There were some things in the late 90s that were a given. The internet made a noise. Leafing through the Argos catalogue was a pre-Christmas ritual. And Ibrahima Bakayoko was your priority signing on Championship Manager 97/98.
The great man turns 46 today, which seems reason enough to pay homage to one of the finest, most exciting players who wasn’t actually that good in real life. Because, despite the brilliant Ivorian singlehandedly transforming pretty much every team I ever recruited him into (and I am sure the same was true for thousands of other CM die-hards), he was, in truth, a little bit shite.
Not terrible. But pretty bad.
When Everton splurged £4.5m on him in 1998, I was giddy at the prospect of one of the game’s most prodigious talents coming to England.
Back then, most overseas signings were a bit of an unknown. There were no YouTube compilations to whet the appetite, no social media clips to indicate what to expect.
But the hundreds of hours I’d wasted on Championship Manager meant I knew what the blue half of Merseyside were about to experience.
Only it didn’t pan out quite as I’d expected.
A tasty free-kick against Bristol City and a brace at Ewood Park aside, Bakayoko was garbage for the Toffees, lasting only a season and 23 games before being shipped off to Marseille.
His career went into perpetual decline over the following decade or so, taking in such footballing landmarks such as Istres, Messina and Stade Bordelais.
But late 90s digital Bakayoko was a cheat code. He was unplayable. Talismanic. Operating behind two strikers, he’d do untold damage - creating chances, banging in worldies, living up to his potential as one of the game’s greatest talents.
They say you should never meet your heroes. And maybe it would have been better had Baka remained as a CM messiah, not a real life disappointment.
His brief and forgettable sojourn in England hasn’t detracted from the assists, goals and joy he brought me, though.
So happy birthday, Ibra – wherever you are. And thanks for the memories.
Words by Josh Warwick