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Ismaila Sarr interview: Watford winger on AFCON glory, his speed stats, and trying to stay in the Premier League

In conversation with Sky Sports, Watford's Ismaila Sarr reflects on Africa Cup of Nations success with Senegal, his upbringing with Generation Foot, Ben Foster’s comments about his pace, and why he believes the team can stay in the Premier League

Watford's Ismaila Sarr celebrates scoring Senegal's third goal during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2021 quarter-final football match between Senegal and Equatorial Guinea at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo in Yaounde on January 30, 2022.

“Why not? We believe in ourselves,” Ismaila Sarr tells Sky Sports when asked about Watford’s chances of staying in the Premier League. It is easy to understand why he is confident that things will go his way right now.

Sarr, who turns 24 on Friday, recovered from injury to play his part as Senegal won the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time earlier this month. "Sorry, I left it at home," he says when asked where the medal is - but thoughts of the tournament are ever present.

"It was the moment that we won the cup," he recalls, when asked what is his fondest memory from Cameroon. "Realising that not only had we won the cup for the team but for the whole of the country. That is the moment that makes me most proud.

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Ismaila Sarr scores to give Senegal a 3-1 lead over Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-final

"I got many messages from many, many people. The most special was from my family but there were messages from fans and all the people who are close to me. I am grateful for every single one of the messages that I received because this is for them as well.

"They are the ones who helped me to achieve this."

Sarr's story is inspiring but it is becoming a familiar one in Senegalese football. Like Liverpool favourite Sadio Mane before him, he joined Metz before becoming a success in the Premier League. Both are graduates of the Generation Foot academy.

Fellow Senegal squad members Habib Diallo and Pape Matar Sarr also played for Generation Foot before joining Metz, the French club that helps to fund the centre, providing education, living quarters and opportunities for the country's most talented players.

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"It is a good environment where you are surrounded by competent coaches and very nice people," says Sarr. "That makes it very easy because all they ask you to do is play football. You wake up in the morning and all you have to do is play football."

He corrects himself because there was more to it than that.

"They also helped me as a person as well because I played football but I also had my education there. There are nice people there who teach you education and they teach you how to behave. That helped me a lot, not only on a professional level but as a person."

Sarr has a reputation for being a little shy at Watford, but he is a popular figure among his team-mates. Ben Foster, the team's vastly experienced goalkeeper, recently suggested that he might be the fastest player from a standing start that he has ever seen.

Ismaila Sarr is Watford's fastest player in the Premier League this season

The stats show that he is indeed the fastest at Watford. Sarr himself could not be sure. "It could be true," he says, laughing. "The problem is that when I am running I don't realise how fast I am going. He is the one who sees me. I believe him. It might be true."

Foster's other remark - that Sarr might not know how good he really is - also strikes a chord. "What Ben says there is absolutely true," he adds. "But I just have to keep working and being focused during training."

Sarr's talent first became apparent to English audiences in Watford's previous Premier League season. He scored in wins over Manchester United and Liverpool, his two goals in a 3-0 victory over the latter ending Jurgen Klopp's side's unbeaten campaign.

Ismaila Sarr's Premier League goal map for Watford

Thirteen more goals back in the Championship helped the Hornets come straight back up and Sarr was impressing again this season - scoring another good goal against United before his knee injury midway through the second half brought momentum to an abrupt halt.

Claudio Ranieri, Watford's second manager of the season, was sacked while Sarr was out injured and the club endured a run of a dozen games without a win in all competitions in that period. The sequence only ended against Aston Villa - on Sarr's return to the team.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Watford's win at Aston Villa in the Premier League
Ismaila Sarr's heatmap for Watford in the 2021/22 Premier League season

It is indicative of his importance to Watford, but how did it feel to see the side struggling and be helpless to prevent it? "It was difficult," he says. "Not just when I was away [with Senegal] but before that when I was injured. The team was suffering."

Was there ever a point when he feared the knee would not be right in time for what has been the best experience of the winger's short career?

"I did not think about it. My goal was to go to the Africa Cup of Nations and win the cup. I worked very hard throughout my injury, here at the training ground and when I was away. I recovered, went there and won the cup just as planned."

Watford supporters will be hoping that the Premier League season bends to his will in much the same way. Sarr makes it clear that he is "all good now" but the big question is whether his team will be. It is Manchester United again on Saturday. Staying up is the plan now.

"At the end of the day, we are talking only about four points. Of course, we have to play and we have to win games but that is the reason why we are here. We have to do everything for Watford in order to stay up."

As Sarr himself puts it, why not?

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