tell Goal his top potential has always been clear.
Suddenly Bryan Lasme has a decision to make.
“I am a big supporter of Chelsea,” said the Sochaux forward Goal, smiling. “But now when they play for Liverpool I don’t know what I’m going to do!
“Who am I going to support? “
His dilemma is understandable. Lasme’s best friend, after all, is Ibrahima Konate, who on July 1 will make a £ 36million ($ 51million) transfer to Anfield from RB Leipzig.
“He’s my brother, man!” Lasme said. “I’m so proud of him and so excited for him. I hope only the best for him with Liverpool and England.
Lasme and Konate have known each other since 2014, when they became teammates at the Sochaux academy. It was there, near the Swiss border, that they formed a friendship that lasted, even though their respective careers took different directions.
“We would do everything together,” says Lasme. “We stayed together, we watched football, played PlayStation, table tennis, cards, everything.
“Ibou was from Paris and I was from Montauban, which is far from Sochaux, and so I guess it was natural for us to connect. Sometimes it’s not easy when your family is so far away, but he was there for me and I was there for him, you know? We became great friends during this time.
Konaté had arrived at Sochaux as a midfielder, but would move on to central defender at the Under-17 level thanks to the foresight of coach Eric Hely.
“It wasn’t an obvious decision, to be honest,” says Lasme. “Because as a midfielder he was good! He was technical, he was fast, he was strong and he knew how to play.
“He had the qualities you would want in a midfielder. “
Sochaux’s coaches, however, had spotted the teenager’s potential as an athletic defender and ball player, and Konate’s rise began to accelerate after his change of position.
At 17, and after only a few appearances in the Sochaux B team, he is called to train with the senior team. Albert Cartier was a coach at the time and now, more than four years later, he remembers Konaté’s arrival well.
“He was so mature,” says Cartier Goal. “With or without the ball, he knew what to do. He was still listening, he was calm and he was still humble.
“We saw straight away that he had great potential.”
Mickael Alphonse was Sochaux’s right-back at the time and, like Cartier, remembers the youngster making a solid impression at the start.
“He came to train with us during the international break,” says Alphonse. “He stood out for his large size and speed, even though he was so young.
“Maybe at first we didn’t see all of his abilities because he was so respectful, so shy. He was still tactically young and needed to learn and grow.
This growth has been rapid. Cartier remembers sending Konate back to the Sochaux B team with a clear instruction.
“I told him ‘You have to perform and behave at an exemplary level, with your teammates, with your coaches, with the opponents, with the referee,'” he said. “I said ‘Otherwise you will stay with the youth team.’
“A week later he was back with the senior team, and he’s never left!
Indeed, soon after, Cartier was ready to give the humble, wide-eyed youngster his professional debut against Monaco in the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France.
“I will remember this game for the rest of my life,” said Lasme, who was an unused substitute for Sochaux that night. “It was the game that launched Ibou’s career.
Monaco was a team. They would reach the Champions League semi-finals that season, with Radamel Falcao, Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Benjamin Mendy and a 17-year-old named Kylian Mbappe all starring.
“They had the best attack in Ligue 1,” said Cartier. “We had injuries and suspensions, so before the game I called Ibou. I said ‘If I told you you had to start against Monaco, how would you react?’
“He said ‘I would go back to my room, watch all of my opponents’ videos, study and learn, then turn off my phone and focus on my job.’
“It was good enough for me!”
Konaté started the match, as did Lemar, Bakayoko and Joao Moutinho. Falcao and Bernardo both came off the bench, while Mbappe and Fabinho were unused substitutes. Sochaux eventually lost on penalties after a 1-1 draw, but his rookie center-back was the talk of the town.
“He played a huge game,” says Lasme. “Everything changed for him after that. “
Alphonse, who played alongside Konate at the back, now describes his performance as “a monster”.
“I think that’s when Ibou greeted the professional world! he says. “It was an XXL performance. With this game he showed he would be an incredible defender very quickly!
It was January 2017, but in June of this year Konate was on the move, joining Leipzig after a charm offensive from Ralf Ragnick, then Red Bull’s director of football.
Rangnick, who beat Lyon at the youngster’s signing, would later say Konate was “a potential world batsman”, capable of playing for any club in the world.
“No one was surprised when he left,” says Alphonse. “His performances in this match against Monaco were of such a high level. After three games, I told him “You are going to finish very high in this game”. It was evident.
“Besides his talent, he was a researcher, you know? He always wanted to talk, to learn. The craziest thing is that he was probably not aware of his extraordinary physical qualities at the time. He was so shy, but it was a mountain! I used to joke with him saying he had to bow his head just to get into the locker room!
“He knew where he wanted to go in life,” he says. “And his best part is that he never makes the same mistake twice. If you tell him something, he remembers it.
” I worked with [Kalidou] Koulibaly in Metz, and I see similarities between him and Konaté. They both have high level qualities. “
Lasme, who remains at Sochaux to this day, remembers Konaté’s competitiveness more than anything.
“He hates losing! he smiles. “That’s why he sometimes tries to cheat at cards. He will say no, but I know the truth!
“You can ask him what happened when we practiced against each other. He had tough sessions against me because I knew his game by heart! But I had tough days against him too, I can admit it!
“He knew what his path was. He knew why he was in Sochaux. I remember he always said he wanted to play in the best leagues.
“I remember watching a Champions League game with him in our room in Sochaux, and before we fell asleep he said to me ‘Bryan, I will play in this competition one day.’ I believed him.
Konate’s rise continued in Leipzig, where, despite a number of injuries, he bolstered his reputation as one of Europe’s most outstanding young defenders, making almost 100 appearances for the Bundesliga side. .
Now comes the next challenge, a stint in the Premier League and a chance to make a name for himself with Liverpool under Jurgen Klopp.
“I can’t wait to see him play in England,” says Alphonse, who is now playing with Amiens in Ligue 2. It’s a very physical championship, but I have no doubt that once adapted, it will delight Anfield.
“For me he will become one of the best center-backs in Europe along with Liverpool.”
Cartier, now coach of FC Bastia-Borgo in the French third division, agrees.
“The culture of success at Liverpool means he will progress quickly,” he said. “He will get more aggressive in England, but he has key attributes that will allow him to be successful; his competitiveness, his humility, his first look at the team and his exemplary professionalism.
And as for Lasme, well, he’ll just be proud to see his “brother” do his thing on the biggest stage.
“He’s going to shine in England,” he said. “Seeing him play for a club like Liverpool is moving. He’s excited. He loves the culture, he loves to speak English and I think Liverpool will be perfect for him. He deserves to be at a club like this.
“Five, six years ago he watched them on TV, and now he’s going to play alongside Van Dijk, Gomez, Matip, those guys. It’s amazing, a big dream for him.
“We’re all going to watch him and support him this season, even against Chelsea!