Almost a decade ago the former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier was scouting Europe for some young talent and while in his homeland the Frenchman thought he had found a couple of stars in the making at Le Havre. He signed 16 year olds Anthony Le Tallec and Sinama Pongolle and much was expected of the French pair. Pongolle in particular had caught the eye of Houllier as he was named player of the tournament in the U17 World Championship that France won. The pacey striker looked as though he had the potential to worry Premier League defenses, but the French starlet flattered to deceive at Anfield and hardly set the world alight at Blackburn either. So where did it all go wrong for Sinama Pongolle?
Le Havre are well renowned in Europe for producing talented young footballers, with former Newcastle and now Wigan midfielder Charles N’Zogbia coming through their successful youth system. Back in 2001 Liverpool were the first Premier League club to take advantage of this by signing Pongolle along with Le Tallec. As both French youngsters were loaned back to the Ligue 1 club for two seasons, the Reds faithful didn’t actually get to see Pongolle at Liverpool until the 2003/04 Premier League season. Houllier obviously had plenty of belief in the then 18 year old and gave Pongolle his fair share of first team football as he made over 20 appearances in his first season. The youngster didn’t exactly bang the goals in for Liverpool though, netting just twice in his first campaign and Pongolle was often employed out on the wing to utilise his pace.
The arrival of Spaniard Rafa Benitez as Liverpool manager in 2004 didn’t do much to help the Frenchman either. The forward scored a further two Premier League goals in his next season and it was quickly becoming apparent that the Frenchman was some way off becoming a Liverpool star with his form patchy at best. As opportunities became more limited for Pongolle he was eventually shipped out to Blackburn in 2006 where he played a further ten Premier League games and scored a solitary goal for Rovers in a 3-2 defeat to Tottenham. That marked the end of his time in English football, as in 2006 he signed for Spanish outfit Recreativo in a deal that was made permanent in 2007 for a fee of £2.7m. All Liverpool fans were left with were the odd Champions League moments to savour, including Pongolle starting Liverpool’s comeback vs Olympiakos and his delightful chip against Real Betis.
Even though Sinama Pongolle failed to make his mark in the Premier League, the Frenchman has carved a reasonable career for himself in Europe. After reaching double figures in the scoring charts at Recreativo in both his seasons there he secured an £8m move to Atletico Madrid and even made his debut for France under Raymond Domenech. Despite scoring 4 times in his first 5 league matches his time in Madrid didn’t exactly go to plan and he was often consigned to the right wing again. He secured a £5 million move to Sporting Lisbon earlier this month and played his part in Maxi Rodriguez’s recent move to Anfield as well, with Maxi telling LFC Weekly Magazine that “I spoke regularly with Florent Sinama-Pongolle. He was saying what a marvellous club Liverpool is.”
So Pongolle obviously enjoyed his time at Liverpool and has shown he is a decent player across Europe. However, does he fully exploit his pace and will he ever be prolific enough to be a striker or creative enough to be a winger at the top level? How do you rate his time with The Reds and where exactly did it all go wrong for Sinama Pongolle at Liverpool?