The Senegal national team has 10 players from the two top leagues in England. Kalidou Koulibaly and Edouard Mendy from Chelsea are the seniors and of course there is also Idrissa Gay who will not play tonight (Sunday, 21:00) against England in the round of 16 of the World Cup due to yellow cards. But the headache for the English may actually come from a relatively anonymous representative of the local leagues, Illiman Andiaye. And it’s not that they don’t know him – in recent days there has been a lot of talk in England about the attacking player of Sheffield United from the Championship.
The 22-year-old Andy arrived in England already six years ago. He grew up in France to a Senegalese father and a French mother, played in one of Marseille’s children’s teams and then left for two years in Africa. At the age of 16, he landed in England using his French passport, failed to get into a big team and joined Boreham Wood.
Players from academies of big clubs usually manage to find their way in the world of football even if they don’t get a contract at the end of their youth years. But Boreham’s senior team plays in the fifth division and for most of the boys who play in its academy it is better to think of a route that does not include a living from football.
“From the first day I get boys into the academy, I have to make sure they have a back-up plan,” Cameron Mawer, who was head of Boreham’s academy when Andyay arrived, said a few days ago, “I would talk to the guys and explain to them. In all my 10 years at Boreham’s academy, Illiman was the only one who did not agree to hear about the possibility of plan B. He would repeat and say: ‘Okay, I understand, but I’m going to be a professional soccer player. Wait and see Cameroon.'”
In 2019 Andiaye finished his career at Boreham and began to find his way. He was tested in several teams and received a negative answer, but in Sheffield United they recognized potential and signed him. The beginning was difficult. Andiaye did not get minutes at all and in the second half of the 2019/20 season he was sent on loan to Hyde United from the seventh division. Thousands of players before him experienced this route and turned football into a kind of hobby in the “Sunday League”, but the Senegalese, without a backup plan, was not ready to back down.
“The word ‘give up’ is not in my lexicon,” he told “Sky Sports” this season, “I always believed that I would be the best player in the world and that’s what gave me the drive to keep going all the time.”
After finishing his loan at Hyde United, Andiaye returned to Sheffield United with renewed strength. The Blades were then in the Premier League and he watched the first 21 rounds from the stands. At the beginning of February, the direction began to change with a call-up to the squad and in March 2021, he entered the first 11 minutes as a professional footballer – in the Premier League, no less – when Sheffield United was defeated 5:0 by Leicester City.
The Blades were relegated that season and in retrospect it did Andy only good. In the training camp in the summer he looked excellent and proved his place in the team and last season he scored 7 goals. Thanks to his versatility and the ability to play as an attacking midfielder, a second striker, or on the wings, Andiaye began to establish himself as the central player in the front and this season the big breakthrough came: by the World Cup break, he had scored 9 goals in 21 games.
In Senegal’s warm-up game against Bolivia about two months ago, Andiaye did not participate. Four days later he played 4 minutes against Iran. Therefore, unlike the big names in the squad, his invitation to the World Cup was no small matter and he was extremely exciting.
Andiaye saw the first match against Holland from the bench, but in the match against Qatar he was sent to the field in the 75th minute and shone. He scorched the right line, scored the 1:3 for Bemba Dieng and won the right to a place in the lineup for the next game, against Ecuador.
As the team player or as a substitute, Illiman Andiaye will probably play tonight against the England team and its big stars. Three and a half years ago he was still walking around the kingdom looking for a chance in a professional team. Today he will try to dethrone the three lions from the biggest stage there is.
If Senegal manages to surprise England tonight, they will advance to the quarter-finals and play there against the winner of the match between France and Poland.