‘Take care of my boy’ were the words Sadio Mane uttered to Troy Deeney about close friend Ismaila Sarr in a post-match conversation after Watford’s 2-0 defeat to Liverpool in December.
Care is something Sarr has received in abundance since, not just from his teammates, but from Hornets head coach Nigel Pearson.
Under the new boss, the 21-year-old has found his feet and looks every inch a £40million signing.
Much was expected from the Senegal international when Watford made him their club-record signing in the summer from Rennes, but a combination of injuries as well as the Hornets’ horrific
early form, saw Sarr struggle to adapt to the demands of English football.
That defeat to Liverpool in December, in Pearson’s first game, was a microcosm of the youngster’s start to life in England; a player clearly talented, but lacking confidence and guidance, as shown when he skied a glorious opportunity from a couple of yards out.
Clearly, Sarr’s very much a confidence player, as evidenced against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, when he increasingly grew into the game as Watford gained more of a foothold.
But with such blistering pace and power, the 21-year-old has the capability of being a world-beater.
An early yellow for young Spurs left-back Japhet Tanganga left him walking a tight rope, a situation which Sarr looked to exploit at every opportunity by surging into the space behind.
Whether it be playing short one-twos with Adrian Mariappa as well as Etienne Capoue or a quick piece of skill, the 21-year-old had the beating of his man almost every time.
When in flow, he’s a real nightmare, even more so when you throw in his crossing ability, with Sarr whipping in a number of super balls which were just begging for a Watford player to get on the end of.
He should have had a goal and an assist to his name early in the second-half when, firstly, after nutmegging the Spurs left back, he sent in a fizzing ball which should have been turned home by Abdoulaye Doucoure and moments later, Sarr got on the end of a clever Deeney flick, only to wastefully side-foot his effort wide of the post.
Find that little bit of extra ruthlessness and the Senegal international will be the complete player.
The fact he limped off late on, after busting a gut to get back to make a vital interception, will be a concern for Watford, but they can take pride in the fact they’ve got a player of the 21-year-old’s quality on their books.
Former Watford forward Tommy Smith knows what it takes to make it at Vicarage Road, having found the back of the net over 60 times across two spells with the Hornets and he feels the Hertfordshire club have a real gem on their hands.
He said: “It’s tough when you’re a young lad and you’re coming in with a big price tag, particularly for a club like Watford and Sarr was their biggest signing ever, so the expectation is there. I think Nigel Pearson’s come in at the right time whereby he’s had six months to settle and get used to the league and training.
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“He’s electric and you can see that frightens defenders. The way Watford have been under Pearson, by keeping him wide and getting the ball out to him early and letting him have a run at the
defenders, he’s almost got a bit of freedom to stay wide or come inside.
“He’s got a bit of a free role in the position he’s playing and that seems to have really freed him up. His confidence has grown and he’s a strong lad and people are bouncing off him now.
“I think we’ve got a bit of a gem in him, I have to say. It will be very interesting to watch the rise in his game now until the end of the season because a bit like Richarlison, we might have ended up unearthing a player that some of the top four clubs might be after.”
More performances like this and you wouldn’t back against Sarr from lining up alongside his best friend Mane at Liverpool in the seasons to come.