As Wolves say their final goodbyes to Bakary Sako before he goes to compete for Mali in The African Cup of Nations. Fancast blogger Ben Husband looks back at his first 100 games for the club. His highlights in the Old Gold and the chances of seeing the mercurial winger plying his trade at Molineux come not only February, but seasons to come.
It now seems a lifetime ago since Matt Jarvis moved to pastures new, Stale Solbakken was in charge and Wolves bought in the relatively unheard of Bakary Sako. Now with over 100 appearances and 30 goals the Malian winger has made a real impression at the football club.
His impact was instant; anyone at Sixfields for his debut at Northampton saw first-hand what his left foot could do, nearly breaking the net after coming on as a substitute in front of the Sky cameras.
Sako’s first season in England, although pleasing on an individual basis, ended in a chastening fashion for his team, relegated to the third tier. His 9 goals not enough to save the team, all too often it was left up to the former St Etienne man to do it alone, towards the end of the season as Wolves plight became ever more desperate and their tactical set up ever more clueless, the only plan was to get the ball to the winger. The final home game against Burnley was a prime example, rushed back from injury and the only player people looked to. It would prove to all be in vain.
As the club began to adjust to life in the third tier of English football, it was assumed by the majority that it would be without their talisman from the previous season. Premier League Fulham were interested, Championship Nottingham Forest ready to pounce. This led to an incident which tested his relationship with the fans to its limit.
Excluded from the squad against Port Vale, Kenny Jackett revealed the Mali international was ‘not in the right frame of mind’ and he appeared destined to be departing WV1. However, the moves didn’t materialise and he would stay at Molineux.
The early periods of League One were disappointing not only for him but for the team in general, struggling to dominate games in the way he and the fans imagined he would. But still in this period saw a game that encapsulated everything about the winger’s Wolves career in a 90 minute snippet.
28th September 2013, at home to Sheffield United. His first half display was torrid, struggling to beat his man and having no quality on the odd occasions he did. His input was quite frankly shocking. Many were calling that day for Jackett to take Sako off the pitch. Then he whipped in an inch perfect cross for Griffiths to open the scoring, before dispatching a stunning second himself. However poor he is playing he is capable of that magic moment, that game changing pass or shot. Wolves always have a chance with Sako on the pitch, expect the unexpected.
His career at the club was revitalised through an unexpected return. Another man who suffered relegation was his soon-to-be Mali team-mate Nouha Dicko. When he was re-signed in January of 2014, the ‘French (Malian) Connection’ was born. They helped to tear through the division, breathing new life into Sako as Wolves rolled towards the League One title and a record points tally to boot.
Another highlight came in a scintillating run for the pair when they seemed to be the only players to score. Bakary scored a delightful free kick away at rivals Walsall to really rub salt in the wounds and crown a majestic performance.
A further 13 goals and 14 assists highlighted how important and how influential he had become for Kenny Jackett’s side and although, again the subject of transfer rumours, stayed at the club as they began their attempt at re-adjusting to life in the Championship.
7 more goals this term have helped Wolves to be on the verge of the playoffs at the halfway mark, a great return to this level.
Unfortunately his century of appearances came up in a disappointing 4-0 defeat to Brentford but that should take nothing away from his already impressive career at Wolves.
He wore a flashy pair of gold boots to mark the occasion, also looking for style. But make no mistake; since his introduction to English football there has been serious substance added to his game, he is now consistently one of the most hardworking players in the team.
As we approach another transfer window the rumours will of course begin to swirl, players of his quality will always be sought after. His participation in Equatorial Guinea may ensure he is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and remains at the club for the crucial spring months. But with his contract running out in the summer, Wolves need to decide whether they want to keep hold of their talisman and pay the money required.
Summer may be the end of his story at Wolves but he has ensured it has highs as well as lows. As much as we would all like to see him running out in the Old Gold for years to come, we also have to realise a talent like his should not be contained in the Championship and should be let loose in the higher echelons of the game.
The dream is of course that he is able to do that for the club he has taken to his heart so much in the last 3 years.
The jury is still out on Sako for some, but it will certainly be a big hole to fill should the winger leave in the near future.
Hopefully there’s a 100 more to come.