Pape Matar Sarr
A profile of Spurs' Senegalese midfielder, first published in Volume XI
Who is Pape Matar Sarr?
Note: This profile was first written in September 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.
Given the lack of sufficient infrastructure, its murky underworld of rogue agents and web of clandestine intermediaries, established pathways from Africa into European football are invaluable for the continent’s incredible depth of talent. These pathways were practically non-existent even two decades ago but are now becoming more and more prevalent, particularly in Western Africa.
JMG Académie and Right to Dream, situated in Mali and Ghana respectively, are prime examples of youth-oriented set-ups that have pushed high-level talents into Europe and beyond. But one of the pioneers in this space was Génération Foot in Senegal, and their relationship with French club FC Metz. Since its inception in the mid-2000s, the partnership has seen over 20 players progress from Dakar to north-east France, many of whom have gone on to lead impressive domestic and international careers.
The most prominent product is undoubtedly Sadio Mané. He made the move in 2012 and has ultimately hit the highest of heights at Liverpool, after a year in Ligue 2 as well as key developmental spells at Red Bull Salzburg and Southampton. Ismaïla Sarr rose to prominence through this bespoke partnership too, as did Diafra Sakho, once of Allardyce-era West Ham, and RC Strasbourg striker Habib Diallo.
Of Metz’s current senior squad, six were picked up from Génération Foot. Earlier this year, both parties agreed to extend their partnership by further 10 years. The pathway is stronger than it has ever been, and it may have unearthed one of its most valuable diamonds in the last year.
Pape Matar Sarr has been highly rated for some time, having played CAF Champions League games at 15 years old and impressed at the Under-17 World Cup a couple of years ago. Sarr made the move to Metz last September and has since broken into the team – and Ligue 1 – in an extraordinarily exciting manner.
Pape Matar Sarr's style of play
Sarr burst onto the scene early this year, stringing together a run of standout performances less than six months after arriving from Senegal. Prior to that, he was a fixture on the bench and made a couple of appearances off it. Goals against Brest and Montpellier grabbed the attention, but the other aspects of his fledgling skillset are much more important, and just as invigorating.
What immediately stands out about Sarr is his elite range of mobility. It catches the eye immediately, and highlights him as the player to track on the pitch. His physical appearance only makes him more obvious: he is tall and lanky with a slender frame that does not necessarily seem like it would be ready to hold its own in a top-level league – but does, for the most part.
Whilst he needs to grow and fill out into it, his wispy physique affords him outstanding mobility. He has rangy strides that covers large spaces quickly and a good spring off the back foot to cover smaller spaces; for his lanky size, he manipulates his body well to shift adeptly in any direction. His ability to move is at an elite level already.
Sarr makes the most of that combination in defensive phases. Metz punched well above their weight last season, in large part due to a bend-but-don’t-break 3-5-2 shape that included a dynamic double-pivot screening the defence. The 18-year-old settled into that midfield impressively well, not least because of his skillset without the ball. His coverage of space is excellent and extremely disruptive; utilising his mobility, Sarr is effective at defending most situations. He is particularly good at impacting the ball in challenges by overwhelming opponents with his adaptable athleticism and long limbs.
He shows good anticipation in his front-foot defending, adequate peripheral awareness in stand-off situations, and leverages his frame in body-to-body contact better than most his age. Sarr’s statistical profile supports all the above; after breaking into the first-team, he ranked among the elite defenders in his position across Europe’s top-five leagues.
Another data point in which Sarr excels is progressive ball-carrying. Once Metz recover possession, he offers a very dynamic ball-carrying ability which is especially effective in transition. Again, his rangy athleticism is the dominant aspect of his driving runs from deep – he has the first step and change of speed to create separation. If afforded the space, Sarr travels incisively with the ball, often dragging Metz out from deeper areas into the final third.
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The aspect of Sarr’s skillset which has the biggest – and most valuable – margin of improvement is his passing. The teenager’s technique is generally solid and holds its own at his current level, but it has significant room to develop further. For his regular scanning and good body shape, he is inconsistent at creating angles to receive the ball and can struggle under pressure. He often seems to panic when pressed, losing composure and coordination, resulting in poor decisions, execution and turnovers.
His passing over short-to-medium range is crisp although it can lack accuracy; he is quite adept at punching a pass through lines but is susceptible to ceding possession more than he should at a top-five league level. When switching play over longer distances, he lacks the touch which would make his passes easier to control. Sarr is a talented ball-striker – he poses a reasonable threat around the box with some clever passing and a powerful shot – but lacks consistency.
He should settle as a ball-player once he gets a tighter grip of his gangly frame. Nevertheless, he has shown enough flashes of genuine quality to suggest that he can develop into a very capable passer; refinement and consistency through coaching and experience should achieve that.
Forecasting Pape Matar Sarr's future
Tottenham Hotspur have struck gold. Exploiting the financial disaster that embroils almost every French club, they have picked up Pape Matar Sarr for a price that is considerably shorter than it should be (and loaned him back).
Another season at Metz is sensible for all given that he has yet to play 30 senior games; a full season as a starter in Ligue 1, racking up 3,000 minutes, would prepare him for the next step better than any other option. Aspects of his game may be a projection, but Sarr has the makings of a high-level hybrid midfielder, one that can thrive with the dynamic demands of elite football. It is no exaggeration to claim that he could be a generation-defining African talent, much like Mané. Spurs did well to get ahead of the curve.
Pape Matar Sarr is a dynamic midfielder with a borderline elite range of mobility. He’s a disruptive presence against the ball, using his athleticism and length, and is a promising passer with solid technique and decent range.
Pape Matar Sarr’s primary weaknesses currently is his lack of coordination and composure under pressure; he can be pressed into heavy touches and rushed decisions. His shot selection is also erratic.
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