This time last year Wilfried Bony was a virtual unknown – just one of many Ivorian players looking to make their living from the game in Europe. Twelve months on, the 21-year-old AC Sparta Praha striker has shot to prominence as the leading scorer in the UEFA Europa League. After making his international debut last month, suddenly his dream of playing alongside his idol Didier Drogba does not seem so far from reality.
Quick, tall, powerful and blessed with a fine touch, Bony had initially left Ivory Coast club Issia Wazi for a trial at Liverpool FC. Any disappointment at failing to make the grade at Anfield has been forgotten, however, as his goals for Sparta have turned heads across the continent.
Not that he was an instant hit. Far from it. An unheralded signing by Sparta early in 2008, Bony spent his first season in Prague with the reserves, often kicking his heels on the substitutes' bench. He made his first-team debut early in the next First League campaign yet had to wait another three months for his first senior goal.
In fact, before establishing himself in the side he even had to prove he could handle the harsh Czech winters – and master the cross-country skiing used to build stamina in training camps. He eventually passed with flying colours and went a step further than most foreign players in adapting to Czech life by learning the language.
Bony's efforts have paid off. Last season he contributed nine goals to Sparta's title-winning campaign and he has hit the ground running this term with 17 already to his name. Ten have come in 14 league games, two in UEFA Champions League qualifying and five more in the UEFA Europa League, including four in two matches against FC Lausanne-Sport.
His scoring spree can be explained in part by his partnership with Leony Kweuke from Cameroon. "We speak French together on the pitch, so our opponents can't understand what we are planning," Bony said. The pair's infectious smiles and popular dancing goal celebrations have made them firm favourites at the Stadion Letná.
There was even talk of Bony playing for the Czech Republic, until the Ivory Coast ensured that would not happen by calling him up for their Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Burundi last month. "It's a big honour for me, but I know
I am only at the beginning of the road and I have to push a lot harder to fulfil my dream of playing alongside Didier Drogba," he said.
The forward could soon be playing against his hero, however. His UEFA Europa League exploits have attracted attention from abroad, including English Premier League sides. Although Sparta extended his contract till 2014 last August, they could be open to offers should they fail to progress beyond the group stage.
With Bony among the goals, though, there should be no danger of that. Sparta are second in Group F with two games remaining, four points above nearest challengers US Città di Palermo whom they visit on Thursday. It was against Palermo in September that the No10 opened his UEFA Europa League account in a 3-2 win – if the Sicilian team's defence knew little of him then, they do now.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.