Name: Abdoul Gafar Sirima (Gafar)
DOB/Age: 30/12/1998 – 18 years old
Club: Baltika Kaliningrad
Nationality: Burkina Faso
Career to Date
A common trend nowadays in Russia is for young players from Africa to appear on trial. Spartak and CSKA Moscow have taken a number of Nigerians and Ghanaians in 2016, though none were signed, while Tom Tomsk took two Libyans on trial. So, when CSKA revealed they had a triallist simply named “Jafar”, it was no real surprise. This came when the questions began – who was this “Jafar”character? Journalists who were in Spain with CSKA for their training camp were sworn to secrecy until the trial was over, not to reveal who “Jafar” was and where he came from.
No amount of research would turn up any results of “Jafar”, and CSKA’s website falsely listing him as a native of Cape Verde would make research even trickier, although only later would it come to fruition that it was a red herring. Shortly after the news of his trial was revealed, CSKA announced their line up for a friendly game vs FC Wohlen, and the mysterious “Jafar” was shown to be starting, along with a picture of his namesake from Disney’s Aladdin.
— ПФК ЦСКА Москва (@PFC_CSKA_MOSCOW) January 21, 2017
This PR stunt only increased the intrigue. “Jafar” went on to have an impressive game for CSKA, but a week later they announced that they would not be signing him. During this time it was revealed that his agent was Dmitriy Selyuk, the agent of Yaya Toure, and a big player in the Russia/African transfer market. Over the next fortnight, more details were revealed and the publc found out that Jafar was indeed from Burkina Faso. Trials followed at Ural in the RFPL and Aktobe in Kazakhstan, but in mid-February, Jafar signed for Football National League (FNL) side FC Baltika Kaliningrad on a six-month contract. At this point, his name changed from Jafar to Abdoul Gafar, obviously having the pronunciation of his name clarified for registration.
Gafar has taken to the FNL relatively well, despite the huge culture change from Burkina Faso to Western Russia, and thus far has scored three goals in his first six appearances, playing up front as Baltika aim to stave off relegation under the management of Igor Cherevchenko, the ex Lokomotiv Moscow manager.
Alongside this, Gafar received his first call up to the Burkina Faso national team, still aged just 18, although as he was unable to earn a visa for their fixture taking place in England, he’ll have to wait a little longer for his debut.
Of course with only a handful of appearances to his name in senior football, scouts and coaches may struggle to make a judgement, however, Gafar is an eye-catching player to watch, and he has been a shining light for Baltika so far. The first thing everyone will say about Gafar after watching him is that he has incredible pace and explosive acceleration. Gafar’s isolated role up front in Baltika’s defence-minded set up means he will often sit on the shoulder of the defender and wait for the ball, and he will beat the defender to any decent ball nine times out of ten. Gafar is clever enough to know he can beat defenders, and should he pick the ball up short, he has the confidence to knock and run, using skill to get the ball past his mane, before bursting away from the defender with ease. He also seems confident taking on defenders, whether that be in tight spaces with twisting and turning, or even down the wing, using body shape to trick the defender into a position which Gafar can use to get away using his pace.
As an isolated figure, Gafar has to work hard, and he presses defenders well, and has recovered the ball a number of times in his five appearances so far. This also applies when he does make a mistake, and he will always track back to make up for losing the ball, attempting to win it back at the earliest opportunity. His work rate an pace were both expertly utilised as he scored his 3rd goal for Baltika in April.
Despite his age and the fact he is one of less than five black players in the whole FNL, Gafar oozes confidence and always wants the ball, coming short to make himself available for throw ins or free kicks, and challenging for all long balls despite his relatively small build.
The physicality of Russian football is perhaps where Gafar is struggling the most. His lack of strength and height does see him lose out in the air often, and he has been on the end of a a number of strong challenge. Gafar also knows the league for what it is, and like many footballers nowadays, he will go down easily, dive, or make the most of challenges. This is not always the nicest thing to see, but his pace has seen opposing players sent off x1 and booked x2 in his five appearances so far. The video below shows his pace first earning a red card for a Spartak-2 player, and then a yellow for a Luch-Energiya Vladivostok player.
His hold up play is decent, and he does like to take the ball on himself, however with the lack of support he does lose the ball often with a lack of options or just simply by having to try impossible runs.
Like many a pacy player, positioning does seem to be an issue at times, and he has been caught needlessly offside on a number of occasions, but it’s part of the Baltika gameplan which requires him to hang so high up the pitch and so it would happen naturally, though perhaps his lack of experience does hold him back in this respect.
Gafar’s future will be moulded by his agent Dmitriy Selyuk. With just a short term contract at Baltika, and some impressive performances in the FNL at his young age, Selyuk is very confident of getting his client a move to an RFPL side. In response to rumours that Rostov were in talks with Selyuk about Gafar, the agent said:
“His contract expires in the summer. And believe me, Rostov are not the only club interested in him”.
Gafar needs to just get his head down and keep impressing until summer, at which point it’s almost certain that’ll he join an RPL club, unless a better offer comes from abroad. So far, the 18 year old forward has done everything right, and is doing well to encourage more Russian clubs to look to the African market.
Author: David Sansun
Arsenal and Rubin Kazan fan. Possibly too optimistic for Russian football which means I’m left disappointed a lot.