‘So important’ – Stoke City hero’s current key role behind the scenes



Stoke City promotion hero Mama Sidibe is playing an increasingly important role behind the scenes at all levels – as he is utilised by Michael O’Neill as well as the recruitment and youth departments.

Sidibe, who made nearly 200 appearances as he helped establish Stoke back in the top flight under Tony Pulis, is a club ambassador as well as European and junior scout.

He has been used to analyse opposition by O’Neill over the winter too and is commanding respect with every hat he wears.

As an example, the 40-year-old is the one who helped bring Andre Godfrinne to Stoke last summer after spotting him in a tournament in this country.

Godfrinne, aged 17, has enjoyed a prolific season, working his way into the Belgium youth set up as well as firing the under-18s reach the Premier League Cup final.

“Mama is so important with his ability to have access to players like Andre,” said Academy director Gareth Owen.

“He monitors French, Belgian and German youth football and has excellent contacts across Europe. He’s a great asset in terms of recruitment – and his language and manner help too – and then he can help socially in terms of how a boy settles in.

“There is no one better than Mama at understanding the cut and thrust of it all. We have to be thankful we’ve got someone like him and as passionate as he is about Stoke City. He plays a massive part in Academy life.

“He provides expertise as well and with a career like he has had, like Dave Hibbert too, he can provide forward knowledge to players.”

Godfrinne, who was once on Anderlecht’s books, and 16-year-old Mo Sankoh, who was the youngest player in the Netherlands squad that were crowned under-17sEuropean Champions last year, have been two of the most eye catching performers in youth football this season.

But Stoke are ensuring there is a mix of local and international talent.

Owen said: “It has to be a mix. Our number one aim is to provide local players with an opportunity to play for a local football club. We give players from Smallthorne, Biddulph, Cheadle, Tean… the best opportunities available in football.

“We also know that in footballing terms, the city of Stoke-on-Trent is very small. We’ve got players who’ve come from Liverpool and Manchester and we keep our eyes open for the best talent.

“It is in everyone’s interest to look everywhere in this country and abroad for players who might suit the profile we want; hard-working individuals who are coachable with natural talent.

“Our recruitment stretches all over the world. Of course that might change or there will be different challenges after Brexit and a pandemic.”

The arrival of players like Thibaud Verlinden from Belgium has been credited with helping local prospects like Tom Edwards in their own development by increasing the daily standard in training.

Owen said: “That’s what an Academy should be, educating each other. In that case it’s a guy from Belgium and a guy from Stafford, different mind sets and cultures, a top drawer winger playing against a top drawer full-back every day, one v ones.

“We have to keep improving the level.

“We have three philosophies – coaching, training and playing.

“Training is all about aggressive and 100 per cent. If we’re driving competition and making it extra difficult among ourselves – at the end of each week the games should be easier. To do that you need good players and for everyone to buy into it.

“It’s like Stanley Matthews wearing heavier boots during the week or boxers training for 15 rounds when they’ve got a 12 round fight.

“We have to stretch the players and we are seeing positive shoots that we’re getting it right.”





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