Mohammed Salisu: A Defensive Stalwart in the Making

The Spanish La Liga in times past has often proven uneasy ground for African talents in their hunt for glory. However, this hasn’t been the case for young Ghanaian defender Mohammed Salisu.

The centre back was one of the surprise standout performers in the 2019/20 La Liga season with glittering performances and it’s no surprise he left Real Valladolid for a larger club in Southampton, a club known for developing young talent. 

But who is he? Here’s what you need to know about the young Ghanaian.

 

Background

Interestingly, Salisu began his career with Barcelona; albeit not with the Blaugrana, but a club in his local area, Kumasi, that also bears the same name.

In 2013, Salisu joined one of Ghana’s famous Academies, West African Football Academy (WAFA); who over the years have carved a niche for themselves as the gateway to Europe for many young Ghanaian talents. He was on the books for the Sogakope based side for two years before joining African Talent Football Academy in the capital.

The move to the Capital would prove to be his breakthrough moment as he was spotted by scouts from Spain in one of his outings for the academy side. Amazingly, Salisu did not have boots to play with and had to borrow an ill pair from the reserve goalkeeper. Nonetheless, dodgy footwear didn’t stop him from getting a move to Spain and joining Valladolid’s academy in 2017.

 

Playing Style

Salisu, with his 6’3 height, cuts an intimidating presence in the defence and it’s no surprise he was nicknamed the “Wall of Valladolid” by Spanish Magazine El Pais in October 2019.

His elegance and calmness with the ball at his feet caught the eye of Spanish scouts. Fran Castaño, Salisu’s coach back in Accra tipped him for greatness having observed his abilities during his time at the African Talent Football Academy.

He said: “I think he will be one of the best centre backs of African football and if everything goes well, he could play in one of the 10 best teams in the world.”

Due to his pace, he tends to play as a more advanced centre back while defending counter attacks. He hedges and is able to cut out many attacks before the opposition even reaches their box. His pace also enables him to catch up to attackers who dribble past his teammates.

Additionally, his aerial prowess is excellent. Highlight tapes of Salisu are littered with headed clearances. 

The Stats 

Salisu by far is enjoying a stellar campaign with Real Valladolid, although Valladolid lie 13th in La Liga. Despite their poor standing, The Pucelanos actually had the seventh-best defensive record in the league.

He has featured in all but one of Real Valladolid’s games this season in the league and contributed immensely in his side’s defensive solidity who conceded only five more goals than Barcelona.

Only two players made more clearances in the league than Salisu (153) in La Liga this season.

Salisu opened his scoring account for the season when he scored in the 2-0 win over Eibar, while his other standout result was earning a goalless draw with Atlético Madrid.

 

Southampton Move

Southampton achieved his signature after paying Real Valladolid £10.9m, beating off reportedly strong interest from Rennes to sign the Ghanaian.

It’s a transfer that makes a lot of sense for both sides. 

Salisu needed a step up after an excellent season, but was not ready to make a jump to an elite side. At Southampton, he will be with a club that is notable for fostering and developing elite talents.  

From Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side, the Saints needed a strong centreback to partner Jan Bednarek.

They have already made additional reinforcements to the defense, signingKyle Walker-Peters for £12m.