Kone enters uncharted territory

Bakary Kone’s move to Ligue 1 giants Lyon is one of the most remarkable stories from the summer transfer window. The Burkinabe defender had been playing lower-league football for French side Guingamp since 2007, but in the space of 24 hours, he suddenly found himself at one of the biggest clubs in France and with a UEFA Champions League tie just days away.

“It all happened very quickly,” Kone told FIFA.com en route to Russia for his second UEFA Champions League match in just over a week. “My agent told me on Wednesday that offers were being finalised. The next morning, he told me it was all sorted. So I got on the plane to Lyon and had my medical that very evening.” 

Lyon’s start to the new campaign has once again been hampered by injuries to key players, particularly in defence. With Ligue 1 getting into full swing and a UEFA Champions League double-header against Rubin Kazan on the horizon, Les Gones needed an urgent solution. Happily for Kone, he was the man to solve their crisis.

The deal may have been wrapped up in a flash, but Lyon’s decision to sign Kone was far from an impulsive one. “Lyon had been following my very closely for two years, and they regularly went to watch me play after the Coupe de France victory,” he said. “Things really picked up speed after their injuries in central defence,” added the 23-year-old, drafted in to cover the injured pair of Cris and John Mensah.

“He’s a complete player,” Lyon coach Remi Garde said enthusiastically of his new recruit. “He’s good in the air and in his defensive play. I also like the way he starts attacking moves and uses the ball.” The athletic defender first caught Lyon’s attention during Guingamp’s magnificent Coupe de France run in 2009. The Brittany-based side were in the second tier of French football at the time, but they went all the way to the final where they overcame Ligue 1 outfit and local rivals Rennes.

Guingamp slipped down into the French third division two seasons later, but by this stage Kone had acquired a taste for top-level football and was prepared to wait for his big chance. “I expected to leave the club, but I didn’t know where I’d end up,” he explained.

He’s a complete player. He’s good in the air and in his defensive play. I also like the way he starts attacking moves and uses the ball.
Remi Garde on Bakary Kone

The idea of jumping up two divisions and joining a Champions League outfit in the space of 24 hours would be a daunting prospect for most players. Kone, however, was already well prepared for the enormous change that awaited him. “I knew there’d be a big step-up in level,” he said. “It’s more technical, more competitive and you have to adapt quickly. I used to work hard even when I was in the National and Ligue 2, because I knew what would be waiting for me at the highest level one day.”

Kone went straight into Lyon’s starting line-up for their Ligue 1 match against Ajaccio, before facing Rubin Kazan three days later in the Champions League. Despite the remarkable start to his Lyon career, the youngster knows he will not always be in the spotlight and that his rise has as much to do with the injury situation as it does with his individual talent. “Competition is a good thing, and I’m here to learn,” he said. “I’ve always fought for my place, so I’m going to continue in the same vein and do all I can to secure a place in the starting XI.”

In addition to the increased demands on the pitch, a whole new culture awaits the young Burkinabe defender at Lyon. The six-time French champions have lofty ambitions in Europe, and the club is rarely out of the spotlight in France. It is a world away from what he would have been used to in Guingamp, the small town in Brittany where his wife is from and whose football club he first represented in 2007. So far, however, Lyon’s new recruit seems to be anything but homesick.

“I’ve received a very good welcome here,” said Kone. “It’s certainly more demanding and there’s much more press attention, but there’s the same family atmosphere I felt at Guingamp. There’s a good team spirit here, and I’ve slotted in well so far.”

Kone’s rise to the top can only strengthen the solid reputation he already enjoys in the Burkina Faso national team. The future certainly looks promising for the west Africans, who have all but secured qualification for the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations and who are increasingly considered one of the rising stars of African football. The Stallions are also the favourites in Group E of the second CAF qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.

“We have every chance,” concluded Kone. “We’re a generation of players who are on the up and we’re in with a good shout.” The road to Brazil 2014 is a long one, but Kone’s story might just be a sign of great things to come for Burkina Faso.