Germainal

Given the absurd levels of staff turnover, the very concept of player loyalty in modern football has frayed to breaking point. Moments of genuine affection between player, club and fans can still be seen, but the irony is that this is probably clearest when that player leaves the club in question. Such a moment occurred in early July, when Valère Germain moved on loan from Monaco to Nice.

Monaco fans’ unreserved adoration for their sometime captain needed little explanation. He was the promising youngster who, having joined the club at the age of 15, was left disconsolate on the pitch at the end of just his second appearance for the first team when it was confirmed that they would be getting relegated. He was the player who stuck around and kept scoring goals in his first full season as a professional despite Monaco teetering to the brink of non-existence.

He was the player who, after Dimitry Rybolovlev’s buyout and despite an influx of new arrivals, was utterly instrumental to Monaco’s 2012-13 Ligue 2 triumph. He was the player who, during a crucial spell after the Christmas break that season, was central to almost every goal Monaco scored. He was the player who, by the season’s end, had accounted for over a third of Monaco’s points with his goals and assists.

Upon promotion Monaco went out and acquired a new strike force. Only once in the two years since was Germain given an extended run in the first team – after Falcao’s season-ending injury back in January 2014. In the nine consecutive matches he started thereafter, Germain scored four, notched two assists and generally played like someone at ease at this level. He may have been starved of minutes during the second half of last season, but the fact that several clubs in France as well as others from Spain, Italy, England and Belgium showed an interest over the summer suggests that his qualities are not in doubt.

Jorge Valdano once said of Raúl that while he might not be a 10/10 in anything, he was a 9/10 in absolutely everything. Although Valère Germain may not be in the same class, he fits the same profile, boasting no significant weaknesses. His technique won’t draw gasps from the crowd, but neither does it let him down, and while his shots lack power, they find the corners with remarkable regularity. He is most effective at centre forward, but he will play capably in any attacking role and at his best he is a remarkable fusion of playmaker and goal poacher.

Amongst other attributes, and despite not being noticeably tall or strong, Germain is very good in the air – mostly because he’s good with his head in another sense: this is a very smart footballer, all intelligent movement and quick anticipation. He’s not the quickest, but he knows when and where to run, both to open up spaces for others and to create chances for himself. It’s easier to plant headers into the top corner when your movement has separated you from whoever was supposed to be getting in your way.

Above all else Germain is a brilliant team player, always seeking the open man, always willing to run himself down, and always content to play whatever role the coach demands of him to the best of his ability without fuss. In this light, his close connection to Monaco’s fans makes more sense. Just as his loyalty to ASM was a throwback to an age when more footballers felt a sense of belonging at any given club, so his lack of pretence is a throwback to a time when fewer footballers had monstrous egos.

As good and as smart as the player may be though, he is just one part of this equation. In a loan deal, like with any transaction, consideration must be paid to where he’s going. Germain was adored by Monaco’s fans but at Nice he’s effectively replacing Alexey Bosetti, the Nice ultras’ on-pitch representative. He might be living and working in the same region, but there is still a change in environment to deal with.

The loan does not have a purchase option, which might suggest that Monaco’s long term plans still have a place in them for Valère Germain. However it is more likely that, for Rybolovlev and company, Nice is merely a shop window. A place where their asset is guaranteed to play games, likely to score goals, and has a chance of increasing in value beyond what Le Gym could ever afford.

Before we get to that stage, however, there is a season to play, and the early signs are promising: Germain told France Football last week that he feels valued in Nice and has settled quickly. Partly this is because some of his new teammates are players he met during his time as a French youth international, but he also expressed pleasure at finding a dressing room where, in contrast to Monaco, everyone speaks French. Events on the pitch seem to reflect this sense of contentment, with Germain scoring three goals in Nice’s first two warm up matches, and the winner in their gala friendly against Napoli last weekend. Nice on the whole have had a strong pre-season, mostly due to the burgeoning on-field relationship between Germain and his colleagues in Nice’s front 3, Alessane Pléa and fellow new recruit Hatem Ben Arfa.

The real test will come when the season starts. For both Nice and Valère Germain that first match promises to be a rather awkward encounter: August the 8th, Allianz Riviera, OGC Nice vs… AS Monaco.

Bobeto

Ligue 2 End of Season Stuff

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Valère Germain
He was not this season’s top scorer, nor was he the assist leader; Valère Germain was simply the best player in the best team. Germain’s consistency was impressive and his continuous improvement over the last two seasons has been startling. In the second half of the season, when Ibrahima Touré lost his shooting boots and went five months without a goal, Germain was often the one to be found opening the scoring or playing a significant role in helping a teammate do it instead. Monaco would not have finished top of the league without him – 27 of their 76 points, some 35%, were the direct result of his goals and assists – and it seems a shame that such a promising player, who at his current rate of progress could be playing for the national team in a few years, will not be permitted to lead Monaco’s attack in the top division.

COACH OF THE YEAR
Jocelyn Gourvennec
With a budget of just €10m (the tenth biggest in the league and a third of Monaco’s resources) Guingamp nonetheless played some scintillating football, especially at home where they lost just once all season, deservedly finishing as league runners-up. The small Breton club have some excellent players, but there is wide agreement among journalists and fellow coaches that the majority of the credit for this achievement should go to Jocelyn Gourvennec, who is developing a reputation as a coach of some repute. Appointed to the post upon Guingamp’s relegation to the National in 2010, Gourvennec took his side back up to Ligue 2 in his first season in charge of a professional club. After a year of consolidation, Gourvennec steered his side to promotion with an emphasis on attractive football, extracting consistently excellent performances from players who were fairly average elsewhere: Jonathan Martins-Pereira, Fatih Atik, Christophe Mandanne and Mustapha Yatabaré – all of whom are in their mid-to-late 20s – all enjoyed probably the best seasons of their respective careers. Should Guingamp keep hold of their players and above all their talented manager, they could provide some excellent entertainment in Ligue 1 next season.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Gianelli Imbula
But then you knew that already. Guingamp’s Gianelli Imbula is ridiculously composed, supremely talented and scarily powerful. There are players who are constantly available for a pass because their off-the-ball movement is so intelligent, and there are player like Imbula who are constantly available for a pass because their touch is so good and upper body so strong that being surrounded by opponents has no discernible impact on their play. Not that Imbula’s movement is bad, far from it. He also possesses a reliably positive passing game, a product of his upright stance and attacking mentality. As good for his age as a midfielder could ever want to be.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR WHO IS NOT GIANELLI IMBULA
Raphaël Guerreiro
2012-13 has been a good year for young talent in Ligue 2, from Monaco’s bright young attackers to Nantes’ promising midfielders, by way of Paul-Georges Ntep, Nicolas Benezet and Zacharie Boucher. I have picked, more or less at random, another player undergoing a similar positive development: Caen left-back Raphaël Guerreiro, a near ever-present (he started 37 out of 38 games) in the tightest defence in the league. He has added some additional defensive steel to his already impressive attacking game and, having decided to represent Portugal at international level, he was rewarded for his good form with his first u20 call up earlier this year. It surely will not be too long before his undefendable crosses start flying across the penalty areas of Ligue 1.

SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Filip Đorđević
Filip Đorđević has been in France for over five years now, and has always mixed glimpses of talent with long periods of, to put it kindly, unspectacular play. But in the early weeks of this season he exploded into life, and by November he already had more goals than in any other season of his career. His role changed slightly after the mid-season arrival of Fernando Aristeguieta, but he still popped up with vital goals, not least an excellently taken volley away at Caen in week 36 that effectively secured Nantes’ promotion to Ligue 1.

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE YEAR
Caen’s forward line.
No stand-out flops here, but Caen’s collective inability to put the ball in the back of the net cost them dearly, especially in the final run-in. Consecutive home draws in April against Lens and Dijon sides reduced to ten men were particularly painful examples of a wider problem. They didn’t manage to score more than twice in any game after Christmas (and managed the feat only four times all season). Last summer’s loss of Romain Hamouma and the failure to adequately replace his directness from wide positions was probably the difference between promotion and another season in the second tier.

KIT OF THE YEAR
This should go to Le Havre’s perennially pleasing Oxbridge combination, but their kit is ruined by being sponsored by SuperU. I would give it to Caen out of spite, but their stripes are too thin, so Chateauroux it is.

GOAL OF THE YEAR
Durak’s preposterous volley for Niort against Dijon in week 9

GAME OF THE YEAR
Angers 1-1 Caen, week 33
Ligue 2 is almost always a close-run thing, with plenty of matches that both teams are happy enough to not lose; only occasionally will you get games that both teams are obliged to win. With Monaco, Nantes and Guingamp playing well and picking up points, Angers and Caen went into their match in week 33 knowing that a draw would not be of much use to either. Cue a fantastic, end-to-end chance-fest that got better and better as the clock ran down and only finished 1-1 thanks to two excellent goalkeeping performances from Damien Perquis and Greg Malicki. The latter was my pick for goalkeeper of the year, playing probably the strongest season of his career at the age of 39.

TEAM OF THE YEAR (4-1-2-1-2)
Malicki; Jonathan Martins-Pereira, Raggi, Cichero, Guerreiro; Mendy; Imbula, El Jadeyaoui; Gragnic; Germain, Yatabaré.