New Leeds United recruit Sol Bamba dusted off the Championship cobwebs much quicker than most pundits thought, including Huddersfield Town boss Chris Powell. Leon Wobschall reports.
FOR LEEDS UNITED fans who watched Sol Bamba’s polished debut at Huddersfield Town on Saturday afternoon, they could be sure on two things.
Namely that as regards Championship football, Bamba was fairly well ‘up to speed’. And he didn’t take risks either.
Town manager Chris Powell’s pre-match prophesy that Bamba – in his first game back in English football after kicking a competitive ball in anger on just one occasion so far this term for Palermo – would not be up to speed with the hustle and bustle of Championship life happily proved wide of the mark.
The view from the press corps in Leicester, where Powell worked with Bamba during his time at the East Midlands club, were also off beam, if the big defender’s debut was anything to go by.
Rumour had it that Bamba was a ‘footballing defender’, who likes to display those qualities, sometimes not at the most sensible moments.
His time at Leicester even drew a rare, colourful quote from his ex-Foxes boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, not somebody well versed in saying anything particularly interesting to the press.
On Bamba, the Swede said: ‘Sometimes you are close to a heart attack when he wants to control the ball like Franz Beckenbauer.”
Thankfully, Bamba, in his first game in England since lining up for Leicester at Elland Road in April 2012, gave the big away following at Town no such palpitations.
Supporters may have had to wait well into January for Leeds’ first capture of the winter window in Bamba, who has joined on loan for Palermo for the rest of the season, but certainly on first impressions, it looks a canny bit of business.
And as for cavalier defending, the 30-year-old elected, wisely, to adhere to a low-risk policy in his first outing in a competitive game since playing for Palermo back on September 24.
His performance was duly recognised in the shape of a place in the Football League’s Team of the Week.
Bamba said: “I don’t like to speak about me too much. But it was a good game, especially because I haven’t played for a long time.
“I tried to keep it simple with defending and passing the ball and I think I did okay.
“I wanted to keep tidy and be steady and just keep it simple. I was happy with it and my manager were as well and team-mates.”
Bamba’s display at Huddersfield left not only the Leeds contingent enthused, but also Whites head coach Neil Redfearn, with Bamba arriving shortly before Jason Pearce’s move to Wigan was completed.
Hot on the heels of that came the arrival of Granddi Ngoyi, although a ‘minor niggle’ ensured he wasn’t involved in the matchday squad for the derby game with Huddersfield.
Leeds also put the finishing touches yesterday to the deal to bring in Albanian striker Edgar Cani on loan from Catania.
And if both he and Ngoyi can make an immediate impact akin to that made by Bamba when they take the field, no-one will be complaining.
Bamba’s performance amid the derby cauldron was especially praiseworthy, given that he has been restricted to friendly games since late September after falling out of favour at Palermo.
While the big defender professed to being tired at the final whistle on Saturday, he could reflect on putting a sterling first shift in with his pace and strength notable features of a very impressive maiden performance.
Bamba said: “In Italy, when you don’t play, you have got friendly games on Tuesday, but the tempo is not high.
“I tried to keep myself fit by training even when we had a day off.
“But I was very tired at the end on Saturday as it has been a long time since I have played a competitive game like that.
“We all know the Championship is very tough, but after a good day off, I will be ready to go again.
“Since I have come here, I feel good and everyone has been good and hopefully we can continue.
“We play very good football sometimes, but we have to dig deep now. It doesn’t matter how good you play, you have to get some points.”
While Bamba was happy enough to have a good old-fashioned physical battle with James Vaughan, getting the better of the Huddersfield dangerman over the course of 90 minutes, he admits he was mighty glad not to have had to look after Billy Sharp, when he entered the fray late on.
Sharp’s game is based more on instinctive movement, with his fox-in-the-box qualities in evidence right at the end when he headed home Mirco Antenucci’s cross from close in to snatch Leeds a 2-1 victory.
It was a predatory finish and rewound the clock somewhat for the goal poacher, who has scored similar goals throughout his career for a stack of clubs across the land.
Bamba added: “He is difficult to play against because his movement is very good, like we saw for the goal. I don’t like to play against strikers like that, I prefer to face a big, strong striker, so I can fight.
“Billy has lovely movement and you saw that for the goal.”
Sharp may have done his bit with the timeliest of contributions to enable Leeds to celebrate a first double over Huddersfield since 1938-39 and their first away win since September 16, but the side’s defensive resolve and solidity at the back also played its part.
Leeds’ sole aberration came when Harry Bunn netted a soft 26th-minute equaliser following Jacob Butterfield’s corner, but it was the only real blemish from the back four.
Bamba and centre-half partner Liam Cooper both turned in strong performances in the heart of the defence and while it might be very early days in terms of their partnership, the signs were good.
Bamba, capped 44 times by the Ivory Coast, added: “Liam is easy to play with and a good player. He’s young and wants to learn and I am happy to play with him.
“He made it easier for me as well as he spoke to me a lot.