Senegalese striker Papiss Demba Cissé abandoned formal education to pursue a footballing career, but with nine goals from 11 Bundesliga games this season that risky strategy is paying off for the SC Freiburg man.
The 25-year-old is ahead of established talents like Edin Džeko, Lucas Barrios, Demba Ba and Grafite in the race to be Germany's top scorer. Only Theofanis Gekas of Eintracht Frankfurt is ahead of him, with the Greece forward's 11 goals in as many games leaving him on course to be the league's leading marksman for a second time, having taken that accolade with 20 strikes for VfL Bochum 1848 in 2006/07.
Like Gekas back in 2006/07, Cissé's prowess has taken everyone by surprise. A €1.5m recruit from French second tier club FC Metz in January 2010, his six goals in the spring helped his new side avoid relegation, while his current spree has enabled Freiburg to establish a solid platform at the right end of the Bundesliga; no small achievement for the Black Forest team, who have been relegated and promoted twice in the last decade.
Parents may not, however, be too delighted with the way Freiburg's striking star made time for football practice. "Sitting still for such a long time and listening bored me; I wanted to be free," said the forward, who played truant to hone his skills. "My father was not OK with it, but I quit school because of football. We had lots of fierce discussions about it, but then I left my village."
Initially a star at Dakar outfit AS Douanes, he moved to Metz in 2005, and came to the attention of his current employers when he scored twice against them in a summer 2009 friendly. When Freiburg were in the throes of a relegation struggle last winter, their thoughts returned to the bulky forward, who was persuaded to accept the offer of a move to Germany by Metz team-mate and Luxembourg defender Jeff Strasser.
"He advised me to do it and told me that my style of play would suit the Bundesliga," recalled Cissé. "Jeff was sure I would get along in Germany." It seems the former 1. FC Kaiserslautern and VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach man was right, with Freiburg sporting director Dirk Dufner in raptures about the ability of the player whose contract runs until 2014.
"We have never had someone like him before; dangerous in front of goal, technically gifted, a team player and hard-working," said Dufner. "Papiss does a lot of extra training and often makes the difference in a match." Team-mate Jan Rosenthal noted "he is always happy, but also super ambitious", while captain Heiko Butscher congratulated Cissé on "keeping a clear head and not acting the star".
Modesty aside, Cissé has twin targets for the season; breaking Rodolfo Esteban Cardoso's Freiburg record of 16 goals from 1994/95 and finishing as the Bundesliga's top striker. How will he go about that? "It's quite easy," he said. "If you work hard, you will be rewarded, and as long as I can get up in the morning, I can work hard. Also, as a striker you have to be absolutely focused from the first to the last minute, as you might only have one chance in the 90 minutes."
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