Aspirations are coming true at a frightening pace for Moussa Wague. Three years ago, he was a totally unknown youngster at a Qatari-run academy. Now, after excelling at two World Cup tournaments, he has signed for the team of his very sacred dreams: Barcelona.
At the age of 19, the sky is the limit for one of the best young right-backs on the planet. While the Catalans initially plan to use the Senegalese prodigy in their reserve team in the third division, Wague is supposed to train with the first-team squad, and chances are that he is going to have an opportunity in La Liga sooner rather than later. After all, that has been the most problematic position at the Camp Nou since Dani Alves left in 2016. The new acquisition, who is somewhat reminiscent of the Brazilian legend with his swashbuckling style, could make the role his own for years to come.
It is easy to understand why Barcelona didn’t have any problems in signing Wague from KAS Eupen. The modest club from the German-speaking region of Belgium was taken over by Qatar’s Aspire Zone Foundation about six years ago. Established in 2004 by the top government officials, Aspire are supposed to promote football not only in Qatar but all over the globe, enabling the most talented children to get the best possible education. Barcelona’s ties to Qatar are well known, and Xavi — who currently plays for Al Sadd in the Qatari league — is Aspire’s global ambassador and advisor. It is only logical, therefore, that the most talented academy graduate would find his way to the Camp Nou.
The Qataris put special emphasis on Africa, and built a state-of-art Aspire Football Dreams academy in Senegal. Kids from across the continent are invited to apply, and more than half a million had been tested throughout the past decade. The opportunity is especially lucrative for the Senegalese, and Wague was good and lucky enough to qualify at the age of 13, after convincing at a training course in Doha. That is how he had accomplished his first dream.
It is there, in Qatar, that he met Jordi Condom, a Catalan specialist who used to work at La Masia during the previous decade. Wague was a midfielder before joining Aspire, and El Hadji Diouf was his role model, but Condom converted him into an attack-minded right-back, and that was an inspired choice. Eventually, the mentor and his protege were reunited at Eupen, but not before the defender starred at the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand in 2015.
Mostly used as a left-back because of squad problems, Wague was magnificent throughout as Senegal sensationally reached the semifinals.
“Moussa caught an eye during the tournament with his steady performances,” Senegalese journalist Djogo Seydina told ESPN FC. “That is when everything really had started going for him.”
Scouts became curious, but the Qataris didn’t intend to let their man go. The route to Eupen wasn’t new. Everton’s Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru made it in 2015, for example. Aspire sent Wague to the club they own in December 2016, and the Senegalese was excited to mark Franck Ribery on his debut, in a friendly match against Bayern Munich. He soon became an integral part of the starting lineup, and the rise continued after Condom was replaced as coach by Claude Makelele last November.
By then, Wague was already important for the national team. A couple of years ago, Senegalese fans were worried that the Qataris might offer him citizenship with the 2022 World Cup in mind, but those rumours turned out to be false. The defender made a brilliant impression in three World Cup qualifiers, and the coach Aliou Cisse hailed him at every opportunity. When it became evident that Wague was about to travel to Russia, Makelele shared some valuable experiences with him, and that advice was important.
He was not the only Aspire academy graduate to star in Russia, as Francis Uzoho, who currently plays for Deportivo La Coruna, started in goal for Nigeria.
“We speak regularly and encourage each other,” Wague said. “It is a surprise for him to play, and I am happy for him.”
His own performances, however, were even less predictable for the pundits.
Experienced yet limited defender Lamine Gassama was widely expected to be the starter for Senegal, but Cisse boldly chose the much more talented and adventurous Wague — and was proven right. The new star had a superb game in the 2-1 win over Poland in Moscow, and then proceeded to net in the 2-2 draw against Japan in Ekaterinburg, becoming the youngest African to ever score at the World Cup.
It is perhaps symbolic that Senegal lost to Colombia and were eliminated after Cisse turned to a more cautious approach and started Gassama. Such a scenario definitely did Wague’s cause no harm, and he departed the tournament as one of its brightest revelations.
To fully grasp the rise Wague has experienced this summer, it is enough to take a look at his suitors. Before the World Cup, he was linked to Bursaspor. After a couple of matches in Russia, Napoli entered the frame. Now, in the beginning of August, he has signed for Barcelona. Would you bet against him ending up as Ernesto Valverde’s first-choice right back come 2019?