The soccer academy set up at the ASEC club in the Ivorian capital Abidjan by former French international midfielder Jean-Marc Guillou continues to be a hothouse of excellence.
If Anderlecht striker Aruna Dindane, Arsenal centre-back Kolo Toure and midfielder Gilles Yapi Yapo of Nantes constituted the first wave of talent to break upon European shores, teenage Feyenoord striker Salomon Kalou is on the crest of the second.
The 19-year-old younger brother of Ivory Coast and Auxerre front man Bonaventure Kalou – who himself spent six years at Feyenoord before moving to France in 2003 – appeared in only two Dutch League games before this season. But no one would have guessed it from the way he has run riot this term, using his speed, exuberance and ball skills to pierce defences at will.
He has also proved himself a fine goalscorer into the bargain, with nine in the first 12 games.
“While it’s nice to be one of the leading scorers in Holland, I’m trying not to get carried away with it all,” says Kalou, who left ASEC for Feyenoord at 16 and served his European apprenticeship with the Rotterdammers’ B team and during a loan spell at local feeder club Excelsior.
“This is my first full season in the Dutch championship and I’ve much more to prove. I’m just enjoying myself. I’m playing just behind the central striker [Dirk Kuijt] and that’s where I feel happiest. I like to run at defences from deep.”
Kalou is hot property. Chelsea, who already have one exceptional Ivorian striker in Didier Drogba, are rumoured to be ready to make a move, as are Atletico Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, while Auxerre boss Guy Roux would like to reunite the Kalou brothers in his side’s attack.
The Dutch federation has an eye on him too. Whispers began to circulate this autumn that it was preparing to set the wheels in motion for Kalou to take Dutch citizenship.
When he turned down an invitation to play for the Ivory Coast in African Junior Championship qualifiers, many felt he was heading inexorably towards the Dutch flag. But Kalou is well aware that a naturalisation process would be a controversial move, and the Ivorian federation is bound to intensify its charm offensive for him to play for the Elephants.
The influence of his brother will also come into play. After all, Salomon has often said that his dream is to play in the same Ivory Coast team as Bonaventure. For the moment, all options are being kept open.
Club Feyenoord (Hol)
Country Ivory Coast
Born August 5, 1985, in Oume
Previous clubs ASEC Abidjan, Excelsior (Hol)
This profile originally apppeared in the January 2005 issue of World Soccer