Back in 1995, Karel Poborsky was one of eastern Europe’s concealed treasures. The curly-haired, fleet-footed winger had shown flashes of genius in the UEFA Cup with both Viktoria Zizkov and Slavia Prague, but not until Euro ‘96 did his talent come to the fore.
The scoop lob over the head of Portugal’s Vitor Baia has become one of the tournament’s enduring images. At the time, it sparked a race for the winger’s signature, one which Manchester United ultimately won. As fans at Old Trafford will attest, the move did not work out, and Poborsky was shipped off to Benfica after a single season in England.
“I was always wary of buying players on the back of good tournament performances,” admitted Sir Alex Ferguson in one of his autobiographies. Referring to both Poborsky and Jordi Cruyff, he said: “They weren’t bad buys, but sometimes players get themselves motivated and prepared for World Cups and European Championships and after that there can be a levelling off.”
Technically, Karel Poborsky was twice the player that Moussa Sissoko could ever dream of becoming. As some of Europe’s leading clubs supposedly circle around the wantaway midfielder, Poborsky’s brief stint in the Premier League could serve as a cautionary tale.
It’s fair to say that the Czech legend wasn’t given a fair crack of the whip at Manchester, the unexpected emergence of a certain David Beckham rendering him surplus to requirements within months of his arrival. Moussa, on the other hand, was handed numerous chances over three and a half years to impress, and while he certainly showed flashes of what he could do in the black and white stripes, those moments were all too fleeting.
Despite his inconsistency in the Premier League, he remained a mainstay in Didier Deschamps’ national set-up, to the bewilderment of those who had the frustrating misfortune of watching him every week. This summer, he proved why. It’s hard to argue that Sissoko had anything other than a good tournament for Les Bleus, forcing his way into a star-studded line-up and outshining some of his more coveted teammates.
Watching Moussa Sissoko put in a near man-of-the-match performance in a European Championship final should have been something for the average Newcastle United fan to celebrate (he was the only NUFC player to feature in the tournament, after all). Instead, it confirmed what many felt all along. He could have had an impact on so many more domestic games, if only he had been bothered.
Of course, Moussa doesn’t quite see it that way.
“If you look at the players in the national team, every single one finished in the top five in a league, they have played in the Champions League or Europa League,” he told France Football. “And me, with Newcastle, I was not playing in Europe and we went down to the second division.” This was preceded by quotes about playing with “big players” in “top level matches”.
It’s the usual patter from a bloke who has spent more time daydreaming in the French press than performing to the best of his ability at St. James Park.
What was meant by his most recent quotes?
Was it that the club itself was no longer big enough for a player of his calibre, or that his teammates weren’t up to his lofty standards? Perhaps a bit of both. Those opinions, it would seem, were held long before the club’s relegation.
If Sissoko had consistently been head and shoulders above the rest of the United squad throughout his time on Tyneside, he could be forgiven for expressing these views, but the tale of the tape suggests otherwise. In 131 appearances, Moussa has laid on one assist per seven games, and on average scored one in every eleven. Hardly world-beating statistics for an attack-minded midfielder.
As a frame of reference, Gini Wijnaldum – himself an inconsistent performer – contributed towards a third of United’s Premier League goals last season.
Perhaps Sissoko seized upon his half-chance during a major international tournament and earned himself a big-money move to one of those big clubs.
Perhaps he will be sufficiently motivated to shine alongside those big players, supplanting some of Europe’s stars and becoming one himself.
Another midfield powerhouse alongside Reus and Gotze at Dortmund; Juve’s bona fide replacement for Paul Pogba; perhaps even one of Real Madrid’s modern-day Galacticos, revelling in the adulation of the Bernabeu crowds.
Or perhaps he will find himself out of his depth over the course of a 50-game season, getting fifteen minutes off the bench when the game is sewn up, or handed the occasional start in a meaningless domestic cup tie against second-rate opposition.
Sissoko can produce quality, but rarely on a consistent basis. £35m is an awful lot of money to spend on the basis of four good performances.
Should anybody dare to stump up that amount, nobody this side of the Tyne would complain. For the elite clubs (and Everton), however, it’s a bloody expensive risk – one that the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson would never take.
You can follow Craig on Twitter @CraigDobbo