Cirque du Solet | OneFootball
Cirque du Solet
FC Red Bull Salzburg
Football is a passion, entertainment and also big business. it can feel like a big circus at times, which isn't always a positive thing for the stars of the show. Oumar is loving every minute of his new found role in the limelight, however.
"Oumar, can I have a photo please?" He is taken aback for a short while but then he grins, wipes the hair away from his face and waves the youngster over. There aren't too many 1.92-metre tall Frenchmen in Salzburg. He brims with his youthfulness with his cheerful nature and immense talent. You don't get any hints that he is aware of quite how much he could achieve in the game. He is a contrast to so many, who already have an ego before they reach the top of the game. Oumar is his own man, with an identity forged on the tarmac pitches of Paris:
I have four brothers - three elder and one younger. There was always just football for us - morning, afternoon and evening, whatever the weather. I never played for a club until I was 11. It's a bit different there than it is here. In Ile-de-France [the Paris region] there are really good footballers out playing on the streets. I still play with that sense of fun today.
It has nothing to do with social backgrounds amid the Parisian melting pot. Pretty much everyone there plays football, and almost everyone will know someone who has what it takes to become a professional. That was the case too in Melun, the neat provincial town along the Seine where Oumar spent a happy childhood:
We always had everything we needed. My father came from the Central African Republic and my mother from the Ivory Coast. They have both spent a long time in France, even though they are first-generation migrants. They worked their way up a lot in that time. My dad is a lawyer and my mum manages an African restaurant.
It's no surprise that Oumar and his brother both became big and strong. There was always something cooking on the stove at home. Oumar needed all his strength for training, as after moving to Paris he trained for third-division Creteil, a club with a proud record in youth development. Premier League talent Stephane Sessegnon had a spell their too in his youth.
I could see for the first time what football with proper rules was about. It was a bit different, but I had no trouble adapting. I went via Villejuif to Stade Laval, my first big club.
At the age of 14, Oumar found himself three hours' drive away from home in the Loire Valley, and now everything was about football. Every few weeks one of the Parisian lads would drive the rest home. There was a fair few millions worth of footballing talent sitting in those cars, with Nordi Mukiele (Leipzig) and Serhou Guirassy (Rennes) frequent travel buddies.
It was a good time and we had a lot of fun. I still think fondly today of the training that my youth coach Stephane Moreau gave me in Laval. I became a pro there. That I had such talented team-mates helped too, of course.
After making his debut in the third division at the age of 17, plenty of top-flight clubs put out feelers for Oumar. He decided to join Lyon, skipping the academy but starting in their reserve team. Having seen his career soar to that point, a sudden dip came as he tore his cruciate ligament.
At the big clubs, you are just a number. If you can't play yourself into the limelight every week, they soon forget about you. My injury was a good example of that. Even younger players soon took my place. I was sure I had to leave the club.
There were plenty of suitors again, with the question marks over his injury seeing his transfer value drop. Lyon were less demanding than previously, and he had a selection of teams to choose from despite his difficult position. His adventurous nature left him wanting to go abroad:
There were queries from Ligue 1, but I definitely wanted to prove myself abroad. The good image of FC Red Bull Salzburg made me want to come here. I knew that young players are given a chance here. My decision has paid off too after the difficult start.
What does Oumar mean by that? The cruciate ligament tear was not yet fully cured when he arrived in Salzburg. A detailed examination of his knee was required before he signed his contract. Despite his clear qualities, he began as a fringe player, which wasn't ideal given his lofty ambitions:
My start wasn't easy. I wasn't able to completely convince the coach [Jesse Marsch]. With little playing time it's hard to get a chance to shine. As I didn't know a word of German, it wasn't easy. A lot of friends from France visited me to make it easier. Things are going really well now though.
He quickly secured a regular starting spot under Matthias Jaissle and made it look like he has always been there. He was on the short list for our Player of the Month award for the first time in August. That's just a small glimpse of what he is capable of though, says Oumar, the Cirque de Solet's animal tamer:
When I talk to my friends from France, Amine Gouiri and Maxence Caqueret, we push each other all the time. We have big aims. I have told them I will play for France in two years. If everything goes well, I can advance very quickly.