His Sheffield Wednesday loan spell lasted barely two months, but it was long enough for Mamady Sidibe to know, without having to be there, what the atmosphere at Hillsborough is like six years on from his exit.
The Wednesday side into which the 6ft 4ins striker walked from Stoke in November 2012 was not too dissimilar to the one he’d find now. It had won just two of its last 14 league games (compared to one in nine) and was spiralling towards relegation despite a promising start.
“The atmosphere, to be honest, it was hard. The club was very down,” Sidibe recalls. “With the results the fans weren’t very happy, so playing at home was very tough. They were on the players’ backs. A lot of players, I’m not going to say they were scared to play at home, but they did not feel comfortable.”
What Sidibe says next appears to echo the words uttered by several Wednesday players summoned for interviews in recent months: “The one thing fans need to understand is that does not help the team at all. If you want the team to perform, you have to stay behind them, support the team. Even if a win is difficult. The players aren’t going on to the pitch to lose on purpose. They all want to win. The fans need to understand they’re all in the same boat and they need to help each other. But it is not only at Wednesday this happens.”
Reflecting again on his spell at Hillsborough, he adds: “At Wednesday, I think it was better playing away from home, to be honest. We seemed to play with less pressure, and tried to play our football.”
But the same does not seem to apply to the current side, who have looked devoid of confidence wherever they’ve played of late, and spirits are at a long-time low ahead of Saturday’s trip to Swansea City, another of Sidibe’s former clubs.
How the Owls could do with an on-the-road result as pleasantly surprising as the one for which the former Mali international is most fondly remembered in Sheffield 6.
It was his stooped header that gave Dave Jones’ team all three points at Bolton on Boxing Day 2012, following a cross from Lewis Buxton, the then-Wednesday right-back he’d first encountered seven years earlier.
“He’s a player I knew very well from Stoke City,” says the now 38-year-old. “When I arrived in 2005 he was already here. He is a good lad so I was happy to see him in Sheffield.”
But Sidibe did not need to be talked to Hillsborough by Buxton. “Everybody knows about Sheffield Wednesday,” he adds. “It’s a big club. I know the fanbase, as well, is good. When my agent said Sheffield Wednesday were interested, I jumped straight away. I knew it would be hard because I’d been out for so long (the best part of two years after he twice snapped the same Achilles tendon) and Wednesday were struggling a bit in the league. But for me it was good.”
Sidibe’s goal at Bolton proved to be his last in English football – 11 years after his first one, on his debut for Swansea.
The adopted Parisian arrived in South Wales on trial in summer 2001, aged just 21, and impressed enough to earn a one-year deal (although he “would have been happy with three months”).
It was a very different club to the one that exists now – one in its first season in eight outside of England’s top division.
“I remember they showed me a plan of the new (Liberty) stadium,” he recalls. “When you’re in League Two and you see that – I thought that would never happen. No chance! Now you see them, they’ve been in the Premier League, with a new stadium, they’ve done incredibly well as a club.
“I still had a very good time there. For me, coming from non-league football, it was my first time in professional football in England, so it was fantastic. Vetch Field (Swansea’s previous home), to me, was like Wembley considering where I came from, playing in front of 10 people. The fans were great, the city was fantastic. I had a great time even if the results weren’t very good.”
But Sidibe’s departure, having scored eight goals in 35 games, was not the most amicable.
It is something that, to this day, he struggles to get his head around.
“At the end of the season I had an injury,” he explains. “It was nothing serious, but I had an operation on my ankle. Nick Cusack (the former Swansea captain who became the club’s caretaker manager towards the end of Sidibe’s time there) said look, because you’ve been injured and we don’t know what’s going to happen (as the Welsh side were facing relegation from the Football League) what we’re going to do is give you a new contract with a renewal every month until you get fit.
“I thought, that’s strange, because in the previous transfer window we were talking to extend my contract and get a better one. He said look, I’ll give you this letter and if you’re happy with that just sign and send it back. I wasn’t really happy with that.”
Barnsley, then two divisions higher than Swansea, had reportedly offered £200,000 for Sidibe the previous December, but the move never happened for reasons he still doesn’t know.
In offering him a month-to-month deal, the Swans risked receiving no fee at all if he failed to re-sign – which is what ultimately happened.
After another trial, this time at League One QPR, Sidibe joined Championship Gillingham, where he stayed for three years before Stoke came calling. “Everywhere I have been, I was happy there,” Sidibe insists.
And it is at the now-named Bet365 Stadium that he remains, via a brief spell with Bulgarians CSKA Sofia, employed as a full-time ambassador and scout.
“I am at the training ground during the week,” Sidibe explains. “It is only at the weekend that I go away scouting, or sometimes when there is a game midweek. I am mainly abroad (then) – especially France, because this is the area I know the most, trying to find some young talent.”
One such midweek game brought Sidibe to Hillsborough, of all places, on Thursday, where one of his discoveries, an 18-year-old by the name of Abdoulaye Toure, scored in Stoke Under-18s’ 3-2 win against Wednesday in the FA Youth Cup.
Toure, a winger who Sidibe describes as being “quick”, “technically good”, and a “lively player that they will like over here”, was plucked from the esteemed Le Havre academy that also produced Paul Pogba.
“I am enjoying it,” he adds. “It keeps me busy. When you retire from football it’s never easy to find something you like to do and football is the thing I know the most, so I am happy to carry on.”
Especially in Stoke, where until the start of this year he was running a patisserie, Melice, alongside working for the Potters. “I feel at home here. I had a great time as a player here and now that I’m on the staff. I’m still living here. My family is here. We are settled here,” he says.
“Like I said – I am very happy.”