"We'll see" - Sheffield United loanee Ismaila Coulibaly facing uncertain future amid Beerschot's troubles
A year ago, he was the toast of Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League and reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Italian giants AC Milan. Now, with his club Beerschot floundering and under their fourth manager this year, Sheffield United’s Ismaila Coulibaly is facing a rather more uncertain future.
“This is without a doubt the most difficult period of my career,” admits Coulibaly, whose side fell to the bottom of the table after losing 10 of their opening 12 games of the season.
“It's damn hard sometimes to stay happy in this situation. I've only seen my parents once in the past two years. I sometimes feel very lonely. But I try to stay positive and work twice as hard on training to get stronger and better. I really want to help the team.”
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Coulibaly joined Beerschot, United’s sister club under the United World umbrella, after being signed for the Blades, for decent money, from Sarpsborg in Norway. He was initially a revelation as Beerschot mounted an unlikely challenge for Europe before, in a scenario that will sound painfully familiar for United fans, a mid-season break stunted their progress.
The initial plan was for Coulibaly to spend three seasons in Belgium in order to qualify for a work permit to play for the Blades. Changes in legislation after Britain’s exit from the European Union could mean that Coulibaly would be eligible to work in the UK – but the situation is fluid and could change again if Beerschot are relegated.
Coulibaly has not even trained with United since joining them, and the player – speaking to Belgian newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen – admits his future is still uncertain.
“I do not know,” the 20-year-old admitted, when asked if he would remain at Beerschot until the end of the season.
“My father liaises with my broker and with Sheffield United. Last summer he thought it would be better for my development that I would stay with Beerschot for at least one more season.
“I also read that some top European clubs were interested in me, but I'm still only 20. I still have a lot to learn. And now I only focus on survival with Beerschot. Then we'll see."
Born in Mali, Coulibaly admitted in an interview earlier this year that he is happy in Belgium – “It is less cold than Norway,” he said – but all has not been well at Beerschot, with Marcelo Bielsa’s former assistant Javier Torrente the third man in the hotseat this year since Hernán Losada left in January for DC United.
“I'm not going to lie: sometimes I wake up and have had enough of football for a while,” Coulibaly admits of his side’s form this season. “I'm really devastated by every defeat.”
Coulibaly’s domestic future may be up in the air, but he is more certain about his aim to play for Mali’s senior team.
“Last season I was called up for the first time, but unfortunately I was injured. The best players of the national team are all central midfielders, and I realise that I will have to raise my level to be there again soon.
“But secretly I hope for a selection for the Africa Cup in 2022. That would be a dream.”