PARIS (AP) — For Cheikh Ndoye, the dream of playing in England did not turn out as he envisioned.
Having spent all his playing days in French soccer, the powerful Senegal midfielder thought that crossing the Channel would mark a milestone in his career.
A year after he left Angers for Birmingham on a two-year deal, Ndoye is back with the French league team he captained from 2015-17. In about 40 matches with the second division English club, Ndoye did not score once and made headlines for the wrong reasons following a brawl with former England international John Terry.
“I always dreamt of England. It was a player’s dream, shared by many of us,” Ndoye said in an interview with L’Equipe newspaper. “But things did not turn out the way we expected them to.”
Ndoye’s altercation with Terry came during Aston Villa’s 2-0 win over Birmingham in the closing stages of a local derby last season. After Ndoye grabbed Terry by the neck, he received a second yellow card and was sent off.
“It’s true that it’s an image that does not look like me. It never happened to me in France. It happened to me in England, so I’m sorry,” the 32-year-old Ndoye said, recalling the incident. “He insulted me and caught me first. In fact, it was a stunt. They did it on purpose. I was stuck, I wanted him to let go, he did not want to let go, and I grabbed him by the neck. I took a second yellow card and he (escaped with) nothing.”
Apart from the incident, the towering 6-foot, 2-inch Ndoye — who had scored 14 goals over two seasons at Angers before his departure — said he struggled to adapt to the English box-to-box style of play and to impose himself in the area, even from set pieces.
“I often had two players on me, because they knew I would win all the duels,” he said. “Sometimes I went to the near post, and the ball landed at the far one. Then I would go to the far post, and the ball did not even reach the near one. That’s the way it is.”
Ndoye had turned down an offer for a new contract at Angers when he was recruited by then-Birmingham manager Harry Redknapp. But the club fired the coach following a poor string of results and replaced him temporarily with Lee Carsley. Steve Cotterill was then appointed on a permanent basis but did not last long after winning only six league games out of 24 and Garry Monk then became the club’s fifth manager in 15 months.
“England is very special. Managers don’t have time,” Ndoye said. “You’re in charge, you don’t get results, they bring someone else. We also started last season with 13 new players, I believe only four of them are still there.”
Ndoye is back in a more stable environment in western France, where he remains a fan favorite. Nicknamed “The Rock,” or simply “The Boss,” in Angers, Ndoye has yet to score since he returned from England. Angers has lost three of four league games ahead of Saturday’s trip to second-place Dijon, but coach Stephane Moulin is confident Ndoye will ultimately bolster the team’s midfield.
“Cheikh,” Moulin said, “will bring us the strength and power we lacked.”
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