One of the reasons why Marseille have been struggling for goals lately is the recent departure of captain Mamadou Niang for Turkish side Fenerbahce. The leading marksman in Ligue 1 last season, Niang has settled in quickly in Istanbul, scoring eight goals to help the Sari Kanaryalar (Yellow Canaries) reach third place in the Spor Toto Super Lig.
Already a firm favourite with the Sukru Saracoglu faithful, Niang has also been impressing on international duty with Senegal. The 31-year-old front man is the top scorer in the qualifying competition for the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations with five goals. Little wonder, then, that he was all smiles when speaking exclusively to FIFA.com about his new life in Turkey and the recent upturn in the fortunes of the Lions of Teranga.
FIFA.com: Mamadou, it’s been four months now since you left Ligue 1 for the Turkish league. How are things going at Fenerbahce?
Mamadou Niang: Very well! I’m really happy at my new club and the more time I spend here the better it gets.
Marseille are carrying less of a threat in front of goal than last year and seem to be missing you. Is the feeling mutual?
Even though I’ve left, I’m still the club’s No1 fan, and no one’s happier than I am when Marseille are playing well and doing well. I still follow the team closely and they’ve had some pretty good results lately, which is great.
You’ve left one club where the fans have a reputation for generating a great atmosphere for another. How do the two compare?
The atmosphere is pretty similar. Marseille and Fenerbahce fans are just as passionate as each other and they both make an awful lot of noise. If anything, it’s even more amazing here because the stadium’s got a roof, which means you can really feel the decibels. If Marseille ever get round to doing the same, it should be pretty amazing.
What about the famous Fenerbahce-Galatasaray derby? Is it similar to the Marseille-Paris Saint-Germain rivalry?
No, it’s different. The Turkish clásico is a lot more intense. In France they blow the OM-PSG match out of all proportion and they shouldn’t. That leads to a lot of debatable decisions being made, like banning Marseille fans from going to Paris to watch the game. It’s a shame it’s come to that. The French championship deserves a lot better.
Fenerbahce’s attacking approach has led to 38 league goals scored and 19 conceded already this season. Is that because coach Aykut Kocaman want the team to play an open game?
No, the coach pays just as much attention to defence, although we do like to play good football and get forward. We take quite a few risks up front and sometimes you end up paying for them. We leave spaces at the back and that costs us dear.
You’ve scored eight of those goals. Were you expecting to make such a good start?
I’ve got belief in myself and my ability. I could have scored a few more even, but I was out for three weeks because of injury. I definitely feel comfortable in this team, though, and I like the club. Overall it’s been a positive experience so far.
You’re 31 now. Will you be staying at Fenerbahce for good?
I’ve signed for several seasons and as I’ve already said I’m very happy to be here. I’m going to do whatever it takes to make a success of things and I’ve already got a lot of affection for the club. Everything happens so quickly in football in more ways than one, and you never know what the future has in store for you. I know you can never say never, but I’m set on staying at Fenerbahce for a long time.
Is there another league you’d still like to play in?
I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I like the English Premier League, but it’s never happened. I’ll take whatever comes, though, and I’m more than satisfied with the Turkish championship.
No doubt you’re also satisfied with the Senegal team, which has rediscovered its form after going through a rough patch. What’s brought about the change?
The arrival of coach Amara Traore has done a lot of good. He’s changed the mindset on every level and he’s brought in young players who really want to fight for the Senegal jersey. Things are going great. There’s a fantastic atmosphere in the team and that’s the most important thing in my mind. That’s what’s made all the difference. We’re top of our section (Senegal are in Group E of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations qualification competition along with Cameroon, Congo DR and Mauritius). Everyone wants to help each other and fight for each other, and that’s why the results have started to come. It’s as simple as that.
How do you think African football is doing in general right now?
Quality and standards have always been high in African football, but what’s still lacking are infrastructures and decent pitches. The hot weather doesn’t help either because pitches don’t get enough water. They just burn up when there’s a drought and that makes them really difficult to play on. African teams are capable of anything on good pitches, though. Just look at Ghana. The Black Stars almost reached the semi-finals at the last World Cup, which just goes to show.
Finally, who do you think will be stepping up to collect the FIFA Ballon d’Or 2010 on 10 January?
If you look at the number of trophies they’ve won in the last year, then Xavi and Andres Iniesta deserve to get it. But if you’re looking at actual quality then Lionel Messi is the best as far as I’m concerned: the things he can do with the ball are just incredible.