Dagui Bakari has been flirting with the Ivory Coast national team for several months, but has yet to make a final decision on where his international future lies.
The 26-year-old forward, born in France of Ivorian immigrants, earned his fair share of headlines last season. His club, newly promoted Lille, remained in contention for the title until a few weeks from the end of the campaign. Their success ensured a new-found prominence for Bakari and held out the possibility, however remote, of him earning a call-up to the French national team.
Understandably, the Ivorians have been courting the striker for a while but he continues to vacillate as he ponders the possibilities.
Certainly, as the Ivorians’ chances of qualifying for next year’s World Cup finals improve, so the possibility that he will soon line up for the Elephants grows more likely. Bakari’s parents, who originate from Guiberoua, have been in France for 30 years but still have a connection with their homeland.
“My parents have never cut their links with Ivory Coast and go back there from time to time,” says Bakari, whose brother Oumar plays for French Second Division side Wasquehal.
Dagui’s career began as a 17-year-old at Romainville. He then spent two years in the National League (third division) with Noisy-le-Sec, the closest thing there is to an all-African club in France. A short and unhappy spell followed at Amiens, before he moved on to spend three years with Le Mans.
Lille bought Bakari in 1999, and he became part of their promotion-winning side. “Bakari plays a big role for me,” says the club’s Bosnian coach, Valid Halilhodzic. “He has a superb spirit and is always ready to work for his team-mates.”
Bakari was invited several times to join up with the Ivory Coast national team when Robert Nouzaret was coach but always cried off, either because of injury or club commitments.
Nevertheless, he claims he is ready to play, saying: “I’ve never refused to play for the Elephants, it has just been a question of timing. Even though I wasn’t born in Ivory Coast, it is important to me. I know a lot of the players and I know the potential for African soccer is enormous.”
Mustapha Hadji had a similar dilemma when the French Under-21s wanted him in 1993. He chose Morocco instead and has been to two World Cups since. It might be an example the Ivorians could point out to Bakari.
Club Lille (Fra)
Country Ivory Coast
Born September 6, 1974, in Paris
Previous clubs Noisy-le-Sec (Fra), Amiens (Fra), Le Mans (Fra)