The French Ligue 1 has long been prolific in providing talent to the rest of the continent. Ribéry at Bayern, Benzema at Real Madrid and Mathieu at Barcelona, Nasri at Manchester City and Koscielny at Arsenal all show the nation’s prevalence as an expats provider to the continent’s top leagues. However, Ligue 1 players today are likelier to remain in France and join Paris Saint-Germain before embarking on new ventures abroad, as the capital club can pay a premium to secure the top talent. That siad, there are some players that are simply too discontented to carry on in France and here are the top-10 want-aways.
Alexandre Lacazette (Olympique Lyonnais)
• André-Pierre Gignac (Olympique de Marseille)
• Paul-Georges Ntep (Rennes)
The 22-year-old forward turned left winger has been the season’s revelation in Ligue 1. Already renowned internationally for his commanding performances with France Under-19, he was instrumental in Stade Rennais’ great start to the season. The key man in a team that went on a nine- game unbeaten run from mid-October to the start of December, he has impressed with his dribbling skills and efficiency inside the box, punctuating solo actions with either a goal or an assist (six and four respectively this term). The Cameroon-born prospect has the technique to make it in any league across Europe and only needs the right mentorship to harness his incredible potential. He might become the next French wonderkid in line for a swoop to PSG as recent talks laid bare the capital city’s ambitions to add him to their ranks in the next months.
• Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco (AS Monaco)
Leaving Belgium aged 16 to join the AS Monaco youth academy, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco has developed into a dynamic attacking midfielder endowed with great technique and speed. Now aged 21 and despite a longstanding relationship with his boyhood club, there are increasing hints an exit might be looming. Last season he complained at being the second worst-paid player in the first team. This season he has earned the trust of Leonardo Jardim and gained back some confidence after the Portuguese manager dropped the midfield diamond system in which Claudio Ranieri thrived for the second half of 2013-14. With fewer defensive duties and a license to roam in and around the penalty box at will, he has been able to express the creativity that enticed several Serie A sides last summer. The current turmoil among the AS Monaco ownership means the possibility of a transfer should not be excluded although a Champions League qualification might retain him in the French Riviera for a few more months.
• Ezequiel Lavezzi (PSG)
What if Ezequiel Lavezzi left PSG ? Brought in for € 31 million just over two years ago, the winger’s stock has decreased on a regular basis with the French champions. Recent reports of Laurent Blanc’s frustration at his profligacy in the box confirm there is a strong chance Lavezzi will make way for a better player on the wing in the coming weeks. Despite a great goal at home against Chelsea in the Champions League quarterfinals last season, the former Napoli winger has failed to live up to his transfer price tag and the hefty wages he receives in the French capital (reported in the region of € 5 million annually). Having lost a yard of pace since leaving Italy, often inefficient in one-on-one situations, and unable to pick the right pass at the right moment, Lavezzi still has the odd moment of brilliance but the consistency required by Blanc has left him a long time ago. Reports of an interest for Paul-Georges Ntep only confirm PSG are considering their options in that side of the pitch.
• Layvin Kurzawa (AS Monaco)
The Polish-Guadeloupean left-back grabbed the headlines for getting a taste of his own medicine after mocking the Sweden Under-21 players in a decisive game. This testified to the lack of maturity of a player who, until recently, was better known for his extravagant hairstyles and elusive sleeping patterns than his performances on the pitch. The trust put in the 22-year-old AS Monaco youth product by former coach Claudio Ranieri reaped reward after reward last season when Kurzawa established himself as an explosive left-back bombing forward at will and delivering excellent passes across the pitch. His outings were noticed by France coach Didier Deschamps who gave him his senior debut on 9 November, shortly before he flied to England to allegedly hold talks with Manchester City last month.
• Nabil Fekir (Olympique Lyonnais)
The story of Nabil Fekir is another reminder that perseverance matters just as much as talent in football. Joining the Olympique Lyonnais youth academy in 2003 aged 12, he is deemed surplus to requirements two years later and leaves his city of birth to spend three years in Saint-Priest. In 2011 he plays a blinder against his old team and rejoins OL. Since then it has been a fairy tale for the French-Algerian whose pin-pointed deliveries, either from set-pieces or in open play, attracted plaudits from across the country. Just a season after turning professional he already has seven goals and two assists in the first half of this season and attracted scouts from across Europe in Lyon’s last home games. Although officially against his sale, Lyon executives are preparing his exit.
• Gianelli Imbula (Olympique de Marseille)
If OM under Marcelo Bielsa has been able to attack so much it is because Gianelli Imbula stands behind the attacking midfield, ready to pounce at any counter-attack attempt and always quick to turn the ball over to the other wing. A smooth operator at the heart of Marseille’s midfield, the former Guingamp prospect (named Ligue 2 Player of the Year in 2013) has improved tremendously and is a seminal part of OM’s excellent run this season. Statistics also back up his flamboyant playing style : he is the player who had the most successful dribbles in the league this season, despite playing in a risky area of the pitch where every ball lost might lead to a dangerous chance for opposition. The player’s physicality coming on top of his obvious ball-playing capabilities make him a likely target for Premier League sides in the coming months, although a move in January might come too early to his (and Bielsa’s) liking.
• Simon Kjaer (LOSC)
Shaky spells in Italy and Germany were major blows in what looked like a promising career start for Denmark international Simon Kjaer. Yet his transfer to Lille OSC last year was a successful gamble as the robust centre-back regained confidence playing alongside Marko Basa and in front of Vincent Enyeama to form France’s second most hermetic defence behind PSG last season. The side conceded a record 4 goals in the league’s opening 15 games in 2013-14 and the tall Dane increasingly showed the positional awareness he appeared to lack at Palermo and in Wolfsburg. Still only aged 25, it looks rather likely the former Roma defender will try his luck in Italy or Germany a second time, with Juventus recently showing interest.
• Max-Alain Gradel (ASSE)
Born in Abidjan, raised in the 18th district of Paris and brought in by Leicester City aged 18 to play in the Champiship, Max Gradel appeared destined for an international career. Fast forward a decade and the 27-year-old striker is still plying his trade in Francen enjoying his third season at AS Saint- Etienne. Named Fans’ Player of the Year at Leeds United in 2010-11, Gradel never really caught the attention of higher-profile sides in the Premier League and took a step back to perhaps jump further by moving back to France. His performances in Ligue 1 this season have been key to his side fighting for a Champions League spot as his devotion to the team collective has helped ASSE nullify better opposition. Always keen to track back, he is a very effective winger or second striker with the technical ability to find his way through in crowded areas.