The next man in my series was without doubt the stand out player at the club during his time with Wolves and performances like this are why he will be revered for years to come.
Some footballers are just impossible to ignore. When they play, it’s as if the game revolves entirely around them. They may be striking in their appearance, carry themselves with an assuredness not seen in your average man. They probably play for quite a dominant team but they stand out amongst even their own.
Bakary Sako – Wolves 3-0 Fulham (2015)
But first, some context…
It was never meant to go this way for Bakary Sako. He arrived at Wolves looking directly at the St Peter’s Gate to footballing heaven and the Premier League. By the time he was allowed past the gate, none of his teammates were able to go with him. But perhaps there’s a case to say that none were truly worthy of it, given the way his three seasons at Molineux had panned out and how he would become the standout individual at the club for three years straight.
He arrived from St Etienne in an interesting summer of activity, alongside a clutch of other continental signings brought to Wolverhampton by Stale Solbakken. The likes of Tongo Doumbia, Bjorn Sigurdarson, Razak Boukari and Sako himself all seemed to have the attributes to succeed at Championship level: they were tall, lithe, athletic and had visible quality, with Sako the shining light. Now it’s obviously not worth getting into how things went over the course of that season, but relegation from the second tier would have been the last thing a recent French U-21 international would have had to contemplate on arrival on these shores.
Sako still managed to score 10 goals during that fateful season and that was even having been injured in March to miss the crucial run in. Could things have been different if he’d been around? To be honest, things haven’t turned out so badly, so the what ifs are not worth considering.
The League One season would go on to be a romp, but it was obvious that Sako would be the subject of interest and his own temptations to go back up the food chain that he didn’t envisage falling down. Who could have blamed him? He didn’t belong at this level and he would go on to display exactly why across the campaign. There was a wobble when he decided not to play against Port Vale after approaches from Nottingham Forest, but for the most part, Sako just went about enjoying his football. And how we enjoyed him. Sako was united with future footballing partner in crime Nouha Dicko in the January and they proceeded to light up League One. Bringing us to the Championship season in which he produced this most exceptional of performances.
It was February 2015 and Wolves had just come off a 5-0 dismantling of Rotherham at the weekend, with the famed trio of Dicko, Benik Afobe and Sako all registering and all on song. They had reached a fluidity of performance that very few teams could live with. There was great optimism that Wolves were on a late charge for promotion, seemingly unstoppable at our best. This Molineux evening would only affirm those beliefs.
This was, lest we forget, a recently relegated Fulham side, still stuffed with much of the talent that had featured for them the season prior. That didn’t necessarily make them any good, of course, and Fulham have always been the flakiest of travellers, but nevertheless this was a newly promoted team taking on a newly-relegated team. It shouldn’t have been so simple. But we had Bakary Sako.
It was a first half demolition, with the Frenchman leading the charge. Sako is usually spoken of as part of the attacking trio that are held up as the leading cast for that season’s successes, but as his career post-Wolves showed, Sako’s star shone brightest. If you took away Afobe, Dicko and Sako would still cause havoc. Sako and Afobe together would cause a multitude of problems for any defence. But Dicko and Afobe without Sako? It doesn’t carry the same weight.
Sako had his full repertoire on show, with a hand in all three goals. It was like a Skills Show Ticklist exercise, starting with his famed set-piece delivery, whipping a lovely corner on to the head of Danny Batth for Wolves to take the lead. His first goal of the night was special too. Like the conductor of an orchestra, Sako had a near gravitational pull on the ball as Wolves built up a passing move that took them from one wing to another, back and forth across the pitch. Sako then exchanges passes with Dominic Iorfa and had finally had enough of the humdrum possession, simply shifting the ball on to the sledgehammer of a left foot he possessed and smashing the ball into the corner from over 20 yards out. It begged the question why he hadn’t done that earlier in the move, the way he basically decided that at that point he was going to score. The third goal and Sako’s second displayed the pace and power with the ball at his feet which was arguably the most exhilarating part of his game. We all know what he was going to do when he picked the ball up. But stopping him is a different matter altogether. We all know he’s going to drive towards his left, we all know he’s going to try and shoot towards goal, but the futility in defence of it speaks of a man who is indomitable at his best. And so Sako drove at his man, drove towards goal and drove the ball basically through the goalkeeper. 3-0 and basically game over, all pretty much at the hands of one man.
Sako was hauled off in the 57th minute in what was probably a protectionist move from manager Kenny Jackett but his work was done. He had cowered Fulham into handing over the points with a whimper.
It wouldn’t quite be a storybook ending for Sako who went on to taste Premier League action without donning the Gold and Black of Wolves, but he would leave a wonderful calling card in his final game for the club, with more sumptuous play against Millwall.
Sako’s story is perhaps one of what ifs and what could have been, but there’s no doubt that few Wolves fans will forget what he gave us on the field.