Pione Sisto Ifolo Emirmija was born on the 4th of feburary 1995 in Kampala, Uganda to South Sudanese parents. At the age of only two months old, he and his family arrived in Denmark after a treacherous journey to the northern tip of the European continent, fleeing the civil war in South Sudan. They lived for a few years in the small town of Højslev Stationsby with Sisto’s eight siblings before moving to the larger town of Herning, where Sisto joined the nearby football club Tjørring IF at the age of seven.
Eight years later, at the somewhat late age of 15, Sisto joined nearby FC Midtjylland’s prestigious youth setup; Midtjylland has a “partnership” with many nearby local clubs like Tjørring, allowing them to recieve additional funding in exchange for their best and brightest players.
Even from a young age, Sisto was consistently pitted against kids much older than him, never proving to be a real challenge. After youth coaches from all levels of the club sang his praise, then-manager Glen Riddersholm took their word for it and called him up in the 2012-13 season at the age of only 17. The young winger even scored his first professional goal a few weeks later in a game against AGF Århus, making himself a real first team contender.
Just as things were going well for the club (4 years younger than Sisto himself), things were going well for the winger. In the 2013/14 and 2014/15 seasons he ran riot, scoring 14 goals and leading FC Midtjylland to their first and only Danish Superliga title. His most stunning moments came in the team’s 5-1 away win against FC København, their biggest national rivals, and the 2-0 away win against the same team that won Midtjylland the league title.
Pione has evolved from an individualist into a team player. He can play on both wings and became more tactically flexible
His last full season with the club was the 2015/16 season and expectations were high after having won the “Player of the year” award for 2014, scouts from clubs such as Barcelona, Milan Juventus, Porto and Arsenal all regularly attending Midtjylland games watch him play and a proposed €7 million bid from Ajax had allegedly been rejected. He managed to live up to expectations as even though he couldn’t quite score as many domestic goals as the year before, he regularly carried the team on their impressive run in the UEFA Europa League, scoring 4 goals in 13 games, notably 2 sublime goals in 2 games against Manchester United.
Although he played a few games for Midtjylland in late 2016, he was finally sold to La Liga club Celta de Vigo on the 31st of July 2016 for a rumored €6 million, joining national teammate Daniel Wass. Although Celta Vigo didn’t quite live up to expectations, Sisto continued to put in terrific performances for the Galician club, scoring 6 goals in 43 games, earning him the club’s player of the month award for September and scoring against his dream club, Barcelona, in a 4-3 home rout.
Football is faster in Spain, but I like to have to make decisions faster than I was used to in Denmark.
For the national team, it has been a different story. Despite a long fought uphill battle for Danish nationality, Sisto hasn’t fully settled into the squad. Ever since the legendary long-term manager Morten Olsen retired in 2015 after 15 years, new coach Åge Hareide hasn’t found room for the winger in his orthodox 5-3-2 formation.
Nevertheless, it’s amazing to think that Sisto has gone from playing against 14-year olds in Tjørring when he was merely seven to terrorising both spanish and european defences on a regular basis in the space of 15 years.
How does Sisto play?
While he may be gifted with fast feet, Sisto isn’t gifted physically. His small stature and physique would make him a docile opponent for defenders if he didn’t know how to ridicule them for 90 minutes. His main advantages lie there: speed, vision and technique. He constantly asks for the ball from midfielders and regularly provides pinpoint passes for his teammates. He has an uncanny ability to get out of very tight spaces, often sticking himself to the touchline to have more space once he has dribbled past a player.
Although he has often played as a right winger, he’s almost ambidextruous and can play on the left wing, something that Celta Vigo coach Eduardo Berizzo has reaped the benifits of. He often drags two defending players with him when on the ball, waiting for movement from his midfielder/attacker to pass the ball into an open space. His impressive pace is truly what sets him apart though, as it has provided both Midtjylland and Celta with bursts of speed when on the front foot, two teams dependent on skillful players.
While he may have extremely nimble feet and an exceptionally strong mindset, he is often let down by his large touch and his lack of vision, two things that mean he can’t integrate well with Hareide’s national team setup and often leads to costly errors, especially when tracking back. Surprisingly, Sisto himself has said that he needs to work on his “decisiveness” in the third half, even though his shot accuracy now averages at just under 60%.
All in all, it’s not surprising that Sisto’s idol is Lionel Messi as the Danish youngster emulate’s the argentine’s fast and technical role quite well respective of ability. While things may not be going to plan for Celta Vigo at the moment, Sisto has truckloads of tricks in his back pocket and is sure to be a dangerous weapon for whatever team he’s playing his trade for.
He’s also a fantastic bloke and someone any team in the world would benefit from at the very least having in the squad.