Werder Bremen supporters never imagined they would get over the painful departure of Miroslav Klose so soon. Nevertheless, a few short months after Klose's move to rivals Bayern Munich, Côte d'Ivoire forward Boubacar Sanogo has helped banish the memory of the top scorer at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. The Ivorian goalgetter has also earned rave reviews from the German press, with best-selling tabloid Bild even running the headline: "Sanogo, the summer's best signing".
The African has been a revelation since joining Werder Bremen for six million euros in the summer, stealing headlines away from the Bundesliga's big-name stars such as Bayern Munich's Franck Ribery and Luca Toni. "I'm not surprised that he's so successful because he has all the qualities you look for in a modern striker, including speed and power," says no less a judge of striking aptitude than Klaus Allofs, Werder's general manager. "He's become a pivotal member of the side because he not only scores, he also plays for the team," added the prolific former German international.
Judging by his goal return since the start of the season, 'Bouba' fully deserves all the praise to have come his way. The powerful target man, who stands 1.87 metres tall and weighs 82 kg, has already scored eleven goals in all competitions: seven in the Bundesliga and four in the UEFA Champions League. This tally makes him one of the division's top scorers, much to the delight of his coach Thomas Schaaf: "He's strong in the air and skilful on the ball, so he's a great signing for us."
Quick to settle in
Nevertheless, Sanogo has had to work hard to win over the fans at his new club. Following a hit-and-miss season with Hamburger SV, the centre-forward was badly in need of a more welcoming environment. "I came in for a lot of stick at Hamburg, I think I was looked down upon there," he reflects. Nevertheless, he could hardly have picked a tougher place in which to regain his self-confidence than Werder Bremen, where he was drafted in as a replacement for star striker Miroslav Klose.
Despite their initial scepticism about Sanogo's ability to fill the boots of their Bayern-bound hero, the local supporters and media have been quick to change their tune. "To be honest, I didn't really expect to be doing this well, although I knew that my coach had faith in me," the striker admits. "Perhaps my potential is being exploited a bit better at the moment, but it's always been there."
Surrounded by free-scoring team-mates - Diego and Hugo Almeida have netted 15 goals between them - and firmly established as the team's attacking spearhead, the man they call 'Sanogoal' has adapted perfectly to his new surroundings. In fact, even his ambitions have grown to match those of the club. "My standing changed the day I signed for Werder. I want to win trophies because I'm playing for the club of my dreams," says the gifted 24-year-old.
Winding road to success
The West African forward took a roundabout route to the top before finally hitting the big time at Werder Bremen. Unlike many of his international team-mates, he was not a product of the highly successful Sol Béni academy which was set up by Jean Marc Guillou. Born in Dimbokro, 200 kilometres north of Abidjan, he learnt his trade at Siroco FC San Pedro. At the tender age of 16, he headed for North Africa and Espérance de Tunis.
Following a productive three seasons in Tunisia, where he netted 27 league goals, Sanogo's career took a new twist at Al Ain, in the United Arab Emirates. The Ivorian forward continued to impress, winning the AFC Champions League in 2003 and attracting attention from European scouts. Although France appeared to be a likely destination at one stage, the offers did not materialise into a deal. "I was in contact with Marseille when Pape Diouf was my agent," recalls the Bremen front man. "Then Nancy, Nice and Strasbourg showed an interest. Finally, Alain Perrin, my former coach at Al-Ain, also wanted me to join Sochaux."
Ultimately however, Sanogo was destined for the Bundesliga and 1.FC Kaiserslautern in 2005, where he quickly established a reputation as a goal poacher with ten goals in 24 matches. Despite enjoying a successful season from a personal point of view, he was unable to prevent his club being relegated to the second division. The prodigious Côte d'Ivoire striker subsequently became a transfer target for rival clubs, with Hamburger SV eventually winning the race for his signature.
Unappreciated and short on confidence in Hamburg, the forward ended last season with a paltry return of four goals from 31 league games. Nevertheless, his talent was not forgotten and Werder Bremen stepped in to offer him a four-year contract. "The club had already been following me for two or three seasons. They came back in for me during the summer when I'd just come off the end of a disappointing season with Hamburg," explains the aspiring international.
Eager for continental challenge
Just a few weeks from now Ghana will host the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, a competition which 'Bouba' has never taken part in but which he holds particularly close to his heart: "I really want to play for Côte d'Ivoire. If the coach gives me a call, I'll be in there like a shot." A host of top strikers will be vying for the position of second striker behind the untouchable Didier Drogba, who could nevertheless miss out on the tournament due to a knee injury. Salomon Kalou (Chelsea), Arouna Kone (FC Seville), Bakary Kone (OGC Nice), Abdulkader Keita (Lyon) or Aruna Dindane (RC Lens) are all possible options for Uli Stielike.
This embarrassment of attacking talent represents a real headache for the coach but an extra challenge for a striker who has managed to win the hearts of the Bremen supporters. "I've already made a great start at my new club. Taking part in the Cup of Nations would be a fantastic bonus."