Soccer / Senegalese Starlet Chooses Mac. TA Over French Bench

18-year-old Moussa Konate sees Israel as a stepping stone to greater things.

When Ibrahima Konate - father of Maccabi Tel Aviv's $200,000 target, Moussa Konate - asked the Senegalese Football Association to release his son from international matches, so that he can concentrate on his career, the authorities in his native country were dumbfounded.

Konate, Sr., who is CEO of his son's first club, Toure Kunda, called Louis Lamotte, vice president of the association, with the request. Instead of wishing the young player well with his future team, Lamotte started to question the decision to send him to Israel at all.

"I heard you have several offers from French teams," he said. "Why send him to Israel of all places?"

Speaking to Haaretz over the weekend, Ibrahima Konate offered the same explanation that he had given a few days earlier.

"I have a very precise plan for my son's career," he said. "Right now, the most important thing is that he gets to play on a regular basis and that he's part of team that will allow him to learn and to develop. If I sent him to play in France, he would spend a year training and then maybe get into the reserve team. That would hinder his development. If he plays and plays well for Maccabi Tel Aviv, he can move on to a big team in Europe."

Lamotte, however, was not convinced. "Konate is the best player his age in Senegal," he told Haaretz this week. "In fact, he's been the best since he was 16. He's strong, quick and he scores goals. I thought it would be better for his career to start at a bigger club, but his father has decided."

Konate, 18, was born in a small town some 80 kilometers from the capital, Dakar, to a well-off family. He has played - mainly as a striker but sometimes as a right wing - at every level in his country. His big breakthrough came two seasons ago, when he scored 16 league goals and helped his team, which had only been promoted from the second division a year earlier, win the State Cup for the first time in its history.

So far this season, he has scored six goals in 16 league games and has added another five in the African equivalent of the Europa League. He has played six times for the national under-23 team and was invited to join the senior squad for friendly international against Mexico and Chile.

According to his coach at Toure Kunda, Lamine Sano, "he's a very technically gifted player and a very physical, too. He never gives up on a challenge. Once he improves his speed and his reactions, he will be the perfect striker."

The fact that Konate is the son of his club's CEO has led to allegations of favoritism on the part of the coach. "That's nonsense," says Sano. "He played for us even before his father became CEO."

Konate, Sr. also rejects the charges. "I am a very tough and strict person," he explains. "I treat all the players strictly - especially my son. I may be an influential figure at Toure Kunda, but I certainly don't have the power to call my son up to the national team. If he's good enough for the national team, I promise you he's good enough for Toure Kunda."

Two months ago, the younger Konate was in Israel and trained with the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. Within 24 hours, he was training with the regular team. According to one club insider, the 18-year-old striker has "got the full package: speed, strength and a deadly shot in front of goal."

Konate and his father spent last weekend in a Tel Aviv hotel, and met several times with Maccabi officials, in an effort to finalize the deal. A Maccabi spokesman told Haaretz that the deal is "95 percent done."