It seems that Sol Bamba is already part of the Leeds United family. The club’s head coach, Neil Redfearn, has found him to be a “fatherly figure”. Granddi Ngoyi, the midfielder who followed him to Leeds from Palermo on Monday, expects Bamba to act as his “big brother” in England.
It must be nice to feel wanted, especially after six months of mixed messages in Italy. Bamba came to Elland Road on a half-season loan last week, allowed to go by Palermo less than a year into his contract. The 30-year-old doubts that he’ll ever go back to Sicily.
Palermo recruited him from Trabzonspor in August and tied him to a three-year deal after their promotion to Serie A. In all his time in Italy, the centre-back has played once. Bamba is likely to make his Leeds debut away at Huddersfield Town tomorrow but is very honest about his fitness. “I’ll need one or two matches to be 100 per cent,” he says.
A week on from his arrival in Yorkshire, Bamba is already touching on the possibility of a permanent transfer. His wife is keen for their family to settle after a few years of country hopping and Bamba has played in England before with Leicester City.
Moreover, he sees no satisfying future at Palermo; not while Giuseppe Iachini, the one-time Fiorentina midfielder remains in charge of the club’s squad.
“I moved there and I was expecting to be playing in Serie A,” Bamba says. “It didn’t work out for some reason.”
Can he explain why? “That’s the main question everyone keeps asking me. Honestly, I can’t answer that. I really don’t know. I used to train well and if you ask the manager, he always told me ‘you’re doing absolutely everything right.’
“I’d just arrived at the club and people in front of me had been in Italy for two or three years. The manager would say ‘you’re not far off, keep doing what you’re doing and you’ll be playing.’ Well, after one month then two, three and four you start to get worried. So when I had the chance to move to Leeds, it was an easy decision.”
This, then, is as important a deal for Bamba as it is for Leeds. United have an agreement in place with Palermo to sign him full-time in the summer but the defender knows they will take up that option if his performances merit the investment.
As for Palermo, he doesn’t expect to return. “If I’m honest I don’t think so,” he says. “Not unless the manager changes. The club made it clear that they want me to come back and play but I don’t see that happening.
“We (his family) want to settle here if we can and get a deal done as soon as possible. It’s up to me. I need to show what I can do on the pitch to make the president (Massimo Cellino) buy me. But I’m not thinking about that right now. I just want to play and do well.”
At 6’3”, Bamba ticks a number of Redfearn’s boxes. He is a tall addition to a team which Redfearn describes as having “average height.” He has pace and presents a proven alternative in a defensive line which has been weak all season.
He learned Turkish with Trabzonspor and, more significantly in the context of United’s dressing room, picked up Italian during his time with Palermo. His English is excellent and gives away a touch of Scots; a legacy of spells at Dunfermline and Hibernian.
The Ivory Coast international says he is happy to be back in England. His career at Leicester ran between January 2011 and July 2012 and saw him amass more than 50 appearances. He scored inside 50 seconds of his debut, in an FA Cup tie against Manchester City. It was experience of the Championship that Redfearn sought at the beginning of the January transfer window and Bamba has it.
“He knows what it’s about,” Redfearn said. “He’s at a good age for a centre-back, he’s got experience behind him and he understands the position.
“He’s got this fatherly figure about him as well. He speaks different languages and that will be good for the dressing room. It helps other lads to integrate.”
Bamba played in a behind-closed-doors match at Thorp Arch on Tuesday and has completed a full week of training with Redfearn’s squad. The confidence of a raw group of players - a group with an average age of around 23 - took him by surprise.
“The team are quite young but they try to play football,” he says. “That impressed me because normally young players don’t try to play. They just want to be okay, to pass easy balls, but the lads here play from the back and make it happen. It’s very good.
“I try to win every challenge and I try to organise the team from the back. My game is to be aggressive. But (the Championship) is a different league now so it’ll take me one or two games to get used to it.”
Leeds are 20th in the table and at risk of relegation. “I’m not worried, not at all,” Bamba insists. “We’ve got a decent team.
“We need to defend better, defend like a team, and try to get as more clean sheets. We need to be careful, obviously, but I’m not worried. I think we’ll be fine.”