Last October, when Leeds United were due to play Norwich in the EFL Cup, we expected that Garry Monk would field a strong side. However, when the XI was released, a sense of bemusement and disappointment ran through Leeds fans across the globe when we realised that Souleymane Doukara was starting.
There was a feeling of disbelief, and a sense that “this was not going to go well” engulfed us all.
When he first arrived, he looked like a decent enough player and played reasonably well throughout the first three quarters of the 2014/15 season. However, after six players, including Doukara, controversially pulled out of the 18 with 'injury' the day before a loss against Charlton, it left Doukara’s relationship with the Leeds faithful in tatters.
Doukara was able to come back from the controversy and did start to play some decent football again in 2015/16, this time under new manager Steve Evans. However, once again Doukara found himself in trouble when he was banned for 8 matches for biting Fernando Amorebieta against Fulham in March 2016.
For many, that seemed to be the final straw for Doukara at Leeds... he simply wasn’t worth the trouble.
Back to Norwich and the EFL Cup... fans were upset that Doukara was getting the start, and many feared we’d be done in by a newly-beloved manager who hadn’t picked the strongest side.
However, those fears quickly disappeared as “The Duke” put in a fantastic shift and proved his manager correct for putting faith in him. For 81 minutes, Doukara was a constant nuisance for the Norwich defence. He was physically imposing and was a major factor in United’s unbelievable resilience that night.
His performance that night has been the catalyst for constant improvement in the once-forgotten striker, a man who has now become an integral part of our play-off chasing squad.
An in-form Souleymane Doukara can be a dangerous thing, and this was once again on show in October’s 2-0 win against Burton. His introduction turned the game in Leeds’ favour: Doukara would earn the vital penalty to open the scoring and would then score himself to finish off the game in the injury time.
These performances earned Doukara his first league start of the season in the thrilling 3-2 away win at Carrow Road. Since then, he has gone on to start every game for the mighty Whites and he has made a difference in nearly every game.
His 2nd goal of the season, against Rotherham, would turn out to be the difference in a frustrating night at the New York stadium. The big man slotted the ball through a gap into the bottom corner of the net after some lovely footwork.
At the EFL Cup quarter-final against Liverpool, he once again showed his importance with a physical workhorse performance. The young Liverpool players learnt a very valuable lesson that night.
Doukara did start very slow in the first half against Aston Villa but to be fair, everyone did. However, in the second half, the Duke whipped in a beautifully timed cross from the left towards Kemar Roofe, who met the ball and gave Leeds the lead... and ultimately the victory.
The confidence and quality were once again on show at home against Reading. After Chris Wood departed early when he picked up a hamstring problem, Doukara was left to lead the line, and when called upon late on after Leeds had won a penalty, he well and truly delivered by smashing home the penalty to seal the three points.
Except for Norwich & Saturday against Brentford (that miss was unbelievable), Doukara has played an imperative role in every league victory since his return to the first team set-up.
We have come a long way from expecting the French-Senegalese forward to be offloaded come January.
Over the last few weeks, I have wondered when will we see the other side of Souleymane Doukara, the “trouble” side. And then I realised I was focusing on the wrong thing.
Souleymane Doukara is now a vital part of Garry Monk’s Leeds United - a team full of commitment and drive. They are a team willing to do everything for each other and, going on what I have seen so far this season from Doukara, he has bought into the Garry Monk ethos as well.
I’m as surprised as anyone to write this, but Souleymane Doukara and his success up top will be a big factor in whether we succeed in our promotion push in 2017. MOT.