Fiorentina has finally succeeded in casting out Khouma Babacar, its longest serving and longest suffering player. The Senegalese striker joined the Viola in 2008 from the Pescara Primavera. He made his senior side debut in 2010 at the age of just 16 years, and scored his debut goal just 3 days after he turned 17. Blessed with imposing size and strength, he also possessed a fleetness of foot and a technique on the ball that belied his hulking frame; combined with his knack for finding the back of the net, he had all the makings of a future star.
Instead, Viola management kept bringing in strikers just as El Khouma was entering his prime. Mario Gómez, Giuseppe Rossi, Nikola Kalinić, and Giovanni Simeone all appeared just as the young Senegalese seemed ready to take on a bigger role, pushing him into the background despite his undeniable goal-scoring prowess. The media always knew that he could do a lot more and has linked him to clubs across Italy, England, Spain, Germany, France, and Turkey for what seems like the past half-decade. I mean, look at all the different goals he scored just last year: powerful headers, world-class drives from distance, volleys from rebounds, routine tap-ins, backheel flicks, and all the rest. He’s the real deal.
And Babacar loved Florence and loved Fiorentina too much to leave, taking each newly-signed forward with a stoic smile, never requesting more match time despite his absurd goals-per-minute ratio, and faithfully repulsing each new rumor through his agent Patrick Bastianelli; Bastianelli’s role in all this has been comical, honestly, as he’s seen opportunities to improve his client’s position come and go without any interest from Khouma, reducing the agent to some laughably frustrated interviews until ditching him and bringing aboard Bond villain Mino Raiola.
Fiorentina finally wore the striker down, though. Just like Paulo Sousa before him, Stefano Pioli has steadfastedly ignored the productive option at his fingertips, and Khouma (still just 24 and with years ahead of him) finally got fed up. Pantaleo Corvino duly worked out a swap with Sassuolo that will see Babacar join the Neroverdi, where he will immeasurably improve the attack over the man who comes the other way: Diego Falcinelli (albeit just for the rest of the season).
Look, I don’t want to badmouth Falcinelli. He’s a perfectly serviceable journeyman striker. But he’s played three times the minutes of Babacar this year in Serie A and scored half as many goals. True, some of that is on Sassuolo, who’ve had the potency of a wet rag in attack. But c’mon. Dude’s scored 17 goals in 81 Serie A matches. Swapping him for a younger striker who’s averaging the 4th-most goals per 90 minutes in the league, even with Mauro Icardi and Fabio Quagliarella—and more Dries Mertens, Gonzalo Higuaín, or Edin Dzeko—is madness, and it’s a damning indictment of Viola management that they can find space to run the likes of Cyril Théréau out every match but can’t find space for the one player in the side who can be counted on to score regularly. The extra €10 million is nice, but also not enough to buy a genuine replacement for the Senegalese international.
Yes, Babacar’s game has its flaws. He’s often a passenger, vanishing for long stretches at a time. His movement is the main culprit: he often seems uncertain of where to make his runs, and doesn’t always use his size to its full advantage in the box, where he should be dunking on defenders left and right. He’s been accused of laziness, although that, to me, is a lazy accusation, seeing how he drops back and defends his own box with the tenacity of a terrier. The response to these shortcomings, of course, is that the dude scores goals. You can’t win without those, and nobody else wearing purple is reliably scoring them right now.
It’s a miserable way to treat your longest-tenured player, one who’s rejected lucrative offers and regular minutes, handicapping his international career in the process (he earned his first Senegal cap in March last year, even though he’s certainly better than most of the strikers the Lions of Teranga have been running out there), only to sell him to a rival Italian team—and make no mistake, 17th-place Sassuolo are a rival now, especially with Babacar’s 0.8 goals/90 minutes leading their line for the rest of the season. This is the sort of pig-headed move that, repeated over and over, sends sides plummeting down the table. It’s the sort of move we’ve seen too many times of late, but this one hurts even more than usual.
Farewell, you Babacar Named Desire. Thank you for your a decade of faithful service and dramatic late goals. You treated Fiorentina with a love and dignity that it ultimately proved itself unworthy of. We wish you nothing but the best for the remainder of what will undoubtedly be a productive career.