"The door isn't closed to him here at Bristol City but it's looking increasingly likely we won't be working with him next season,” said Derek McInnes of Kalifa Cisse in early July. It’s indicative of just how highly Cisse was rated by his former club, that even after leaving the club and trying out with a rival Championship side, Bristol City was still keen to re-open negotiations on a contract in October.
Instead, Cisse has opted to join Jay Heaps and the New England Revolution, but just what have the Revs gained?
A Mali international, Cisse began his career in France with Toulouse. Unable to secure the first team soccer his development required, he moved west to the Portuguese league - first joining Estoril, before Boavista noted his potential and secured his services. It was for As Panteras (Panthers) that much of his early reputation was forged.
A stereotypical defensive midfielder or ‘anchor man’, at 6-foot-2, Cisse’s physically imposing style should see him fare well against the more combative midfielders MLS has to offer. A powerful player with good short-range distribution, he will often be at the start of attacks, but rarely provide the finishing touch - his goal record of seven strikes in just under 180 games highlighting that fact.
After two years of impressive form with Boavista, English Premier League side Reading took an interest and purchased him for $1.5 million in 2006. Admired by fans of the Royals, Cisse held his own in a side that had recently recorded a convincing league-winning season in England’s second tier. Primarily a midfielder, his ability to also operate in the center of defense with aplomb was a vital asset for manager Steve Coppell during their three years together at Reading.
After successfully avoiding relegation in their first season, Reading struggled to cope with the loss of Steve Sidwell to Chelsea and suffered the unfortunate fate of relegation in 2008. During the following season, Cisse firmly established himself as a favorite amongst fans for his committed no-nonsense style, which thrived in the robust nature of the Championship.
Failing to secure promotion back to the Premier League at the first attempt, Coppell resigned from the club at which Cisse would remain for one final season. That year would see him work under current Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers until he was replaced by Brian McDermott. During their brief time together, Rodgers commended Cisse for his selfless attitude and willingness to work as part of the team.
In 2010 he would be reunited with the man who brought him to England when Steve Coppell took the job at Bristol City. Signing a two-year deal with The Robins, the club struggled in the bottom half of the league with Cisse consistently marked as one of the club’s standout players. Now fully ingratiated in the English game, his composure and assurance on the ball meant he rarely gave it away.
Able to quickly recycle the ball to his more attack-minded teammates, his desire to always pick the safest and sometimes easiest option serves as both a blessing and a curse. Regardless, New England’s ball retention will likely improve with Cisse in the side. Unlikely to win a sprint against the rest of the roster, his lack of pace is offset by his ability to read the game well and play the pitch horizontally rather than length ways.
Of the few blemishes on Cisse’s report card, a slight deficiency in stamina is one. The high intensity of the English game meant that he occasionally struggled moving into the final throes of games, something that may be rectified by the presence of another defensive midfielder like Clyde Simms to share the workload.
In the same way that Claude Makélelé proved the importance of a good anchor man at Chelsea, GM Michael Burns is vindicated in his belief that Cisse holds the potential to make a major impact for the Revs in 2013. With offers in Europe also on the table and still only 28, he now enters what many consider the prime of a midfielder’s career.
The fact fans of his former club are still disappointed at losing Cisse should highlight the potential that has been acquired by the Revs. Expect to see a steel and bite in the middle of the field this season - with his experience in Europe serving as further benefit to both Jay Heaps and his teammates.