Moussa Marega’s path to the top in football bears little resemblance to the career enjoyed by Thierry Henry, but the FC Porto striker does share something in common with the France legend.
“We are from the same town. We were both born in Les Ulis” in the Paris suburbs, Marega told UEFA.com.
“He was my first idol. He is also a striker, and I always dreamed of being a striker and scoring as many goals as him.”
As a late arrival at the elite level, the 28-year-old Malian international centre-forward may never match Henry’s statistics.
However, his goals have played a big part in his club’s success over the last 18 months and he is set to again lead the Porto attack in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final, second leg against Liverpool at the Estadio do Dragao.
Last week, Marega was a menace to the Liverpool defence at Anfield but could not prevent his side slumping to a 2-0 defeat that means their hopes of progressing to a first semi-final since they won the trophy in 2004 appear slim.
Marega, though, had an excuse.
“Marega spent practically the whole day throwing up,” said his coach, Sergio Conceicao.
Porto have won all four home games in the Champions League this season, but memories of Liverpool’s last visit remain fresh – the Premier League side romped to a 5-0 win in northern Portugal in the last 16 first leg a year ago.
Marega did not score then, but he was his side’s top marksman with 22 league goals as they won the Portuguese title.
This season he has 18 in all competitions, including six in eight Champions League matches, among them a precious goal in the 3-1 win at home to Roma in the last round.
Ahead of this week’s matches, only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski – each with eight – have scored more.
It is illustrious company to be keeping for a player who did not come through the academy of any leading club. Instead, he worked his way up to the French third division, where he was playing for Amiens.
In 2014, he joined Esperance in Tunisia, but spent six months without playing due to administrative problems before moving to Portugal.
An impressive spell at Maritimo persuaded Porto to sign Marega from under the noses of Sporting Lisbon in 2016, and he has become a key player for Conceicao’s side since a successful loan stint at Vitoria Guimaraes.
After soldiering through the game at Anfield, the pacey and powerful forward got his first league goal of 2019 as Porto won 3-0 at Portimonense on Saturday to stay level on points with leaders Benfica at the top of the table.
Marega should now team up with Yacine Brahimi and Francisco Soares in a front three that will try to break down Liverpool’s formidable defence.
“The whole team is playing well in the Champions League, but if I had to pick out someone who makes the difference and gives strength and positive energy to the team it would have to be Marega,” said his team-mate, the Brazilian full-back Alex Telles.
Marega and Porto are dreaming of chalking up another famous Champions League comeback having already overturned a first-leg deficit against Roma.
“There are still 90 minutes left in the tie and I call on all our supporters to turn out and create the same atmosphere as against Roma,” said Conceicao.
“We will of course give everything on the pitch to try to get through.”