It’s time for Part Two of MOMS and Ligue 1 podcast Breaking the Lines contributor Liam Scahill’s French scouting picks.
Here’s the second batch of four players currently plying their trade in Ligue 1, including Nantes left-back Quentin Merlin, who’s recently been linked to Aston Villa in the press.
More Potential French Ligue 1 Villa Transfer Targets
‘Every player in Ligue 1 not employed by PSG is theoretically for sale’
Rennes – The French James Ward-Prowse/David Beckham Hybrid, Assist Machine
Villa tried in vain to lure James Ward-Prowse from the clutches of Southampton’s grasp last summer, so even more reason to sign a player of similar ilk – Rennes underrated-assist-machine Benjamin Bourigeaud is a professional defensive locksmith.
Unlike Ward-Prowse, he predominately operates along the flanks, but he is also comfortable operating more central as he has done in his recent past.
This season was one to remember for this underrated French star who gave many a Ligue 1 defence a right good shellacking.
Bourigeaud, conjured 11 goals and 13 assists in Ligue 1 this season, ranking him 5th in the division alongside some illustrious names in the Goals and Assists table.
Amid a career-best season, the 28-year-old’s form was such that Rennes fans, with a sense of humour, added Bourigeaud’s name to their ballot papers during France’s recent presidential election. He may not have topped Macron but he features near the top of every conceivable positive attacking statistical chart from the French top division.
In truth, the Frenchman has always possessed his enchanted powers to terrorise defences but when Bruno Génésio (the Ligue1 Manager of the year) arrived at Rennes and surrounded this sleeping- assist-monster with other players endowed with creativity and imagination, his true potential has been unleashed.
No one in France has been so deadly from crosses or set-pieces this term, he has launched a Blitzkrieg of pinpoint crosses this season on Ligue 1 oppositions, his arrow-like delivery is reminiscent of another Englishman who once graced Ligue 1, David Beckham.
The technique this stylish player has displayed, has simply made him un-droppable in a team that hosted an expensive recruitment drive last summer; he is simply Rennes most important player.
With just a year left on his contract he would represent an instant cure to Villa’s often lacklustre deliveries into the box.
Verdict: A gem with just a year left on his contract, this mercurial talent is primed for a big move and, although, uncapped for France (for now), don’t bet against him making it to the World Cup stage.
Rennes – A Centre Back of Solidity
Lowkey excellence is the personification of an exceptional centre back and this Moroccan 26-year-old is coming off the back of a fantastic season and ticking all the boxes of a defensive behemoth.
Left-footed and endowed with the ability to slot in at left-back he offers potential suitors an intriguing proposition.
There is emerging rumours and noise that the wily old David Moyes is eyeing the rising talent for a transfer this summer, so if Villa are to make a move, they will need to get their skates on.
The former Dijon starlet took no time to settle in Rennes when he arrived two years ago. He has grown in stature immensely since his five-million-euro transfer which now looks an absolute steal.
Aguerd could be readily equipped to attend to Villa’s needs. He is a defensive sentinel in a team that is full of attacking intent and regular abandon.
He is technically sound and comes with a level of physicality that often surprises his opposition. Villa’s defenders have made some well-published clangers this season and their distribution at times is full of panic.
This potential target could provide an answer to Villa’s quandary of defensive instability.
Verdict: Quite simple a steady set of hands that can offer cover for two defensive positions.
Nantes – French U-21’s International Left-Back
A magical season for this youngster who has just celebrated his 20th birthday, he broke into the Nantes side last November and has become indispensable under the excellent tutelage of Antoine Kombouaré.
There is a lot of positives around Nantes at the minute, their young manager is highly thought of and soon will be sought after, and the Canaries are basking in the afterglow of winning a domestic trophy last month.
Merlin was one of Nantes’ chief protagonists when they surprised a cash- rich OGC Nice side in the final of the Coupe De France, ending a trophyless drought
In what happened to be a cagey affair, a minute into the second half, Nantes were awarded a penalty as Merlin’s pass into the box struck the hand of Hicham Boudaoui, Blas stepped up to smash the ensuing penalty home.
Nantes will represent France in next season’s Europa League after only escaping relegation by a whisker last season.
His fine club form was rewarded in March when he was called up to the French U-21’s by Sylvain Ripoll, unfortunately his international arrival had to be postponed due to injury, but the young Canary has been called up again in recent weeks for the last three qualifying matches for Euro 2023.
Akin to our own Matty Cash, Merlin is a converted midfielder enabling him to be comfortable in the attacking third of the pitch.
Merlin Heat Map
Merlin announced his attacking prowess to Ligue 1 audiences, when he riffled home against PSG back in February, as Nantes romped home to a surprise 3-1 victory.
Every player in Ligue 1 not employed by PSG is theoretically for sale and while things on the pitch are rosy for Nantes off the pitch can be a chaotic world.
Club president Waldemar Kita has been subject to an investigation since 2017, focusing on “aggravated tax fraud” and “money laundering”. In 2019, Les Canaris’ training ground was raided by police, as was Kita’s home.
Verdict: The starlet linked to Villa in recent days by the Sunday Mirror would be a purchase of potential and could continue his rapid growth learning from fellow countryman Lucas Digne at B6. The attacking fullback would fit seamlessly into Villa’s current system under Gerrard.
OGC Nice – A French Attacking Prodigy
This French U-21 international arrived at Nice from Lyon back in 2020 for a paltry fee of just €7m. The former Lyon virtuoso had grown weary of applying his trade in the youth setups, as his senior opportunities were few and far between at Parc Olympique Lyonnais.
Amine Gouiri has long been hailed as the centrepiece of the exciting 2000-born-class; Olympique Lyonnais’ renowned youth academy is an acclaimed institution that permeates French football with many talents.
He was making the bench for league games at the tender age of 16, and even drew comparisons to a certain Karim Benzema before even making his competitive debut; the footballing world has known of him for a while now.
At one stage this season, Gouiri was contributing to goal involvements at the same rate as the illustrious Bourigeaud of Rennes, but when the new life of Spring arrived, Gouiri and his Nice teammates entered an untimely hibernation and their form fell off a cliff.
Nice were sitting in second place, dreaming of Champion’s League qualification after they defeated the hegemonic power of PSG 1-0 in March, but Les Aiglons did not win any of their next five games and heartbreakingly they also lost the Coupe De France final.
As the sun set on another Ligue 1 season, the side from the coast of the Mediterranean just about managed to salvage fifth place and a Europa Conference League berth, as they came from two goals down to win 3-2 at Stade de Reims.
When on-song he glides across the park causing havoc down the left-wing or playing in the hole behind the striker or even playing as a centre forward himself. Week-by-week his understanding grew with Nice hotshot Andy Delort, who is an excellent role model and tutor for the promising upstart.
Gouiri’s profile and minutes will only grow with the French squad as Deschamps would be a fool to ignore this 21-year-old footballing artist. In recent times, rumour pages are awash with claims Jurgen Klopp is a fan, but Liverpool or any other likely suitor may well find Gouiri a hard target to pin down.
Nice possess some serious financial backing and have been owned by petrochemical group Ineos, chaired by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe since August 2019.
Their project and ambition were deemed attractive enough to poach last season’s Ligue 1 Champion winning manager Christophe Galtier, who was once linked to Villa.
If this promising talent is given “Carte Blanche” to negotiate international defences playing for France, he will become a household name sooner rather than later.
Verdict: A gem who is heading straight for the top. Would offer flexibility and coverage for several attacking positions, he would probably demand a 30m/40m transfer outlay to secure.
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