Among Manchester City’s right-back options, they have a World Cup semi-finalist, Euros finalist and UEFA Nations League Winner.
Now they have an Africa Cup of Nations semi-finalist as Issa Kabore continued his breakout tournament with an impressive display for Burkina Faso against tournament favorites Senegal on Wednesday.
City have high hopes for Kabore since signing him from Mechelen in Belgium, and trusted sister club Troyes with his development this season in Ligue 1. The young right-back has done well in France, but had hardly made headlines outside of the City Football Group with his performances.
Now, though, he will return from AFCON 2021 in Cameroon with a far greater status than when he left. He could even return with a medal, and a higher position in the City pecking order.
Unfortunately, Kabore’s AFCON journey will end in a third-place play-off after Burkina Faso’s agonizing defeat to Senegal on Wednesday, but this will be a tournament that could kick-start his entire career. City will certainly have been impressed with what they saw.
To make it as a right-back at the Etihad is difficult, not least because of the world-class qualities of Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo in the first-team squad. Alpha Dionkou was the under-23 regular last season but left in the summer as the first team path was limited, while CJ Egan-Riley is the latest to face that dilemma, despite making his debut this season.
With the news of Cancelo’s new contract this week, keeping him at the club until 2027, any young full-backs at City know their path to a first-team berth will be difficult for at least the next five years. For now, someone like Kabore is in the perfect place to develop away from the Blues.
The analysts and loan managers tracking his progress will be delighted to see him impress at AFCON, a trend that continued in the semi-final against Senegal.
Tasked with containing Liverpool’s electric winger Sadio Mane, Kabore was given more defensive work than he has been used to in the tournament. It could have been a thankless task, but Kabore largely stood firm and frustrated Senegal’s talisman – to the point where Mane got in behind Kabore before trying too hard to engineer contact in the box and seeing penalty appeals rightly waved away.
It wasn’t a fruitless night for Mane, who got an assist to put Senegal 2-0 up, dispossessing his defender on the byline as Kabore tracked back behind the play, before sealing the win when Kabore was part of the attack looking for a late goal. Burkina Faso had the chance to send the game to extra time after the City loanee joined the attack, got to the byline, and delivered a perfect cutback for an inventive kneed-finish from Blati Toure. It was an assist that earned praise from City legend Shaun Goater.
It was a typical cutback that is commonplace in Pep Guardiola’s City playbook, showing the pace of Walker, and delivery of Cancelo. His other assist in the tournament also showcased a fine technique to whip the ball into a dangerous area. When he won a penalty in the group stage, he showed a turn of pace Walker would have been proud of to tempt the foul.
City, and Burkina Faso, will know there is still defensive work to be done with Kabore. Sometimes he was guilty of losing the ball or being caught out of position after venturing too far forward, but they will certainly have seen plenty to be encouraged by during Burkina Faso’s run to the semi-finals.
It was telling that Mane only stole the headlines when Kabore had vacated his position to try and secure a late equalizer, while his attacking contribution has provided two of Burkina Faso’s six tournament goals – plus a nerveless penalty in the shoot-out win over Gabon.
Far better defenders than Kabore will struggle to contain Mane as effectively as he did for large parts of the game. Mane’s enduring quality ultimately won the semi-final, but Kabore can take plenty from the late defeat.
Under contract at City until 2025, Kabore might have emerged from AFCON as the leading heir to Walker and Cancelo. Now, he’ll want to return back to Troyes with a third-place medal and take his form into the rest of his loan in France.