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Khouma Babacar: Why the 'new George Weah' turned down Man Utd AND Real Madrid

Likened to George Weah and secure enough to reject Real Madrid AND Manchester United as a teenager, great things are expected inside Italian football from Khouma Babacar.

The Fiorentina striker, fresh from a successful year on-loan with Serie BModena, is this season justifying the praise that has been lavished upon him from some of Italy's biggest football identities.

Only last week, it emerged Tottenham and Southampton had made contact with the 21 year-old's camp, with his agent, Patrick Bastianelli, recently admitting he was aware of Premier League clubs scouting the centre-forward.

This all comes amid confusion over Babacar's contract status. Fiorentina coach Vincenzo Montella (above) and sports director Daniele Prade have both made clear they want to keep hold of their top prospect, but the club has dragged its heels opening talks over a new deal.

"Babacar has to grow," says Montella, "he still makes too many mistakes during the game, but I see in him an endless potential still untapped."

Prade adds: "Babacar is a product of our academy. We strongly believe in the guy."

Babacar's former Fiorentina Primavera coach, Alberto Bollini, agrees with Montella over the striker's potential.

Standing at 1.91cm and boasting superb control, Bollini says of Babacar: "Wonderful potential. He reminds me a lot of George Weah."

For now, Babacar is about to enter the final 18 months of his current deal and the interest of clubs abroad is complicating the situation.

Italy's iconic agent Antonio Caliendo, who has handled the likes of Diego Maradona, Roberto Baggio and David Trezeguet, has no doubts about Babacar's potential.

At Modena, where he is now owner, he saw the Senegal striker up close.

"Babacar is my regret, because we could've signed him outright," recalls Caliendo. "It was two years ago and with Modena we gave him a chance to emerge, thanks to a quiet environment.

"Personally I've always said his resources are far greater than those of (Mario) Balotelli, without a doubt.

"My greatest strength has always been to identify those players at 16 years of age capable of great things. I saw in him a potential of someone who has something extraordinary because with the ball at his feet he can do it all. You will see, the more time passes, the more you'll agree."

It's that comparison with Liverpool striker Mario Balotelli, that Babacar, himself, ducks.

"Many on Facebook compare me with Balotelli, but I have nothing to do with him. He's Balotelli and I'm Babacar, I play for Fiorentina, and nothing else. They also tell me I walk like him, but I am tall, how should I walk?" laughs Babacar.

"Drogba, Eto'o, Adebayor and Ibrahimovic: I always watch what they do on the field and try to do it too, and sometimes even try to do something more."

Modena coach Walter Novellino agrees with Caliendo: Babacar can be rated ahead of Balotelli.

"I think he has more quality and I'm not kidding," said Novellino. "I know that Balotelli is strong, but I know Babacar and saw him train every day, for me he has more quality."

If not for the intervention of former Viola sports director Pantaleo Corvino, Babacar would never have made it to Fiorentina.

While coming through in Senegal at US Rail, a 14 year-old Babacar was offered to Fiorentina by a local agent before he was eventually brought to Europe and Italy by Pescara.

Upon first clapping eyes on the teen, Corvino immediately offered €35,000 to bring Babacar to Florence. As for those two scouts who rejected that first approach - Corvino sacked them on the spot!

Franco Rondanini, who first brought Babacar to Italy, confirms Corvino managed to see off competition from Manchester United and Real Madrid to sign the teen.

"I saw him for the first time in Africa and I decided to take him to Fuerteventura thanks to the consul of Senegal, I assumed the responsibility as a tutor," recalled Rondanini.

"Before signing the contract with Fiorentina, Real Madrid and Manchester United were pressing the parents."

Babacar actually scored on his debut as a 16 year-old for Fiorentina and Rondanini continued: "When he scored the first goal against Chievo in the Coppa Italia, I immediately called his parents, who were crying on the phone."

Four years on and Babacar's form has Bastianelli's phone running hot. It began over the summer and hasn't stopped.

Andrea Stramaccioni wanted to take the youngster to Udinese before the campaign kicked off, while AS Roma sports director Walter Sabatini seriously considered a bid.

Now, with four goals in ten games and a string of powerhouse performances behind him, the clubs expressing interest are a couple of rungs higher.

But Fiorentina officials are confident they won't need to rush into a new deal.

A source told on the weekend from Florence: "We know his contract needs to be improved. But everything is quite relaxed. The communication lines with Mr Bastianelli are open.

"Yes, there's a growing number of scouts from foreign teams watching our games. But we also know that Babacar's dream has been to make it here. He made this decision some time ago.

"The contract needs to be improved, but we're happy that this will happen from a base of positivity."

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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