By 90Min
January 15, 2018

Signed on a free transfer back in the summer of 2015, Bakary Sako's arrival in south London was, at the time, regarded as a shrewd piece of business for a man who had just scored 15 goals for Wolves in the previous campaign; the Malian winger looked like a typical Crystal Palace player: quick, strong, and not afraid to shoot. It seemed to be a perfect match. 

The idea of that the move was a 'perfect match' looked to have been justified early in Sako's career at Selhurst Park. An 87th minute winner against Aston Villa on his first start for the Eagles, followed by the opener in a historic win by the same scoreline at Stamford Bridge put the former Saint Etienne man in the spotlight, with many perhaps to conclusions in dubbing Sako as the 'signing of the summer' early in the season. 

In reality, the encouraging early form displayed by Sako seemed no more than him being desperate to impress, and there were certainly qualms over whether the Malian had the required fitness levels needed to be competitive at Premier League level. No pre season training upon his arrival due to being a free agent was a concern - despite Sako's attempts to reassure the doubters by stating that he had been training with his cousin - but the benefit of the doubt was given. 

Following his excellent start, the wheels began to come off. Sako's fitness waned under the trials and tribulations of the Premier League, and such was the scintillating form of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie playing in the Malian's favoured positions, Sako never really got a look in even when fit. 

Sako's season ended with just 20 league appearances, nine of them from the bench, with only the two aforementioned goals against Villa and Chelsea to show for his efforts. The following season was somehow even less fruitful than the first.

Having made just one start in the Carabao Cup and just seven appearances from the bench in the league, Sako failed to convince both Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce that he could be trusted to start games as well as make any sort of impact as a substitute, and after Frank de Boer waltzed through the door last summer promising attractive possession football, the 29-year-old's time at Palace looked limited. 

Surprisingly, and fortunately for Sako, de Boer lasted just 77 days in south London, where Roy Hodgson would take the reigns, tasked with what seemed an impossible job after the Eagles had set a record for the worst start in Premier League history. 

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JOB DONE ✅

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To add further salt to Palace's wounds, the inability to add to a squad containing just one fit striker in Christian Benteke meant that Hodgson would have to dig deep and oversee some resurgence from his fringe players; Sako included. 

Hodgson's first win with his new side came in the Carabao Cup, courtesy of Sako, as the Eagles edged past Huddersfield by one goal to nil, and there were signs of solidarity with the Malian leading the line. 

As it stands, Sako is the Eagles' top scorer in this campaign with six goals in all competitions, including a thumping weak foot effort against arch rivals Brighton at the Amex; a goal which endeared him ever more to a set of supporters that had already taken a liking to the powerful forward. 

Many of the Selhurst faithful knew that if he could just maintain a bit of fitness and physical conditioning, there would be a dangerous player in Sako such is his strength and shooting ability, but one thing's for certain - the former Wolves man is undoubtedly playing his best football in red and blue under Hodgson. 

Despite Hodgson's obvious impact, Sako must be credited for igniting the turnaround in his own career down in south London. His motivation to get fit coupled with his patience to get a chance amidst this season's injury crisis is admirable, but any chances given must be taken, something which can wholly be said of Sako's impact. 

Most recently, the Eagles' 1-0 win over Burnley in which Sako started upfront alongside Benteke was perhaps the most impressive performance of his Palace career. Managing to not just last but excel over the whole 90 minutes, troubling the Clarets' backline throughout, Sako scored the winning goal and in truth could've had a hat-trick. 

He is finally becoming the threatening player that all Wolves' fans will be well aware of, and his attitude and application in a precarious time for Palace's Premier League status will cement Sako as a firm fans' favourite for years to come. 

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