Even if the best is surely yet to come in the still very brief career of Mamadou Sakho, two dates this year are likely to remain engraved on his memory for the rest of his life. The first is 14 February 2007 - the day he made his debut for Paris St Germain, the club at which he rose through the ranks. And he did so in some style, taking to the pitch at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, as PSG faced AEK in the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup. Not bad going for a player who had only turned 17 two days earlier.
Four months later to the day the towering left-footer (1.85m), who weighs in at an imposing 80kgs, signed a professional contract that ties him to PSG for the next three years.
Sakho has been a regular in the heart of the French defence at every age level, and is currently vice-captain of François Blaquart's Bleuets. Though his demeanour is humble, he is one of the team's undisputed leaders on the pitch, exuding a natural authority that has earned him the respect of his U-17 team-mates. As he looks ahead to this summer's FIFA U-17 World Cup in Korea, he talks to FIFA.com about his meteoric rise, and reveals how is dreaming of lifting the trophy on 9 September 2007 in Seoul.
Mamadou, how are you enjoying your early experiences as a
professional footballer with Paris Saint-Germain?
For the moment, everything is going well. I have to admit that these early days are pretty tough going, but I'm hanging in there. The young players who already moved up to the senior squad last year warned me about what it would be like.
What do you hope to achieve with PSG?
I've joined the senior squad to work hard. And that is what I plan to do, to the very best of my ability. After that, we'll just have to see how things go next season. If I manage to get a few minutes on the pitch that will be a bonus. But I'm still very young, and it's really important not to take on too much too soon.
In August, you'll be taking another big step, as
you're off to the Korea Republic with the French national team
for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2007. Have you started thinking about
I have to admit that I have, yes. I wasn't truly satisfied with my performances at the European Championships, so that provides an extra motivation to do well, as I want to make up for that. I can't wait to get there.
Have you been to Asia before?
No, that will be a first for me. I like to think of myself as being very open-minded and curious, so I'm sure I will get a lot of pleasure from the experience. I'm really looking forward to discovering a new culture, different types of food, and the chance to talk to people from different corners of the world... I don't know if our staff have organised any excursions, but I hope that we'll have a bit of time for that sort of thing.
In terms of the football it will be a new experience too,
won't it? This will be your first major international
Being able to play at a World Cup at just 17 is a huge opportunity. It's not a chance that everyone gets. For me, it's like a dream. The important thing will be to make the most of the whole experience, to avoid putting ourselves under pressure. That's the only way that we will be ready to take our chance.
Your opponents in Group D will be Japan, Nigeria and Haiti.
How do you see the group shaping up?
It's a bit difficult to say at this stage, as I don't know our opponents very well. But all of the teams who manage to qualify for a World Cup must be good teams. It will be down to us to play our own game, and not to worry too much about that of our opponents.
What do France expect to achieve at the World Cup?
Initially, we will be looking to get through the first round. After that, as they say, anything can happen.
How would you describe your coach, François
Above all, he is a coach who always tries to instil confidence in us. As soon as he spots any signs of doubt in the eyes of one of his players, he will talk to them, reassure them. I think he's an excellent coach, particularly working with players at this level.
Who do you regard as the favourites for South Korea
I have to say that I'm not familiar with all of the teams, but for me Spain would be my number-one choice. At the European Championships they impressed everyone, me included. They were a class apart from most of the other teams. Most of their players are with big Spanish clubs, and are already on the fringes of the first team squads. That makes a big difference...
Talking of which, you are one of the few players in the
French squad who has already had experience of playing in Ligue 1
and you are the only one who has played in European competition.
Does your experience mean that your team-mates tend to listen to
you more, or even ask you for advice?
Some of them do ask me a lot of questions. And all of them tease me about it. They say I'm the star of the team (laughs). But seriously, I do try to make the most of that bit of experience that I've picked up during the last year with PSG. But I am always humble about it. After all, I'm still only 17, the same as the rest of them.
You can play both in central defence and at left-back.
Which do you prefer?
Personally, I feel more comfortable in the centre. But the main thing is to do a job for the coach and the team, to help my team-mates. If that means playing on the left, either for PSG or for France, you won't hear me complaining. If I'm given the chance to play, I will always take it.
Do you have any role models?
I would have to say Lilian Thuram and Alessandro Nesta, because of their steely determination. But my favourite player has always been Didier Drogba. I dream of being able to play against him one day. Everything about him - as a player and as a person - impresses me.
What memories do you have of the UEFA U-17 European
We could have done better. I don't think we gave it everything we had in the semi-final against England. We could have made it through to the final. It's a shame... But there's no doubt it will serve as a useful lesson for the future. I hope we don't make the same mistakes again. And it's worth remembering that we were without our captain (Said Mehamha).
You are the vice-captain of the France U-17 team. What does
this role mean to you, and how do you see the responsibilities it
I've held this position all the way up through the national team set-up, even when I was playing above my own age group. But whether I'm wearing the armband or not, I don't change the way I approach things. People often say that I'm a natural leader. It doesn't matter if I'm captain or not, I'm never afraid to talk on the pitch, to encourage my team-mates. It's just the way I am, and it's something I can use to help my team. So I just try to do it to the best of my ability.
Finally, Mamadou, if you close your eyes and fast forward
to next September, what do you see?
First and foremost, I hope that I will be a world champion. It will be tough, but why not? There is no point in going to South Korea if we are not going there to win. And as I said before, every single moment that I spend with the senior squad at PSG is helping me to develop and progress. I am not even thinking about playing - every minute I get on the pitch will just be a bonus.