There will be a number of familiar faces in the Senegal squad on Sunday, even with Sadio Mane absent, but the African champions have one Premier League player you have probably never seen play, and possibly never heard of.
Pape Matar Sarr has been part of Tottenham’s first-team squad all season, but is yet to play a minute for Antonio Conte’s side, and the 20-year-old’s first competitive start since May could come against England, in place of the suspended Idrissa Gueye.
Quiet and unassuming, Sarr is still learning English, so aside from the French speakers in Conte’s squad and the club’s player liaison staff, few people know much about him.
While he remains an unknown quantity in England, Sarr is an African champion, after playing in the semi-final of his country’s AFCON win in January and has already starred at a World Cup.
The gangly midfielder was first spotted by coach Aliou Cisse while playing in the Under-17 finals in Brazil in 2019, where he scored three times, as Senegal defied expectations to get out of their group. His goals included a brilliant 30-yard free-kick against the USA and a screamer, albeit deflected, in a surprise win over the Netherlands. Senegal eventually lost to Spain in the last-16, but Sarr had made his mark, and earned a move from local club Generation Foot to Metz in 2020. A £14.8million transfer to Spurs followed a year later, but he was loaned back to Metz last season.
Few in football circles in Senegal are surprised by Sarr’s rise. His father, Sidath, was a professional in Senegal and is now a coach, and a source in the Senegal camp said three of his uncles, possibly four, had also been footballers.
Sarr was raised in Thies, a sleepy town 70km from Dakar, which is known to be football-mad and has a reputation for producing professional players. His exposure to men’s football at a young age means he plays like a far more experienced player, which impressed Conte in pre-season, although the Italian believes he needs to bulk out before he is ready for the Premier League.
The club would have liked to send Sarr out on loan in the summer, but an injury to Oliver Skipp meant he had to stay put, kicking his heels on the bench.
An eye-catching performance on Sunday would be the perfect way for Sarr to put himself in the shop window, and there are even people at Spurs intrigued to find out more about him.