Barely 17 years old, Lassana N’Diaye has no long list of headlines behind him. “Actually, this is the first interview I’ve ever done,” he tells FIFA.com, ticking off another milestone moment at the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017.
Even his Mali team-mates were not familiar with the young forward until a few months ago. An unknown quantity, he joined up with the squad just a few days before this year’s CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations, where they booked their ticket to the global showcase.
Now, after four matches in India, N’Diaye is starting to leave his mark. The player once shrouded in mystery has caught the eye of everyone following the tournament – including, no doubt, the various scouts watching the action unfold from the stands.
Name: Lassana N’Diaye
Date of birth: 3 October 2000
Club: Guidars FC
Matches played: 4
Those impressive figures say it all: N’Diaye has found the net every 66 minutes on average in India, almost single-handedly driving Les Aiglonnets (the Eaglets) through the group stage and Round of 16, setting up a quarter-final showdown with Ghana.
They have got there thanks to a forward-thinking approach, unleashing 107 shots on goal since the tournament began. And while Mali love to attack, N’Diaye loves to score. “I’ve scored loads of goals ever since I was very young, playing in my street and later at my youth academy,” he says, wearing a broad grin and clearly enjoying his first media experience. “It gives me the same feeling of joy every time. That’s why I play football – to score goals.”
Modelling himself on Samuel Eto’o, N’Diaye will have the same objective when Mali get to grips with the Black Starlets, a team he and his colleagues know well. “We beat them in the Cup of Nations final (1-0), and also in a friendly before coming to India,” says the forward, not forgetting to mention that he found the net, as Mali edged the second game 2-1. “They’re very fast. When they recover the ball, they close down on your goal very quickly. We’re very strong going forward as well, but we need to improve defensively or it’ll be a tough game.”
Another productive stint up front would also boost N’Diaye’s standing in the tournament goalscoring charts, and he admits he has started to dream of finishing as top marksman. “I’d be very happy and very proud,” he says, though he would gladly settle for his current tally – on one condition. “If I don’t score any more goals and we go on to win the World Cup, that would suit me fine!”
A football story
“I started off by playing in the street. I played all the time, and gradually people started coming to my father and saying: ‘Your son, Lassana, he can’t play here any more. He has to go to a youth academy because he’s too good.’ So my father signed me up at the Guidars youth academy. I’m working hard now because I want to become a great professional, but without ever losing my enjoyment of the game.”
“We played a match against Stade Malien and the U-17 coach Jonas Komla was there. After the game, he told my coach that he wanted me to come and join up with the national team. The first time I went, he told me I was too small. I was really angry, but I knew that could happen because nothing is easy in football. A few months later, he called me back to say that, in the end, I could come along and train with them. As I’d grown a little, I was very happy. And now I feel comfortable in this team. I feel that I have responsibilities, and my team-mates have faith in me to score goals.”
“I have an older brother and two younger sisters, but I’m the only one who plays football. We come from a modest background, so I hope that one day I’ll turn professional and be able to help my family.”