Amadou Haidara is set for a break-out season in the Bundesliga. His path to Germany’s top flight has been an inspiring one.
They were playing a game in Bamako amidst the stifling summer heat. Twenty-two kids, sweat immersed on their shirts and their bare feet gripping the undulating ground. They ran around the field trying to impress the influential Jean-Marc Guillou.
The former French international has a renowned name on the African continent. His branch of academies, JMG, developed the vast majority of Ivory Coast’s golden generation.
As always he watched the game attentively.
A young Amadou Haidara was among the kids trying to show off. Gulliou was quickly enamoured by the young boy.
‘Amadou was very good,’ Mamadou Wad of JMG recalls exclusively to First Time Finish. ‘He seemed to have a pain in his foot which made him limp. But even so, he was running everywhere, playing at the back, in the middle and leading the attack going forward. His technique was incredible. And the coach (Jean Marc Guillou) said: “this boy is very good. I will take him.”
Amadou was only around 10 years old at the time. He was fighting through severe pain. Mr Wad later found out the young boy’s injury was from a swollen heel.
‘He just kept running through the pain,’ Mamadou says fondly. ‘It was very impressive.’
Mamadou Wad has worked at the JMG academy for many decades. He coached stars like Yaya Toure, Salomon Kalou and Gervinho.
He first spotted Amadou Haidara playing on the streets of Bamako. The JMG academy coach still remembers the first time he caught a glimpse of the young boy from Bamako.
‘He played for fun with a group of boys, I saw that he had many qualities, I liked the way he played. So I talked to him at the end of the game and asked him to come to the academy.’
Still a young boy, Amadou Haidara was playing football without his father’s knowledge. He didn’t take Mr Wad’s proposal seriously. It was three months until Amadou finally mustered the courage to come to the JMG academy and showcase his skills in front of the watchful eyes of Jean Marc Guillou.
‘After the trial game I went to see his family,’ Mr Wad recalls. ‘His father is a very devout muslim. Amadou spent most days out of the house playing football, but his father never knew about it. Amadou only informed his mother about the JMG trial. So when we went to see his father and we told him we wanted to bring him to the academy, his father was really surprised.
‘He said: “My boy a footballer player? I knew that he liked football but I’ve never seen him play. If you want to take him to the academy I’m not the right person to talk about this, his mother encourages him to go play football so for this decision I will call the mother.”
Mr Wad chuckles as he remembers the moment.
‘His mother was really impressed, she came and sat with us and we told him we wanted Amadou in the academy; she said “No problem.” She knew about our academy and she was very happy that Amadou had enough quality to join us.’
A Fateful Prophecy
Before Mr Wad left the Haidara household, he turned back to Amadou’s father and pulled him aside.
‘In a few years time, there will be many people in front of your house because the people will come here to see your son.’
Amadou’s father laughed.
‘May god do so,’ he said.
‘I don’t think he was confident about it,’ Mr Wad recalls.
But Mr Wad was. He had been in the game long enough to know he had found someone special.
In the end, the JMG academy coach would be proven right.
In 2015, Haidara was the star player for Mali’s U17 side during their march to the final of the World Cup and eventual defeat to Nigeria.
The feat was unprecedented and the Malian public were jubilant. It was Mali’s greatest achievement in football for almost a decade. Mr Wad remembers the frenzy and excitement over the nation’s young stars vividly.
‘When Haidara came home after the World Cup, many people flocked to the family house. There were so many people some of them climbed on the trees so that they could see him. The father called me in that moment and he said what you told me came true today. My house is full of people because of my son!’
Those celebrations were the fruits of Haidara’s hard-work for over half a decade at JMG.
Mr Wad is still in awe of Amadou’s relentless desire to improve years after Haidara left the academy.
‘From a young age, Amadou was very determined, he never ever gave up. Even when the exercises were very difficult. He said: “Coach don’t worry I will finish this exercise and I will do it.” And in the end he always did.’
‘After breakfast at 6:30 in the morning he went straight to the field before all the players and started to work. He had a huge love for football and he was very confident in himself.’
His hunger to play was infectious.
‘After the World Cup, we had a tournament in Senegal. We asked him if he wanted to take a break. It was just a small tournament, and he said “No I’m not tired, I will go.”
In the end he was our captain and we ended up winning the competition.’
Watching him on the field now, the remnants of his vigorous training is still present. Haidara’s technique and shooting is exemplary and much of his skills can be attributed to the environment he grew up in at JMG.
The academy instilled in him the right attitude for football and they gave him the means to hone his skills. With JMG’s renowned status and Guillou’s impressive resume in the Ivory Coast, Amadou Haidara had a tangible goal to aim towards.
‘The model for Haidara was Yaya Toure, he came through the same academy in the Ivory Coast and Haidara always used to talk about him,’ Mr Wad remembers.
When Amadou Haidara and his fellow JMG graduates helped Mali reach the U17 World Cup Final and the nation finished third in the U20 World Cup in the same year, European scouts started to take notice.
It didn’t take long before clubs in Europe began to flood JMG with enquiries.
Amadou Haidara garnered an especially high volume of interest. He had trials in Spain with Granada and in France with Monaco, Bordeaux and Rennes.
In the end his move to Salzburg was serendipitous.
‘Salzburg watched him play in the tournament in Senegal after the World Cup. They were very impressed. But he went to Spain and France first. After his trials ended, his Schengen Visa had not expired, and we told him give Salzburg a chance.’
Haidara impressed the Salzburg coaching staff almost immediately.
‘After just two days we got a call from the Salzburg chairman saying they were very interested in him,’ Mr Wad recalls.
The feeling was fortunately mutual.
‘He told me: “Coach if I have to choose I want to go to Salzburg because the staff are very kind and they have the perfect conditions for me.”
It helped that Diadie Samassekou, two years his senior, had settled into life with the Austrian outfit, having moved to Salzburg a year prior, which provided a clear pathway.
Becoming a star in Salzburg
Haidara’s trials in Europe had given him an important taste of European football. The experience acclimatised him to the game quicker than most. He went straight into Salzburg’s second team, Liefering.
‘He made his Liefering debut after just two training sessions,’ Mamadou Wad recalls. ‘Haidara came on at half time with Liefering trailing 2-1. He scored three minutes later and helped set-up Liefering’s third goal.’
You couldn’t have scripted a better debut.
‘He didn’t take much time to settle into the team and become a regular. He was training with Salzburg’s first team and playing with the academy.’
Less than a year into his spell with Salzburg Haidara had blossomed into the club’s brightest star. His performances were instrumental in the UEFA Youth Cup. Salzburg eliminated clubs like Manchester City, Barcelona, Paris Saint Germain, Atletico Madrid on their way to the final.
In the final Amadou Haidara was one of the best players on the pitch. He dominated the midfield as goals from Patson Daka and Alexander Schmidt helped the Austrian’s to victory.
In that same year Haidara made his debut for Red Bull Salzburg’s first team and scored on his first start against Austria Vienna.
The following season, he thrived under Marco Rose and played a pivotal role in Salzburg’s march to the semi-finals of the Europa League.
Haidara scored in a narrow 3-2 aggregate defeat against Marseille in the semi-finals.
The move to Germany
After another stellar half-season in Austria, the natural progression was to move to RB Leipzig.
It was a well-trodden path, followed by many others in the last decade. Mr Wad remembers Haidara’s thinking process during the period well.
‘When he moved to Germany, I asked him why he chose to move to Leipzig? He said: “I started my professional career at Salzburg in the best way and moving to Leipzig is the perfect bridge to take the next step.”
But he would have to face a setback first.
Haidara joined the club in January with a cruciate ligament injury. Instead of training with his teammates he spent the first few months in rehabilitation.
‘When he moved to Leipzig, he didn’t play at first because of his injury. He never gave up though. He knew if he worked hard there would be a place for him in the team,’ Mamadou Wad recalls.
Despite netting in his first start against Hertha Berlin, Haidara struggled to break into Leipzig’s starting eleven. However, is lack of opportunities didn’t deter him.
‘He told me: “Coach it is normal, I’m a young player. I’m at the second best club in Germany. I can’t expect to start as the first player in my position right away. For me it (not starting games) is not a problem. Even if I start on the bench I know with my quality if I continue to work hard I will have my place in this team.”
His moment is now
Haidara’s patience is starting to show dividends.
‘The biggest quality of Haidara is that he is not in a hurry, he takes his time. He assesses his options carefully. The only moment when he is in a hurry is when he’s playing on the field.’Mamadou Wad, JMG Academy
The Malian has played every minute of Leipzig’s matches so far this season and has already netted twice.
He scored for his country against Ghana in the recent international break too and looks to be in his best form since moving to Leipzig.
‘Haidara never gives up. He is not in a hurry. He tries to see what he has to do and always wants to improve himself,’ Mr Wad says fondly.
That attitude will take him far.
With his impeccable mindset, the boy from Bamako could follow in the footsteps of Guillou’s greatest graduate in Yaya Toure.
In the JMG academy they refer to Haidara as simply ‘Doudou.’ Mr Wad regards Doudou as the perfect testament to JMG’s hard-work on the African continent and a role model for many more stars to emerge from the academy.
‘His pictures are all around the academy. He is an example to follow for the boys. When he comes to Mali, he always comes back to the academy and talks to the young players here. That attitude is really important.’
Thanks to the work of JMG, Mr Wad believes Mali will have its most successful generation to date.
‘I think Mali could be one of the best teams in Africa for the next fifteen years.’
If Mr Wad is proved right, Haidara’s father can expect more and more people to flock to the family home in the future.