Mamadou Sakho - The wonderful human being and philantrophist
July 8, 2016, began on a very good note for Liverpool FC with manager Jürgen Klopp penning a six-year contract extension and with the club’s pre-season scheduled to commence later in the day, it prompted quite the excitement among fans and in the end, Liverpool won a goal to the good against Tranmere Rovers. The most significant news of the day arrived last - centre-back Mamadou Sakho had been cleared of all allegations of doping by UEFA and was free to resume playing.
It was a moment of relief for Sakho and Liverpool alike, as the defender’s career had been shrouded in uncertainty since the last week of April when the charges first surfaced. He took to his Facebook account to say this “The truth always comes out in the end! I can finally express myself and above all it's important for me to thank all of you for your trust and your support that you have been communicating during those two months and a half! You have been there for me #YNWA, I will always be there for you giving all my best on the field! I would like as well to congratulate my mates of the Équipe de France de Football for their amazing race!!! You make us dream, we are thrilling for you!!! Come on les Bleus, Come on France!”
UEFA issued a statement saying the case against Sakho had been dismissed after hearing arguments from the player’s lawyers as well as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-accredited laboratories. Additionally, it was discovered during the investigation that the ‘prohibited substance’ consumed by Sakho was not even certain to be on the list of drugs banned by the agency.
It is critical to note that representatives from the WADA did not attend the hearings against the player as they did not deem the case to be strong enough. It wouldn’t be grossly incorrect to say that UEFA’s callousness cost a player two months of his club and international career, missing several key matches, which potentially included a Europa League Final and Euro final.
High stakes in play
Sakho was forced to sit out of Liverpool’s Europa League final against Sevilla, the club’s first European showpiece finale in nine years. He also missed the two-legged semi-final against Villarreal. What was worse is that the football authority’s procedural delays meant that no final decision was taken regarding the allegations prior to the commencement of Euros 2016.
The former PSG player, who captained his team at just 17 years of age, thereby becoming the youngest player ever to lead a Ligue 1 club, was forced out of the European championship being hosted in his home country.
Sakho was a regular in the French national team that played the qualifiers but was left out of the final squad for the Euros as there was no clarity on the possibility or length of the ban he would potentially face. He was Deschamps’s first-choice centre-back and started all the FIFA World Cup games, when he was fit, ahead of Laurent Koscielny.
In effect, Sakho, a fan favourite as much for his aggressive exploits on the pitch as for his gentleness and philanthropy off it, had lost out on two very important months of his career for probably no fault of his. It is unlikely that the Euros will be held in France again during Sakho’s playing career, which means that the opportunity of a lifetime to represent his country in front of home fans was cruelly taken away from him.
The uncertainty surrounding Sakho’s career took a heavy toll off the pitch too, with Nike suspending its tie-up with the player and video game makers EA sports removing him from FIFA 16 football; this added to the tremendous pressure created on the otherwise impeccable reputation of the player.
How it all unfolded
Sakho’s drug samples were requested for testing post-Liverpool’s Europa league clash with Manchester United on March 17, 2016, as part of routine tests on players chosen at random. On April 22, Liverpool stated that UEFA had issued a statement “seeking an explanation from Mamadou Sakho for testing positive for a fat burner” which was claimed to be part of the prohibited substances list.
Six days later on April 28, he was provisionally suspended for 30 days, thereby missing Liverpool’s road to the Europa league finale. It was later revealed by UEFA that the 30-day provisional ban came at Sakho’s behest.
Although the request in itself stunned many at the time, Sakho had intended it to act as protection against potential reputational risk for Liverpool FC. This wouldn’t come as a surprise for Liverpool fans as they have known the gentle, magnanimous nature of Sakho.
Some fondly refer to him as the gentle giant and perceive him to be a player who would give anything for his team on the pitch as also to prevent the name of his beloved “Liverpool country” from being tarnished in the slightest possible way.
Once the temporary suspension period ended in the last week of May, UEFA was once again in late at making the final decision, which wasn’t made until July 8.
Winning hearts off the pitch
It is noteworthy to mention that despite all the controversies and allegations, Sakho focused on his work off the pitch during his absence from it. Sakho, born in Paris to parents of Senegalese origin, has been adored by football fans for his involvement in various charitable activities. Whether it was painting houses for the homeless at Liverpool, donating presents to patients of a children’s hospital in the town, or finding time between games to attend to his charitable commitments back home in Paris, he is always ready to ‘give’.
Sakho spent the forced break of more than 2 months working with his charity AMSAK to help the underprivileged in various parts of Africa, Senegal and the Ivory Coast. He engaged in a range of generous acts, donating food and provisions to orphans, households and prisoners across these regions.
UEFA to stand trial?
During the entire saga that unfolded over the course of two months, Sakho expressed restraint in the media and only posted on social media about his charity work. When the case against him was dismissed, the player had only this to say: “The truth always comes out in the end”. It is quite commendable that he chose not to blame anyone, even the UEFA for messing up badly. It is also telling of his nature that he visited the French national team the day after the verdict, in a show of support for his team on the eve of the Euro finals.
However, it has been reported that Sakho as well as Liverpool are exploring possible legal options and why not! All responsible should be held accountable for the delay and disruption of a player’s flourishing career and if that means UEFA and WADA would have to stand trial, then so be it.