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Sidibe key to Stoke survival

Mamady Sidibe
Sidibe has impressed in Stoke's Premier League season so far

By Matt Newsum

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of Stoke City's likely Premier League demise have been greatly exaggerated.

The Potters, widely tipped to be rooted to the foot of the table by Christmas, remain in a healthy 14th place with five wins from 15 top flight games.

One of the key figures behind their unexpected form has been Mali striker Mamady Sidibe.

Sidibe, 28, has played in three of the four divisions of the Premier and Football League, and lists Swansea and Gillingham among his former clubs.

Yet as the focal point of a direct, physical brand of football, Sidibe has thrived, causing panic among Premier League defences with his towering presence.

It has not been popular, but it has brought results, most notably at home to Arsenal - where Arsene Wenger's collective of vastly talented individuals were humbled 2-1 by a gritty, spirited Stoke side.

And the forward, capped eight times by his country, believes Stoke have been forced to play that way in order to achieve success against stronger opposition.

"Everybody knows the Premier League is not easy, and it's hard for us as we want to play like Arsenal or Manchester United but we can't because we're not used to the league," he told BBC Sport.

"The only thing we want is just to stay [in the Premier League] next season, and maybe then we'll get better.

"Tactically, the way we're playing is part of the plan, the manager Tony Pulis knows exactly what he wants and we perform it on the pitch.

"We have a great squad, a great heart and everybody gives it their best."

Mamady Sidibe
Sidibe was a fans' favourite at Gillingham before joining Stoke

Increased focus on Stoke has brought extra exposure for Sidibe, who made his entrance into British football with a debut goal in Swansea's 3-1 win at Macclesfield in August 2001.

And the striker, who stands 6ft 4ins tall, still finds it difficult to believe he is playing in the top division of English football.

"When I was little I was dreaming about all of this, that one day I would be a professional footballer and playing for the national team," he said.

"There are many differences between the Championship and the Premier League, it is exciting, there are more TV cameras at the games.

"For me, to see the Premier League badges on the shirt, to play against the big players, and to be part of this is very good."

Sidibe's international career has stalled a little since he was assaulted by Togo supporters following an African Cup of Nations qualifier in October 2007.

He received stab wounds as people invaded the pitch in Mali's 2-0 win, but the Bamako-born forward is adamant the incident will not sour the experience of playing for his national side.

If one of the African nations is going to win the World Cup and do something good, then they need every single player ready to play for their country

Stoke & Mali striker Mamady Sidibe

"I was thinking about saying I would never play again for my country, but in my country the only thing they have to make them smile is to see players like myself or those playing in Europe come back to play for the national team," he added.

"That makes them proud, and for me to say I'm not going back there again is not good, if every African player was to do that then we'd never have a good team in Africa.

"If one of the African nations is going to win the World Cup and do something good, then they need every single player ready to play for their country.

"I'm playing in the Premier League and I think people all over the country are proud to see a player from Mali playing in the Premier League."

Stoke's ambitions of a second season in the top flight have been made more tangible by their surprise start.

But with safety by no means assured, Sidibe believes survival has to remain the priority for the rest of the campaign.

"It's too early to say where we can finish, but the most important thing is not going down," he added.

"If we can get higher, then that would be great, but the most important thing is not going down, and we're sure we can make it."

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see also
Stoke 0-1 Derby
02 Dec 08 |  League Cup
Kanoute leads Mali squad
03 Jan 08 |  African
Caf to discuss Mali attacks
15 Oct 07 |  African
Gills sign striker Sidibe
07 Aug 02 |  Gillingham


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