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West Ham United have officially announced the signing of Mali international forward Modibo Maiga. The 24-year-old joins the Hammers from French side FC Sochaux-Montbeliard for an undisclosed fee believed to be in the region of £5million, putting pen to paper on a four-year contract with an option for a further two years. The player, who becomes West Ham's fifth summer arrival following Mohamed Diame, George McCartney, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Stephen Henderson, will be the second Malian to represent the club. He follows in the footsteps of fellow forward Frederic Kanoute, who scored 33 goals in 92 appearances for the Hammers between March 2000 and May 2003.

A beaming Maiga could not contain his pleasure at completing his move to the Boleyn Ground; the culmination of a long cherished dream to play in the Premier League. "I am really happy and excited about joining West Ham United," he told "I know West Ham are a big club in England and I'm really looking forward to representing them. They have huge tradition and it is like joining part of a family and that is one of the main reasons I wanted to come here. I know some of the big names that have played for the club in the past and I am proud to be part of a new team back in the Premier League."

The excitement, of course, is likely to be reciprocated by the expectant West Ham fans. These are days of hope and optimism, when our team is still level on points with the great powers and we dream impossible dreams. On the beaches of Spain and Portugal, Turkey and Greece, the great diaspora of Hammers followers pores over English newspapers, gorging on the transfer tittle-tattle that tells of the impending arrival of the one player who is going to transform our team. He bears the exotic stamp of some faraway place, his foreign passport enough to convince us of his credentials as a footballer to stir the heart.

So it was that Modibo Maiga stepped out of St Pancras station two days ago, over-sized suitcase in hand. The latest stop on an eventful journey that started in the back alleys of Djicoroni Para before wending its way through North Africa and then across France. "Shy, a little. Modest, certainly," says Gilles Santalucia on first meeting the man. It is, he thinks, the natural result of an education learnt on the streets of one of the poorest districts in one of the most deprived countries in the world. Mali has an estimated population of 12 million with over 50 percent of the country located in the Sahara Desert and with 64 per cent of the population living below the poverty line. It is a time and place, admits Maiga, where nothing in life is simple. "It is a region where things are very, very difficult," he concedes. "It must be said, it is a mess over there."

The young Malian is the third son in a family of ten children (six girls, 4 boys), yet grew up with a football almost stuck to his foot (especially the left one) and always smiling. "My father was a driver and my mother has long had a cafe. Even if it is was not always clear to us growing up in Mali, despite everything, there is still a zest for life that never disappears." Maiga has, he says, found less joy in people in France. "Everyone there has their own life but with us, we all live together. Among locals, there is a lot of solidarity, a common shared experience."

Growing up on those dusty plains, football was Maiga's first and only love. "I went to school through high school," he explains. "Afterwards, I changed my path. I chose football. In the neighbourhood we knew there was a lot of African players that were doing well in Europe. It made us envious. I was always one of the best in Djicoroni Para when doing competitions and technical stuff." Then he pauses as if to give full flight to his memory, "but we did not think, right then, of our futures. Football, it was fun, a kind of love. Yes, that's love. Only later did I start to see it otherwise."

Maiga started out at Stade Malien, based in Bamako and one of the two dominant clubs in Malian football. It was 2003 and he was 15 years of age, rubbing shoulders with several Mali internationals past, present and future. Just over a year later, and after only three club appearances, he was spotted by famed recruiter Philippe Romieu. Maiga initially moved to Raja Casablanca on a six-month loan with option to purchase and ended up staying for three seasons; winning several awards including the Moroccan League, the Throne Cup and the Arab Champions League. "I think the move to one of the biggest clubs in Africa certainly facilitated my integration in France," reflects Maiga. "I have only good memories. You do not forget the first steps you take out of your country."

For an ambitious and talented footballer, small motivation was required to leave Mali. "You do not know where you want to go," he says, "but you feel you want to go to progress." In Casablanca, Maiga had little choice but to embrace the madness. "The Moroccan people are crazy about football. With 60 000 to 70 000 spectators per match, there was an incredible atmosphere." Such an experience would leave an indelible mark on any impressionable young player. "It made me want to go even higher," he recalls, before admitting that he never found in France anything to match what he encountered in North Africa. "I miss it because the atmosphere in the stadiums there is very motivating for the player."

The move to Europe would prove to be a culture shock in more ways than one. The raw 20 year old landed in a snow dusted Le Mans shivering in the depths of a unseasonably harsh winter. Alone and uncomfortable in a strange land, he quickly confronted the unpalatable truth that a successful football career would "force him to consent" to sacrifice, to change his lifestyle. "It's very hard to deal with it all when you come from where I come from," he says. "For Brazilians, I think it's even worse. Them, they need to come with their entire family for everything to be happy around them. They need it. Yet we must face this new life to succeed. You are forced to fight against adversity."

Under the watchful eye of Daniel Jeandupeux, Maiga initially faced a severe test of resolve which would endure for almost a year. "When I arrived at Le Mans from Casablanca, I was a little hurt," he admits. "I took the time to heal and then had to gradually integrate myself into the group as well. So I started with the team of CFA (Championnat de France amateur fourth division)." He eventually joined the first team under the management of Rudi Garcia but featured only intermittently. "I fought through it," he states, before insisting he never lost belief in his ability even when he was not playing. "I told myself that I would play full-time the following season and be in great physical shape."

Garcia's subsequent departure for Lille and the promotion of Yves Bertucci coincided with Maiga's rapid rise. "My ambition to be successful at the club would have been the same no matter the coach," thinks Maiga. "I wanted to play more than anything. I worked very hard for it and I'm really ambitious. But it's true that Yves [Bertucci] knew me very well since I developed under his command in CFA. He knew me more than Rudi [Garcia] elsewhere. Yves gave me my chance. So I tried to return it to the fullest and to earn his trust."

Le Mans also had a strong contingent of French-speaking African players and Maiga believes that it eased his progress. "The presence of certain players was a very good thing for me," he says. "When I landed in the Sarthe, there was Romaric and Stephane Sessegnon. There was a lot of Africans. It was fun. We worked together and I could learn from their experience, and always listen to their advice." Playing alongside Ivory Coast player Gervinho, Maiga's talent slowly blossomed into full glory across the football fields of France. Despite Le Mans' ultimate relegation to Ligue 2, he bagged 15 goals in 88 games over a three year period; including eight goals in 30 games in the 2008-2009 season. Unwilling to drop a division, Maiga jumped at a transfer to FC Sochaux-Montbéliard for an estimated three million euros. "I could not forget that relegation," he says. "Even now it's hard to return to this disappointment. As Sochaux had followed me for a few months, I did not hesitate and I immediately gave my consent because it was a good challenge ahead for me."

Signing a four-year contract, Maiga informed the media that at Sochaux he felt respected. "Frankly, since the beginning I liked the place a lot," he says. "I really do not care about the surroundings, what interests me is the club environment. At Sochaux I felt more respected, more relevant and that made me more confident. The staff were very human and made me want to get involved. With them I felt able to make much progress. What they said, what they did, could only make people want to give of their best." That was then though.

During the 2010–11 Les Lionceaux coach Francis Gillot moved Maiga more central and teamed him up with Nigerian striker Ideye Brown to devastating effect. The pair struck up a 30 goal partnership, each scoring 15 goals. Between them, they accounted for half of FC Sochaux's league goals. Maiga and Brown were assisted by playmakers Marvin Martin and Ryad Boudebouz as Sochaux finish fifth in Ligue 1 and qualified for the UEFA Europa League. By the following August, Maiga had announced that he would never play for the club again. In the interim strike partner Brown had been sold to Dynamo Kyiv and coach Gillot departed for Bordeaux. A frustrated Maiga expressed his interest in moving, but with one star striker gone Sporting Director Alexandre Lacombe wasn’t keen to see his other forward leave the Stade Auguste-Bonal.

Maiga's subsequent refusal to make himself available for selection for several matches of the new season launched its own public "soap opera"; played out against the backdrop of an impending transfer to Newcastle United that the player desperately wanted, but which Lacombe categorically refused. The Mali international told L'Equipe: "I want it to be done with Newcastle. I want to leave, it is necessary that the president agrees to negotiate. I met everybody, they want me and it is not any club. England is a dream. I want to go." For their part, Sochaux accused Newcastle of speaking to Maiga without their permission and confirmed they had contacted Fifa to intervene. A few days after the transfer window slammed shut, a frustrated Maiga- who had already missed games against Malherbe de Caen and AS Nancy- went for a 'Sunday drive', claiming sickness and without informing anyone of his absence. He missed further games before eventually returning to the first team and scoring four goals in three games.

Yet resentment was still raging in Maiga as the unforgiving fans continued to whistle his every move. Things came to a head in a televised match against Toulouse when Maiga was shown apoplectic with rage and hurling insults at the supporters who had once idolized him. "It was a good answer to the people who do not know football," he told the media after the game. "This will make them shut their big mouths. When you see what I did last year and the fans for whom I have always played do not try to understand, they hiss you. [...] I say 'fuck you' to the supporters. My answer is on the field. I have always been strong in my head, thank God."

An exasperated Lacombe was moved to extinguish the fire again. "He has in him a strong vengeful side," he told assembled journalists. "He really has it deep in his guts, and I think he spoke without thinking. It's our fault, we should not have let the press so quickly in the locker room. I do not know exactly how it happened, but I take it upon myself. We made a mistake, I take responsibility." Within months, the man who had resisted Newcastle’s repeated attempts to sign the 24-year-old in the summer conceded there was no point trying to do so again in January. "I have had enough of being booed by supporters, but anyway it does not stop me scoring goals for the club and making them happy," added Maiga in response. "I will not finish my career in Sochaux if I am scoring every week - that is the reality of football. I have not invented that. At the moment I am here and scoring goals. I do not know when the transfer window opens what there will be. It depends also on the club, but in the near future I want to ply my trade in another top league. It is a genuine ambition, I will accept being booed for that."

By October several newspapers were reporting that Maiga was again close to sealing a £7 million transfer to move to Tyneside, before L'Equipe revealed in December that he had failed a medical ahead of his proposed move amid concerns over a 'knee problem'. "I am disappointed at this turn of events," responded the player’s agent, Karim Aklil at the time. "Modibo is in perfect physical condition, which was confirmed by one of the leading experts in the field." Aklil was referring to a report of the player performed and submitted by Professor Jaeger, an independent medical practitioner in France. "I was surprised that Newcastle’s medical team employed a very shallow observation before reaching a conclusion. I’m quite convinced that the future will prove us right. Modibo is one of the best strikers in the French Ligue 1," he added.

Maiga says the failed medical was due to lingering thigh injury he had picked up earlier in the Ligue 1 campaign and which he had been dragging around for several weeks. He points to the presence of Demba Ba in the Newcastle squad a year after he was turned down by Stoke for a similar reason, and argues Alan Pardew may live to regret the decision to pull the plug on a deal that had been in place for months. "I am mentally fine, I wanted that move to Newcastle badly," he says. "However, it did not happen as they said my knee has a problem. There is a player at Newcastle now, he was told at a Premier League medical that he had a knee problem, he then went to another and started scoring goals before his move to Newcastle. Me... I feel better than anything."

By February Maiga had time enough to revisit those words, sweating in a Libreville hospital bed having contracted malaria while representing Mali at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. His absence had originally been attributed to a mystery ankle injury, partly at the behest of the player himself who had neglected to take the preventative measures as prescribed by his club doctors prior to the tournament. Fevered and tired, he would miss the 1-0 semi defeat against Côte d'Ivoire, with manager Alain Giresse lamenting he had no resource to compensate for losing Maiga's speed and trickery. When Maiga eventually returned to France, severely weakened and incapacitated for several more weeks, he was in no position to help his team-mates by now embroiled in a desperate relegation struggle.

By the end of April, Maiga had returned with 4 goals in as many games: against Lyon, Brest, Montpellier and Dijon. Seemingly keen to repair his damaged reputation, or else realizing that his personal interests coincided with those of the team, Maiga had taken full advantage of a serious knee injury to Edouard Butin to remind sceptical fans of his talent. His relieved coach, Eric Hely, told a curious media that his wayward star had 'fallen into line'. "These last few weeks, he has been working hard," he said. "He has demonstrated he wants to play and, above all, he has acquired a good level of physical fitness. He is now being rewarded for his efforts."

In addition to Maiga's natural finishing and exceptional heading ability, Sochaux captain and goalkeeper Teddy Richert believes Maiga has developed a new found physicality which enables him to disrupt and bully defences. "It doesn't surprise me at all," he says. "You can see it on the pitch and in training that he wants to give everything to show what he is capable of and that's what he is now doing." Maiga has developed into a versatile player; possessed of power and technique that means he is as comfortable playing a lone central striker role as he is a "more facilitating role in which I pull out towards the wing." He has, he believes, mastered both positions. "It really does not matter what position I play," he promises. "I can give my full potential through the middle or out wide. So I have no preference. I play where the coach asks me."

While off the field Modibo Maiga had largely been a disaster last season: throwing tantrums, insulting his own supporters, missing training and refusing to play, acknowledges Jonathan Fadugba, it stemmed from a burning desire to leave the Ligue 1 strugglers for a bigger club which, in fairness, his abundant talent probably warrants. Writing for, the chief correspondent for FFT's United States of Africa states: "Nevertheless his shenanigans have been quite disheartening to witness and one wonders to what extent it was his misbehaviour, rather than worries over the state of his knee, that caused Newcastle United to pull out of the deal." It's a shame, thinks Fadugba, because when on his game the Mali international is a real handful – aggressive, alert, strong in the air and a good finisher. Scoring 24 goals in 59 games for Sochaux certainly suggests he can do it at a high level, and having been rejected by the Magpies he always remained desperate to impress watching scouts to finally rescue him from his nightmare in Montbéliard.

Cursory statistical analysis certainly supports this assertion. A recent post on the English Premier League Index compared Maiga to the other top scoring strikers in Ligue 1 last season. Montpellier's Olivier Giroud (now of Arsenal) led the league in most stats, goals, total shots, assists and shots on target; while the league's second best scorer, St Etienne's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, was second to Giroud in all the stats that he led. "Maiga was second in shooting accuracy with 53%, behind Lyon striker Lisandro Lopez who had 58% of his shots hitting the target," reveals the article. "He was also third in conversion percentage with 18%, behind Yoan Gouffran (24%) and Lopez again (23%). A key Stat to look at here is appearances, Maiga made the least amount of appearances last year with 23, which would mean he would score less goals."

Not that Modibo Maiga is one of life's natural number-crunchers. "I just believe in myself and I always want to go higher," he says, with the same conviction he had as a kid growing up in Bamako that one day Barcelona would come calling. "Seydou Keita (former Lens and Barcelona midfielder) is like a big brother to me and when I was young he gave me good advice. He told me that I have all the qualities that I need to achieve great things but that I have to work hard and God must be willing." He then raises his eyes as if to scan the sky. "My first name is that of an ancient religion and I am a devout Muslim," he reveals. "It's like that in Mali. I was born into it, and it is what gives me my mental strength. Even when I was having a difficult time in Sochaux and the fans did not understand me, I never gave up faith that I would one day make it to Premier League. I always wanted to play here and now I have a chance. What is more, my health is very good and so are my knees!" Are you listening, Mr Pardew?

This post first appeared on Just Like My Dreams..., please read the originial post: here

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