Sakho: "I Want to Make My Mark"

Valerio Pennicino

Ahead of his home debut, new signing Mamadou Sakho talked in depth about leaving his boyhood club over the summer and his journey from a rough Paris neighbourhood to become one of the top young defenders in world football.

Defenders, often overlooked in favour of flashy attackers and dynamic midfielders, rarely make for big, splashy signings. Few, though, would argue that 23-year-old French centre half Mamadou Sakho isn't worthy of being called not only Liverpool's signing of the summer, but also one of the biggest names to arrive in the Premier League ahead of the 2013-14 season. And a few short years ago, it's a move that would have seemed unthinkable.

Sakho became the youngest captain in Ligue 1 history but had struggled following the arrival of Qatari cash and Carlo Ancelotti. As one big name signing and then another came through the doors at PSG, the defender who made his debut at 17 and quickly established himself as their brightest homegrown star increasingly found himself on the outside looking in, a victim of efforts to buy instant Champions League glory.

"Of course it was a big step for me to leave," he said. "I'd been with Paris St-Germain from the age of 12, but there comes a time in every player's life when you have to make choices. I had achieved everything I had wanted to do with Paris St-Germain, we had won the title and I made the decision a while ago that I wanted to take on something else.

"I knew I wanted to experience a different culture and learn new things and when Liverpool came in for me I was easily convinced. I was happy to leave in the end. There is a big project under way in Paris and that reflects their ambition but my situation was based more on my desire to genuinely compete and that is something I know I will have at Liverpool. I left Paris to join an ambitious club and I'm very excited about the project here."

The defender may have been promised the chance to compete for minutes in Paris, with new manager Laurent Blanc insisting in a recent interview on French radio that the club "wanted him to stay," but the arrival of Thiago Silva last summer for €42M and fellow Brazilian Marquinhos this summer for €32M sent a strong message to the local Sakho—one similar to if Liverpool had gone out and nabbed the likes of Zidane and Makelele a decade ago and told a 23-year-old Steven Gerrard to stick around and compete.

"There are different styles between Paris St-Germain and Liverpool," he added. "There is the influx of money [with PSG] or building player-by-player to fill out the squad [at Liverpool]. The Paris model was very business-minded in that sense but I have come here to a club that functions with a family mentality. That is what suits me and I feel already that we have everybody in the family group, heading towards the same goal."

The defender, though, almost didn't get the chance to become the sort of player his former club's president once compared to Gerrard thanks to his status as local talisman, as his tendency to quarrel with teammates and the youth coaches almost saw him expelled from PSG's academy. Having grown up in one of Paris' tougher neighbourhoods at times helped to drive him towards eventual success, but it could have as easily been his undoing as his making.

"I grew up in an area of Paris that isn't all sweet and nice," he said. "The neighbourhood was quite tough. At that age you have to put yourself about a bit and earn some respect. When I was 14 I tried to impose myself a bit too much on the other players around me. It was a bit physical, a bit verbal. I was just a teenager. It was made clear that if I didn't step back in line, I would be in trouble.

"I soon learned that I had to knuckle down and focus. It was for my own good. I was over the rebellious phase before my father died but that was when I took a step back and decided to concentrate on becoming a professional footballer. Life was pretty hard at that time but I took it on as an obligation to myself to become a pro and provide for my family."

Having made more than 200 starts for PSG despite his young age, Sakho now finds himself penciled in as the cornerstone of Liverpool's defence for the next decade. Assuming, at least, that the club can match his ambitions over the coming years. It's the kind of pressure Sakho relishes, and the defender insists he won't let that or the large transfer fee—one that seems especially hefty given his contract was running down—Liverpool paid negatively effect his performances.

"For me the price they paid is of no significance," he added. "Personally I am not bothered by it. I have been brought here to fill a need of the club. The most important thing is to come here and wear the shirt with pride and to take the club as high as possible. I had a year left on my contract and in four months I could have signed for someone on a Bosman [but] I put football and the chance to move here above personal gain.

"There are a lot of very good players at Liverpool and the club has shown great ambition for this season. They have big ambitions for the Premier League and obviously the clear objective of qualifying for the Champions League. That appealed to me, as did the chance to move to another country and to another culture. I think I will be suited to the English style of play too.

"For me, the Premier League is the best competition in the world. It demands a great deal of rigour and concentration from all players and that can only help me develop as a person and as a player. I felt I had done it all with Paris and that it was time for me to turn the page. This is a new page in the history of Liverpool and for me—I want to make my mark on that page."

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