The Roker Ramble: What's Happening On French Shores?
As you may well know, or could at least guess by my Twitter name, I dwell down at the bottom of France in a town called Castres. To be a little less precise, it's not all that far away from Toulouse, or the Spanish border.
Due to this, I've found myself becoming rather caught up in Ligue 1 this season, and despite those who still write it off as a bit of a Mickey Mouse league, it really is a top competition to watch, and is filled with exciting players, many of who could easily grace the Premier League. Just ask Alan Pardew and his scouting network.
So, with this in mind, and realising that the Ramble is for football's greater cause, not just that of Sunderland, join me in taking a look at some of the players that we may see jumping the good ship Francais and making the trip over to Angleterre in the summer.
I should add at this point, although I watch a lot of Ligue 1, that doesn't make me an expert, even in the slightest. Also, I support Toulouse over here, and watch a lot more of them than anyone else. If that is reflected in the players that I focus on, so be it.
1. Eden Hazard - Lille
I'll start with the most obvious one. If you haven't heard of the afore-mentioned Mr Hazard, then your footballing intake really is blinkered. Either that, or you have been living under a rather huge rock for the past few years.
Lille and Belgium winger Hazard is arguably the finest talent on display in Ligue 1. Armed with both explosive tricks and an array of tricks large enough to embarrass even the finest defender, the 21 year old seems to have the football world at his feet.
With 15 goals this season, he is second only behind Montpellier's Oliver Giroud in the goalscoring charts (more of him later), while he has also laid on 12 goals for his teammates in the league too. His impact on games really can't be understated, as Toulouse's defence would tell you. He was virtually unplayable last weekend, and in 45 minutes had won a penalty, scored the subsequent spot kick, and set up Lille's second goal.
Hazard has already signalled his intention to leave Lille at the end of the season, and will be a huge signing for whoever he ends up with. Despite talk of a move to Arsenal earlier in the year, expect him to be linked more with Manchester United (Alex Ferguson has been spotted at Lille games recently), or perhaps the money of their rivals. Although a move to Spain looks more likely at this point, it would be a huge coup for English football to count Hazard as one of its own next season.
2. Loic Remy - Marseille
Sticking with exciting frontmen comes Marseille's powerhouse, Loic Remy.
Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp has already registered interest in the French international by not speaking about another club's player. He did so by saying 'the lad's a t'riffic player, we'd love to have him'. I kid you not. That was his way of not talking about him.
Ol' Saggy Chops did make a valid point though, Remy is a quality centre forward who would be more than capable of holding his own in the Premier League. Standing over six-feet tall, his aerial ability is key to the way that OM play, with 24 goals in 50 appearances for the club telling its own story. Having broken into the France squad in 2009, he has four goals to his name in 17 caps, and is a player that we can expect to see in Euro 2012 this summer. Although, at times, he could do with a little more composure in front of goal, his aerial threat alone means that Spurs may revisit this deal if Adebayor is on his way out in the summer.
Although Tottenham's attempts to lure Remy were unsuccessful in January, Marseille's disappointing season means that the Champions League is almost certainly out of reach for them next season, and although a Europa League place is still attainable, it will be interesting to see how quickly Remy's head can be turned if offers from clubs that can offer Champions League football come in for him.
3. Etienne Capoue - Toulouse
Tall and elegant central midfielder Etienne Capoue has been arguably Toulouse FC's best player this season. In a campaign where the team has struggled in front of goal, yet have the best defensive record in Europe in terms of clean sheets, he has been instrumental at both ends of the field in helping the team achieve that.
Despite only being 23, the Frenchman has already played over 100 games for Toulouse, and has attracted interest from elsewhere since the 2009/10 season. With three goals to his name this season, he has been happy to get forward on occasion, but is happier sitting in front of a back four, winning the ball and dictating play. On a number of occasions this season TFC have looked to Capoue for inspiration, and he has stepped up to the plate admirably.
Toulouse's healthy position in Ligue 1 may mean that he honours the contract extension that he signed in 2009, but rumours of interest from the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham (again) and Chelsea may force TFC boss Alain Casanova's hand if a big enough bid was to arrive for his midfield maestro.
4. Olivier Giroud - Montpellier
Perhaps the most talked about player in France this season, or at least the one on a par with Eden Hazard, is Montpellier frontman Olivier Giroud. Despite being tipped by many to struggle at the beginning of the season, the 6ft 4 striker has been in sensational for a team fighting mega-rich Paris Saint Germain at the top of the league.
Equally happy with the ball at his feet or on his head, the Frenchman is knocking on the door of Lauren Blanc's squad for this summer's European Championships, and will feel extremely hard done if he isn't given an opportunity at the tournament.
As I mentioned earlier, Giroud is top scorer this season in Ligue 1 with 18 goals, and can boast seven assists alongside that. Winning an average of 3.4 aerial battles per game (a league high) shows just how good he is in the air, and the fact that he is something of a sex symbol in France will almost certainly endure him to people such as Simon Walsh and Michael Graham at Roker Report, as both have tendencies to wax lyrical about good-looking footballers.
Rumours in the press have claimed that Arsene Wenger has asked for a comprehensive portfolio to be put together about the Montpellier striker, while a host of other clubs have also registered an interest. Although the French club's chairman has claimed that he won't be leaving for anything less than 50-60m euros this summer, it wouldn't be a surprise if he was to move to one of Europe's top clubs. And if he has a strong tournament at Euro 2012, that figure may end up not being as ridiculous as it first sounds.
5. Yann M'Vila - Rennes
Twenty-one-year-old M'Vila is another Frenchman with a seemingly bright future ahead of him. Employed mainly as a defensive midfielder, he has been key to Rennes' solid Ligue 1 performances this season, leading to speculation that a number of Europe's top sides are keeping a keen eye on him.
Making 3.2 tackles per game, and 2.4 interceptions, on average, shows his importance to breaking down attacks, and a passing average of well over 80% highlights that he rarely loses possession of the ball once he has it.
Despite his age, the midfielder has already forced his way into the national team, and has 18 caps to his name. As mentioned, a number of clubs have been linked with his signature, including Real Madrid, although it was mention of Arsenal that caught his attention, with him telling journalists that 'when a French manager like Arsene Wenger talks about wanting to sign you, you listen'. Expect bidding wars galore this summer if M'Vila looks set for a move.
In order for this article to not push past 8,000 words, I shall leave the main focus on those five players, however must also make honourable mention to:
- Marvin Martin - Sochaux's attacking midfielder
- Alain Traore - Auxerre striker
- Benoit Tremoulinas - Bordeaux's left back
- Steve Mandanda - Goalkeeper at Marseille, who looked very impressive last night against Bayern Munich
- Mathieu Debuchy - Lille's right back, who has been watched by a number of Premier League clubs
- Kevin Gamiero - PSG centre forward who has struggled in recent months with the Parisian club
- The Ayew brothers - Two more stars who have impressed in this year's Champions League
- Mathieu Valbuena - Marseille's star man this season
- Moussa Sissoko - Toulouse's powerhouse midfielder who is looking for a move