Nov 30 2011

Focus On: Momodou Ceesay

Published by at 7:53 am under Domestic and tagged: ,

Momo is Momo

The title is not mine. It is a friend and fellow Žilina regular’s description of possibly the most enigmatic footballer I’ve ever watched on a regular basis, Gambian striker Momodou Ceesay.

I’ve often asked myself over the last 15 months or so how a player can be so talented – can do truly dazzling things with the ball – yet can also be so downright hopeless that you would rather your team was playing with ten men. ‘Momo is Momo’ is, I suspect, as close as I’ll ever really get to answering that question.

Ceesay in action against Marseille last year

Perhaps it’s not actually that great a move for a player to raise fans‘ expectations of him by starring in a high-profile competition immediately after joining a club. But that is what Ceesay did, and it was largely thanks to his goals and displays against Litex Loveč and Sparta Prague that Žilina qualified for last season’s Champions League group stage. The Sparta goals were remarkable efforts too. In the away leg, Ceesay gained possession following defensive confusion and, though surrounded by opponents and with the angle narrow, managed to find a small corner of the net. That was nothing compared to his strike in the home leg, where he turned to meet a cross pulled too far back for his run, flicked the ball up and, with his back to goal, directed it past the ‘keeper with a scissors kick. It would have been a special goal from any sort of player ; from an unco’ordinated-looking figure of 6ft 5ins it verged on the uncanny.

After all that, the one question diverting Žilina fans’ minds from ticket-prices for the opening group game against Chelsea was how John Terry and his colleagues might cope with Ceesay. With hindsight, the expectation had become a little unreasonable. The Londoners, and the rest of Group F, provided a hefty dose of reality as Ceesay became increasingly anonymous through the European campaign, though he did give a brief but entertaining cameo appearance as a substitute in the final fixture, at home to Spartak Moscow.

The big-time Charlie accusation, then, is not one I would aim at Ceesay. In fact, some of his better displays last autumn came in low-profile matches in humble surroundings. He seemed, for example, to take a liking to away ties in the Slovak Cup, scoring at both Vranov nad Topľou and Senec. Nor is it fair to suggest that he’s a fair-weather player – a charge still occasionally levelled at African players in sections of the Slovak media. Indeed, last Saturday’s home league match against Banská Bystrica, played on a cold November evening, saw him produce just about his full-range of skills. He held the ball up decently, he skinned defenders for pace (how often do you see 6ft 5in players do that?) and he was unlucky not to score on three occasions, once with a vicious 30-yard shot, once after a bewildering series of foot shuffles had taken him clear of three defenders in the penalty-area, and finally after running round goalkeeper Tomáš Belic. The ‘keeper did well to save the first two efforts and was rescued by an unlikely goal-line clearance from Juraj Chupáč on the third occasion.

Ceesay skinning a Trencin defender

All this leaves us daring to hope that Ceesay might have further wonders in store next spring, the more so if he is blessed with just a little luck. Before we get too optimistic, though, we should perhaps recall the typically mixed efforts he offered in last season’s second phase. In fairness, the first game, at Prešov in late February, was played in icy conditions. Several players struggled, Ceesay more than any.  Later, he was deployed out of position wide on the right in some games and, though his work-rate couldn’t be faulted, he again looked uncomfortable and proved fairly conclusively that the words ‘good crosser of the ball’ will not be appearing on his CV anytime soon. He was also unfortunate to be sent-off for diving in the controversial Slovan Bratislava game, video evidence later proving that he hadn’t committed an offence. The incident, as well as that Prešov match, pointed to one problem Ceesay has – that for all his skill, he sometimes has problems staying upright. Combined with the fact that he is also prone to the odd ‘real’ dive, this must make him a tricky player to referee. Still, the red card seemed to fire him up for his next outing, a cup semi-final home leg with Zlaté Moravce in which he tortured the visiting defence and scored (to date) his only brace of goals in Žilina colours.

The realists among us (who don’t always include me) have sometimes wondered how it is that Ceesay is playing Slovak league football in the first place, especially given that Žilina acquired him from Belgian side Westerlo. If he was that good, surely another club in a western Europe league would have wanted him. But there is another, more sensitive issue here and it is that Ceesay is a devout Muslim, one who insists on observing the rules of the holy month of Ramadan. This is probably not a matter Slovak clubs have had to pay much attention to before but, in a newspaper interview last autumn, Pavel Hapal, Žilina’s former coach, did have a very respectable stab at balancing respect for a player’s beliefs with worries about how dentrimental a refusal to take in food and water during daylight hours might affect his fitness. This is an issue that could affect bigger clubs of course, but I suspect that Žilina have reached an acceptance in Ceesay’s case that goes something like this ; we respect the player’s right to observe his religion. If his physical condition or on-field focus is sometimes lacking, whether or not because of such observance, it is a price worth paying in this case because, when he is in top form, he is a match-winner and can be simply unplayable.

As someone who watches Žilina, that strikes me as a fair trade-off. Ceesay has had me shaking my head in resignation at his seeming incompetence more times than I care to remember. But the moments when he does something brilliant and makes you ask, ‘how the hell did he do that?’ are regular enough, and brilliant enough, to compensate. In any case, unpredictability itself can be a weapon sometimes. If, as I imagine, Ceesay sometimes doesn’t know what he’s going to do when the ball comes to him, then neither do the opposition. Also,  even if he did manage to add consistency to his game, it just wouldn’t be the same. Momo wouldn’t be Momo anymore.

 James Baxter

9 responses so far

9 Responses to “Focus On: Momodou Ceesay”

  1.   StaryJazvecon 30 Nov 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Dont like to be hater, as I’ve seen Momo’s high centre of gravity in action close up, but doesnt he miscontrol that ball, rather than flick up, re. wonder goal.

  2.   StaryJazvecon 30 Nov 2011 at 1:08 pm

    Nice “wish it round the post” by the keeper as well, but anyway.

  3.   britskibelasion 30 Nov 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I think Jazvec is just bitter because he hasn’t seen a goal like that down the ‘Zalka for years!

    I think it was a superb goal and a perfect illustration of the points James is making about Ceesay. Maybe he did miscontrol it, maybe it was the 1 in a 100 attempts where you hope for the best and it comes, but he picked the right match to pull it ogg and the end result was entertainment of the kind you don’t see very often in Slovakia!

  4.   Jameson 01 Dec 2011 at 9:43 am

    I definitely don’t think he miscontrolled it but then I wouldn’t. Usually, when he miscontrols a ball it bounces two yards off his shin. When he gets things right, he gets them all right – even (sometimes) the staying upright bit.

  5.   George Mon 02 Dec 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Does anyone know how many goals Slovan let in yesterday ?

  6.   Jameson 02 Dec 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Two. Bilbao won 2-1. Good game to watch, I thought, though it looked windy judging by debris flying about the pitch. But both teams were good – Sebo scored a well-taken goal (equaliser)just two minutes after Halenar hit the bar with a brilliant free-kick effort, which deserved to bounce in rather than out. Bilbao scored winner with 15 mins to go. Probably the right result overall – but only just.

  7.   britskibelasion 02 Dec 2011 at 6:11 pm

    Yep, unfortunately not much opportunity to provide any coverage of that match on the blog. Did see Sebo’s goal though, agree that he took it well, even if the keeper got himself in a bit of a mess. Missed the free-kick from Halenar unfortunately.

    So, Salzburg need to win in Bratislava. Pleased that the match is not a dead rubber and looking forward to the 15th.

  8.   Jameson 02 Dec 2011 at 6:47 pm

    The funny thing is that for all Weiss setting out to keep a clean sheet in these games, they sometimes do well when they go a goal down early. Last night it was 15 mins – Bilbao’s first genuine chance. The last 15 mins of the first half – the period that saw the free-kick and the goal – was excellent from Slovan.

    Second-half was even initially but Bilbao started coming on strong towards the end. An enjoyable game to watch and a good performance from Slovan. They seem to be learning how to play in Europe now, for all that the points aren’t coming. But if some of this squad stick around and they get in again next year, who knows?

    I’m glad the Salzburg match will have sth in it too. They seem more up for the competition than PSG. A big downside for Slovan is that Bagayoko and Milinkovic will be suspended, both for silly tackles. If Guede isn’t joining them in the stands (sth went wrong with our transmission for the last 5 mins so I don’t know), he’s a lucky lad as he got away with two deliberate handballs and another silly foul.

  9.   StaryJazvecon 06 Dec 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Good pt., m8.

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