The date is October 1, 2015 and the place is Moscow. Lokomotiv have just defeated Albanian side Skenderbeu in the Europa League. Three days later the Railroaders beat Amkar in the Russian league, and with that victory established themselves as city rivals CSKA’s biggest threat in the fight for the Russian league title.
Lokomotiv’s performances this season have simply been sensational, and they have not only surprised the fans but also the rest of the Russian football world. The new head coach Igor Cherevchenko has, together with his assistants Oleg Pashinin and Sarkis Oganesyan, built a warm atmosphere around the squad, and this, combined with new tactics that suit the players well, have turned the fortune of the Red-Greens around.
Cherevchenko, Pashinin and Oganesyan are all former players for Lokomotiv, and one of the biggest achievements of the legendary trio has been
how they have managed to get the striker Baye Oumar Niasse to perform at his absolute best. The 25-year-old Niasse is in the middle of the best season in his career, and he finally looks to have settled in Moscow after a slow first season in Russia where he only scored four league goals. The Senegalese striker has in fact been the biggest revelation this season, especially if we compare his form with what he showed under the previous head coaches Leonid Kuchuk and Miodrag Bozovic. Scoring nine goals and making two assists in 11 matches so far this season, including crucial goals in the Europa League against Skenderbeu and Sporting as well as a goal in the Super Cup final against Zenit and league goals against Krasnodar and CSKA, Niasse has turned into one of the most prolific strikers in Russia. His good form has also made him interesting for foreign clubs from the biggest leagues in Europe, and although he is now happy in Moscow, there is no doubt that he could soon follow in the footsteps of his country man Dame N’Doye who went from Lokomotiv to Hull City and the English Premier League last winter.
Born on April 18 1990 in Ouakam from the Dakar region of Senegal, Niasse was a part of a family made up of five men and two women. He started his professional career with the local side US Ouakam in 2008, and only a year later he became the top scorer of the team with 21 goals, which was second best in the league. His big breakthrough secured him a spot on both Senegal’s U21 and U23 national team. From here on Niasse’s success continued and in February 2012, he got a trial with Brann from Norway’s top tier, where he soon signed a six-month contract with an option for a 2.5-year extension. Unfortunately, for Niasse his Norwegian adventure was ruined by an injury, as he only went to play three matches in the Tippeligaen, and consequently he returned to Senegal and Ouakam.
In Senegal Niasse fought to get a new chance in Europe, and in the summer of 2013 he earned himself a trial with French side St. Etienne, who later refused to sign him. Luckily for Niasse, he had showed enough, and soon after he received another offer, this time from Turkey. His friend Ibrahima Sonko called him to join Akhisarspor, and he soon signed a two-year contract. While his contract wasn’t lucrative, he had finally gotten his chance in a big European league.
His arrival at Akhisar was somewhat of a gamble from the club, as Turkish football expert Bruno Bottaro told FCLMblog when Niasse joined Lokomotiv: “He arrived without any expectations. The supporters barely noticed the signing. Someone even asked why the club even sent €250 thousand to the Senegalese side, thinking the investment was a waste of money. Perhaps the lack of pressure and the low expectations around him played a crucial role, but the Akhisar coach Hamza Hamzaoglu decided to play him regularly when the main striker of the club, the Greek Theofanis Gekas, left the club for Konyaspor and wasn’t replaced. Akhisar were expected to be one of the worst sides in the Turkish Super Lig, but when the season started everything was thanks to the unknown Senegalese striker Oumar Niasse. Niasse had an unprecedented impact on the Turkish Super Lig. His terrific speed and an unexpected brilliant feeling for goals, enhanced the defenders who barely knew him at the beginning, and he became one of the revelations of the season.”
After joining Akhisar, Niasse scored 15 goals and made seven assists in the league and the cup, and his breakthrough was especially due to coach Hamzaoglu who knew exactly how to use Niasse as Bottaro told FCLMblog. Hamzaoglu later left Akhisar and he is now the manager of powerhouse Galatasaray, a club who actively tried to sign Niasse this summer.
Therefore, after a great season in Turkey, Lokomotiv decided to buy the Senegalese forward, who arrived at Cherkizovo in July 2014. There, he joined his compatriot N’Doye and he was expected to play against his brother Ibrahima, who at that time was playing for Mordoviya. Unlike in Turkey, Niasse was however struggling at the beginning where he had to compete with both N’Doye and Pavlyuchenko for a spot in the starting line-up. Kuchuk usually preferred his compatriot and therefore Oumar had to wait for his chances. When Niasse finally got his debut, in a match against Arsenal Tula, Niasse was able to make an assist for N’Doye, but when Kuchuk finally gave him a chance in the starting lineup, he was poor and thus substituted after just 46 minutes of the Europa League match against Apollon Limassol.
Everything got better when Kuchuk left Cherkizovo. Soon after Niasse scored his first goal for Lokomotiv, a stunner against Mordoviya, and then
he put his name on the scoresheet three games in a row under the new head coach Bozovic. However, as soon as N’Doye returned to his old level, the Montenegrin coach preferred him to Niasse again. When N’Doye left Moscow for England, the road was paved for Niasse, but instead Pavlyuchenko and the newcomer Skuletic took his place.
It wasn’t until Igor Cherevchenko replaced Bozovic before the Russian cup final last year, that things finally started to improve for Niasse. Under the Tajik coach, Niasse scored a crucial goal in the final of the Russian cup, and slowly his performances improved. The Senegalese started the 2015/2016 season on top as he scored in the Super Cup final against Zenit, and from here on one goal was quickly followed by another. Just like in Turkey, the team was built around Niasse, and he was quick to pay back the trust the coaching staff put in him.
These days Lokomotiv are mainly a counter-attacking team, and this lets Niasse excel due to his physical strength, his speed and, last but not least, his important defensive work for the team. Niasse has established himself as the main striker for the Railroaders, and because of this, he has also returned to the Senegalese national team.
Niasse is currently one of the best players in the Russian Premier League, and the level of his football seems to develop game from game. Lokomotiv have become one of the toughest clubs to beat, and if Niasse can keep up his current form sports director Kirill Kotov will be busy with transfer offers on the striker next summer. For now however, the Red-Green fans can continue to enjoy his goals and performances, and Niasse is slowly working towards becoming the best striker in Russia, as he has earlier expressed it to be his goal.
Follow Stefano on Twitter: @ConfortiStefano
Author: Stefano Conforti
Half Russian, half Italian. Football writer and Lokomotiv Moscow supporter. Founder of the FCLMblog, the only blog about Lokomotiv outside Russia, and FCLMmagazine, which is the first magazine in English for an Eastern Europe football club. I’m interested in everything related to Russia and the post-Soviet world.