A cliché often bandied about in the world of football is that it is difficult for sons of former players to make a name for themselves. As far as French U-20 defender Mouhamadou Naby Sarr is concerned, he is unlikely to have to deal with the question very often.
His dad did indeed star for Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille, as well as for the Senegalese national team, but when he began his career in France during the 1970s, the local media got his first name and surname mixed up, erroneously referring to him as ‘Sarr Boubacar’. He became better known by a nickname bestowed upon him by his brother, Locotte, a distortion of the Spanish word ‘loco’ (‘crazy’).
And just like his father, Sarr Jr also appears to have little use for his first name. “My full name is Mouhamadou Naby Sarr, but everyone actually calls me Naby, and that’s the way I prefer it,” he explained to FIFA.com. Despite this name-related confusion, Naby and Boubacar seemingly enjoy a very close relationship, calling each other every day. Unsurprisingly, football is often the topic of discussion.
“I had already talked to him about the FIFA U-20 World Cup before coming here. He told me that it’s a special event, one that's followed the world over. He also told me that this type of tournament can only be of benefit to me, and that it would be a great experience for my career,” said the young Frenchman.
Many players might take a relative’s advice with a pinch of salt. But Sarr Jr has the greatest respect for his father’s career.
“He has a huge amount of experience as a player behind him, so he knows what he’s talking about. He’s already been through these types of things, and I listen carefully because I know that he’s going to give me very good advice,” explained the precocious centre-half, making reference to the two French Cups and over 40 caps for Senegal won by his father, not to mention the 175 goals scored in the French League between 1973 and 1987.
“I’ve always told him to stay as focused as possible. It’s a World Cup; it’s not the same thing as playing friendly matches. You need immediate results, and you can’t make any mistakes,” said Sarr Sr, speaking over the telephone from Paris.
“Like me, he thinks that the first few matches were a little sluggish, and that the heat could explain why we struggled to find the same tempo as in our warm-up games,” added the younger man.
Stepping back to analyse his son’s individual displays, Bouba does so honestly, objectively and with pride: “His performances have been decent. He clearly doesn’t yet have the same level of experience as Samuel Umtiti or Kurt Zouma, who’ve been playing in Ligue 1 for some time now. But he’s brave, determined and knows how to grasp an opportunity. I’m always telling him to keep his feet on the ground and respect the rules, and he seems to be doing that.”
Mouhamadou Sarr may be an imposing and rangy centre-back, but he is also very useful on the ball, preferring to play it out from the back like his idol, Thiago Silva. When he was younger, his size caused him problems, a situation that led to PSG, for whom he played at youth level, turning their back on him.
This setback undoubtedly hurt at the time, but Sarr Sr subsequently made the pivotal decision to enrol his son – then just 15 years of age – in Lyon’s youth academy in 2008.
“They were patient with him, but they worked him hard. He has a good reading of the game and an excellent technique for his position. His ability to get the ball away from danger is also a real asset. He needs to become more physical when going for the ball, though,” said the ex-Martigues striker.
In reality, the teenage defender’s departure for Lyon was more difficult for his mother and his three older sisters than for him. “Oh, when the little one – and the only boy – leaves the house, it’s tough. I had to explain to them that it was a great chance,” recalled the father, who supposedly warned his son early on that being a professional footballer was a “very difficult job that requires a lot of sacrifices.”
He continued: “There were some difficult times, but he hung in there. And it’s obviously very pleasing to see how far he’s come. The whole family is so proud of him.”
There is no doubt that Sarr Jr’s career has moved up a gear in the last six months: a European debut (and a goal) for Lyon in December 2012, a first call-up for the French U-20 side, and an inclusion in France’s 21-man Turkey 2013 squad. Could a FIFA U-20 World Cup goal be next?
An afternoon with Ronaldinho
Boubacar Sarr was an attacker in his day, and is therefore well-placed to give advice on finding the back of the net, a skill that is not necessarily his son’s speciality. “As far as corners are concerned, my dad tells me not to automatically throw myself towards the front post, but to vary my runs and my calls for the ball,” said the Lyon player.
But in the end, attacking inspiration may well lie in the depths of his own memory. In 2001, he was eight years old, and his father was working as an assistant coach at PSG. Mouhamadou takes up the story.
“He took me to training – it must have been a Wednesday. Ronaldinho had just arrived in Paris and the club needed him to regain his fitness. My dad was putting together a training programme for him that afternoon. I got to spend a bit of time with Ronnie; we knocked the ball around together. That left an impression on me, absolutely,” he said, his voice becoming almost child-like at the recollection.
“His eyes just shone,” confirmed Sarr Sr, who, along with his wife and daughters, may also bear a similar look should his son score and lift the FIFA U-20 World Cup on 13 July.