Sol Bamba

Former Player Remembers: Sol Bamba (Part Two)

Part two of Club Historian John Hutchinson's feature interview with Sol Bamba looks into his later career at Leicester City and beyond, as well as international football.
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In January 2012, a year after scoring his memorable goal against Manchester City in the first few seconds of his City debut, and two months after Nigel Pearson had returned to King Power Stadium for his second spell as manager, Sol’s season at Leicester was interrupted when he joined the Ivory Coast squad for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations.

Sol played in every minute of Ivory Coast’s AFCON campaign, defeating Sudan, Burkina Faso, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and Mali on the way to meet Zambia in the final.

“That was special,” Sol recalled. “Losing in the final was a massive disappointment. We didn’t concede a goal for the whole tournament and we lost on penalties. During the final, we’d had a penalty but unfortunately, Didier Drogba missed it. This was his last chance to win the trophy as he retired from international football after that. I played for the Ivory Coast for a couple of more years after playing for the national team for 10 years.”

After the tournament, Sol returned to Leicester for the rest of the season, playing alongside Wes Morgan, who had recently arrived from Nottingham Forest.

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Sol Bamba

Facing Lazio in the UEFA Europa League.

“After the Africa Cup of Nations, I returned to Leicester,” he explained. “I then left in the summer for Trabzonspor in the Turkish Super Lig. I wanted to better myself and play at the highest level that I could. Trabzonspor gave me this opportunity because they were in the Champions League. We didn’t get through to the knockout stage but it was still four games in the Champions League which was massive. The following year, we played in the Europa League.

“In my career, I moved from Paris to Scotland to England to Turkey and later to Italy and then back to England. Whenever I changed clubs, it was to better myself. People sometimes felt I moved about for fun but there was always a reason behind my moves.

“Wherever I moved, it wasn’t difficult to settle. I’ve got a big mouth so when I needed to speak to managers or fans, I needed to be able to speak their language. In Turkey, we trained at night because it’s so hot, so I had all morning and early afternoon to go to school to learn the language. This made it even easier to settle. Turkey is a lovely country with a good culture. Istanbul is a beautiful city. It was good for my family to visit and to come to live here too.”

In Sol’s second season at Trabzonspor, Sol was injured for much of the second half of that season, but he recovered in time to play in the World Cup in Brazil in the summer of 2014.

“I was scared I’d miss the World Cup to be honest,” Sol continued. “The injury came at the wrong time. I missed nearly four months, but in the end, I was fortunate enough to recover in time. From the minute I got injured, the World Cup in Brazil was my target, especially as Brazil is the World Cup country of football. I didn’t want to miss it.

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Sol Bamba

Palermo was the centre-back's next destination.

“Going to Brazil was a very good experience. We were based in São Paulo. I played in all three group games. We won the first game 2-1 against Japan. Then we lost 2-1 to Colombia and we just needed to draw against Greece to go through. We were winning 1-0 until the 85th minute, but then we lost 2-1 and we were out of the competition. To be fair though, playing in that World Cup in Brazil was fantastic.”

Returning to Europe, Sol’s next move, in August 2014, was to Palermo in Serie A: “I thought it was the right move to go to Italy but, unfortunately, I never had the chance to show Palermo what I was capable of. I arrived at the club after the World Cup and after I’d had some time off, so I’d missed the pre-season and the team was already set.

“Then we had a very good start to the season, beating Milan and drawing against Juventus and this meant I had to wait for my chance. Unfortunately, I didn’t play as much as I wanted to so in January, I decided to go to Leeds United, in the Championship, on loan.

“This was because the Leeds owner Massimo Cellino and the Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini were best friends.

“I was made captain after my second game. However the club was in a bad state. Because I spoke Italian I was able to speak to Cellino on a regular basis. I tried to tell him how things worked in England and that it was completely different to Italy where the president often picked the team.

“At the end of the season, when my loan ended, I did a press interview. I was asked about how my six months at Leeds had been and what needed to be changed. I said Massimo would have to do better and explained what needed to be changed and improved. Everyone said I’d be in trouble because I’d told the truth.

“They thought this meant I wouldn’t be signed permanently. However, everything I said in the press I’d said to Massimo face-to-face, so he did sign me and I had no problem with that. But it wasn’t always easy. I’m a player. I was there to play football, not talk to the board and the owner.”

Neil Warnock was always a big admirer of me and I’d heard good things about him from other players. When I played for Leicester, he tried to sign me for Leeds.

Sol Bamba

That summer, Uwe Rösler became the Leeds manager.

“I love Uwe,” Sol continued. “He was very disciplined and I respond to a manager like this. He’s a very good guy. I’m still in touch with him, but unfortunately, he didn’t have the time he deserved at Leeds.”

Sol left Leeds in August 2016: “I got in touch with Nigel Pearson, who was now managing Derby. He said: ‘Come and train with us for a week or two. I just want to have a look at you’. It was very emotional to see him again as we hadn’t been able to say goodbye when he left Leicester. After five minutes of training he said: ‘I’m going to sign you’. He left a week later!”

Soon afterwards, in October 2016, Sol joined Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City side in the Championship and once again scored on his debut.

“Neil Warnock (who described Sol as a ‘colossus’) was always a big admirer of me and I’d heard good things about him from other players,” he added. “When I played for Leicester, he tried to sign me for Leeds. I always liked him and I was glad when he asked me to play for him at Cardiff.

“I like managers who are very honest with you. He was also a manager who cares and who speaks to your family to make sure everyone is okay. He called my wife when I signed and would ask after my kids. I would run through a brick wall for him.”

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Sol Bamba

Captaining the Whites in the Championship.

In his second season at Cardiff (2017/2018), Sol played in every game and the Bluebirds were promoted to the Premier League.

On 3 November, 2018, City’s away fixture against Cardiff City was their first match after the tragic helicopter accident that claimed the lives of Chairman Khun Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha; staff members Kaveporn Punpare and Nusara Suknamai; and pilots Eric Swaffer and Izabela Lechowicz.

Sol played in that match: “That was tough. I knew the Chairman and he was very good with me when I was at Leicester. It was a special game to play in, but it was difficult. It was more than a football game. The game was more important than the result.

“There wasn’t really any passion. For the players and both sets of fans, the feeling was: ‘How is everyone?’ It was the toughest game I ever played. Both clubs handled it brilliantly. It was difficult for every player and for both sets of fans.”

That season, Sol only missed one game in the Premier League until he had a serious ACL injury in March 2019: “Apart from the injury leading up to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, I’d never had a big injury, so I was disappointed this happened in my first season in the Premier League when I was doing well personally. Not finishing the season was a big blow to me. We were relegated at the end of the season and I felt useless because I couldn’t help.

“The following season (2019/20), we were favourites to get promoted so there was a lot of pressure. I was still recovering so wasn’t playing regularly. We reached the play-offs, but by then Neil Warnock had left (in November 2019).”

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Sol Bamba

Cardiff, where Bamba played in the Premier League, was the defender's penultimate team.

In January 2021, Sol was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and began undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Four months later, in May 2021, he announced that he was cancer-free.

“That was difficult, especially for the family,” Sol reflected. “It was as hard for them as it was for me. First and foremost, you worry about your kids. Being in the public eye, you can’t hide it. But I had good support from my family and friends and from the football community. I had so many messages from Leicester fans and the board. This support really helps when you’re down. When you see that people care for you that gives you the strength to get through it.

“I left Cardiff (in August 2021) to rejoin Neil Warnock at Middlesbrough. I needed a new start and I couldn’t ask for a better manager to work under.”

Sol was released at the end of the season after 29 appearances. He has now turned his attention to coaching.

Sol concluded by saying: “Last January (2023), the Cardiff City manager Sabri Lamouchi, who had been my national team manager in the 2014 World Cup, asked me to be his assistant manager at Cardiff. We kept Cardiff from being relegated but we left at the end of the season.

“In my last couple of years as a player, I was doing my badges as I wanted to coach and eventually try to test myself as a manager. Football has been my life and I want to give back everything that I’ve learned and hopefully I’ll have the chance to do that.”

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