More often than not in football, players make moves that simply don’t work out. Not necessarily because they lack the necessary talent, but because the club and player cannot seem to fit together. There are numerous examples of players joining a new team, usually in a new country, only for them to struggle and be branded as a flop before finding their form again, but in the league or even at the club that they had previously thrived in. That’s exactly what is happening to a certain Modibo Maiga, the former Sochaux hot-shot who floundered at West Ham United but looks to be getting back to his best in France with Les Grenats.
If we recast our minds back to his 2010-11 breakout season, Maiga was a revelation with Sochaux. He scored 15 goals and created two goals alongside strike partner Brown Ideye, who also grabbed 15 himself, propelling Les Lionceaux to a surprise fifth place finish. It was a fantastically exciting side, boasting the league’s best assist maker in Marvin Martin back when he looked promising and Ryad Boudebouz when he looked like he might become a European superstar.
Maiga felt that it was time to move on, but the high calibre clubs did not come calling and he saw both Ideye and Martin leave instead for more reputable outfits. Nevertheless, his 2011-2012 campaign was fruitful: scoring 9 goals in 23 appearances despite the club cutting his supply lines in the summer transfer window.
In January 2012, Maiga’s dream to discover bigger and better things almost came true as it appeared as if Newcastle United had completed a deal for the Malian international, but the FCSM player inexplicably failed a medical. That however did not prevent West Ham from knocking on the door in the summer of 2012, promptly signing him to a four-year-deal for an undisclosed fee.
This is unfortunately the point in which Maiga’s story becomes one about failure rather than success. He made 31 sporadic appearances for the Hammers over two years, scoring just three goals before heading to then-Championship side QPR on loan. He managed to score just once in eight games under Harry Redknapp’s leadership but he never looked like the raw goal-scoring talent that dominated Ligue 1 defences.
There are several ways of explaining Maiga’s shortcomings when it came to his time in English football, one being that he didn’t fit quite into Sam Allardyce’s long-ball style. He’s a tall player that can be very good in the air but he doesn’t possess the ability to hold the ball up to allow others to run off him, the way in which Allardyce wanted to play. When the ball was wide and put into the box, he could be a handful but West Ham lacked that creative edge to get the ball in the right areas for Maiga to score.
He was also brought in essentially as a substitute for injured on-loan striker Andy Carroll, as West Ham would play one up front with Kevin Nolan playing just off the front-man and that meant with his return, he never got a really consistent run to build up his confidence in a new league. It was too difficult to settle in a QPR team that couldn’t decide how they wanted to play without Charlie Austin and whilst he got a few chances, he was not able to gel with his new teammates.
Cast off as a bit of a flop and with West Ham bringing in a number of attackers in the summer, Maiga moved on loan to Metz with an option to make that move permanent in 2015. He is now showing signs of finding his feet again.
Before this week, the 27-year-old has scored four times in nine league games, with seven appearances from the start. For a newly-promoted side, Maiga’s goal count must be positively looked upon, even though he scored two penalties against PSG which arguably artificially boosts his numbers. Having said that, for a player that has been low on confidence for such a long time, it takes nerve and determination to step up and dispatch them.
What looks to have changed for the Malian is that Les Grenats suit his style a little more, he is play as the individual who sits in front of the defence and make incisive runs in and around the box. He is the final point of attack from a counter-attacking perspective and adds much-needed muscle in an otherwise more technical offensive unit.
While Maiga is far from the heights of his Sochaux playing days, he is undoubtedly currently undergoing a considerable period of form which might define his career. Metz craved a potent attacking threat after the phenomenal Diafra Sakho left and they might well have found it in Maiga.