For long-term free agent Yaya Sanogo, his career wasn’t meant to end up the way it has. Next year marks a decade since a period that promised so much.
In 2013, the French striker was nominated for the European Golden Boy award, the same year that saw him win the Under-20 World Cup with France and secure a dream move to Arsenal.
Now 29 and the peak of his football years moving swiftly behind him, Sanogo has been without a club for the past 12 months, ever since his six-month stint at Championship club Huddersfield Town came to an end.
Take away that brief spell in England’s second tier, then the former Gunners striker has been without a club, income or competition for two whole seasons.
“The worst moment is Saturday and you can’t play,” he exclusively tells Sky Sports. “You can’t be competitive, that’s the hard bit.
“There’s frustration. The pressure and the adrenaline of the weekend – I miss it, I miss the pitch.”
Since he played his last Arsenal game in late 2014, Sanogo has had three uninspiring loan spells at Crystal Palace, Ajax and Charlton. The next 18 months brought about just 21 league appearances and three goals – all of which came in one match for the Addicks.
Leaving Arsenal permanently in 2017, a three-year stint at Toulouse provided a slight improvement with 17 goals in 66 matches, but Sanogo couldn’t stop the French side from being relegated from Ligue 1.
He departed on a free transfer in the midst of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic – and barring the brief, goalless spell at Huddersfield last term – has not been seen since.
Sanogo’s career to date
- 2010-2013: Auxerre – 24 games, 11 goals
- 2013-2017: Arsenal – 20 games, one goal
- 2015: Crystal Palace (loan) – 11 games, one goal
- 2015-16: Ajax (loan) – six games, zero goals
- 2015: Charlton (loan) – eight games, three goals
- 2017-2020: Toulouse – 66 games, 17 goals
- 2020-January 2021: Free agent
- 2021: Huddersfield – nine games, zero goals
- 2021-22: Free agent
Toulouse have offered Sanogo some respite through the means of regular training over the past six months – but chose not to sign him on any terms as they secured promotion back to Ligue 1.
“I train there in the week,” he adds. “The weekly plan is the same as having a club, I’m there every morning and there’s two sessions a day – but I don’t play on the matchday.
“There’s no income either. It’s hard when you’ve got nothing coming in, in terms of money. I’m fine on that front, thanks to God. The hardest bit is getting yourself back into competition.”
Alongside being kept out of first-team duties at Toulouse, come the near transfer misses. Sanogo was close to joining a “big club in Switzerland” in January but the deal fell through in the last minute.
“You’ve got to be mentally strong, this last year has been one that has asked a lot from me,” he says. “My family and I are together all the time, I’m a big family man.
“We speak a lot, they tell me to be strong mentally but they know I’m like that. ‘Keep going, keep strong, stay positive. That’s life, sometimes.’ That’s the most important bit for me, they’ve been there with me all through this time.”
It wasn’t meant to be this hardy for Sanogo – who started his 20s by playing in the Champions League with Arsenal but is ending them in football’s no-man’s land.
In 2014, the young French forward had started a European knockout tie for Arsenal against Bayern Munich, then played in and won the FA Cup final for the Gunners.
“I was young when Arsenal first said they were interested. It was difficult to adapt at first because you were playing with all these stars. But Arsene Wenger gave me the chance to play for a big club at 19.
“The weather, the language, the culture was all difficult to get used to but I adapted well at Arsenal through hard work.”
Sanogo’s pinnacle moment came in November 2014, when he scored for Wenger’s side against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League group stages. He would go on to play just one more game for the club.
“Everyone dreams of scoring in the Champions League,” he recalls. “That Dortmund goal was a super moment – and an important one too as we qualified for the knockout stages with that win.
“I already had some big moments in my career at such a young and early age – I was 19 or 20 at that point with a lot of unforgettable experiences.
“But after that, I wanted to play more. I asked to be loaned out but the boss didn’t want me to leave. He had already given me a lot of game time but told me to be a bit more patient.
“But when you’re young you want everything straight away. I still told him to loan me out and he couldn’t understand why. After going out and doing these experiences, I should have been more patient.”
Now there’s no time for regrets. Sanogo turns 30 at the beginning of next year and the next few weeks will determine whether he can ever return to full-time football.
Three teams in Scotland have registered interest in him this summer, according to the Frenchman, along with various clubs in Switzerland and France.
“I hope to find a club quickly, that would make me happy,” he says. “I need to find the joy of the pitch again, the taste of it.
“I’ve always got dreams, but you need to have the club first to get those dreams. You never know…”