Premier League cross-Channel raids continue on Ligue 1 talent
Once upon a time, it was Arsenal where French footballers queued up at the Channel Tunnel en masse to cross from mainland Europe and come into English football.
Newcastle United then took up the mantle as scout extraordinaire Graham Carr mined Lille for gems like Yohan Cabaye and Mathieu Debuchy, plus Toulouse (Moussa Sissoko), Bordeaux (Yoan Gouffran) and others to unearth talent.
Tabloid headline writers had a field day, getting to paraphrase a local cult folk song as ‘Frogs on the Tyne’. Now it’s 4/1 top 10 finish hopefuls Aston Villa and Swansea City making the Magpies move over in this regard, though, as the bulk of their summer signings to date come with a Ligue 1 seal of approval.
Ayew brothers Andre and Jordan, who are Ghana internationals, are the headline makers incoming to the Liberty Stadium and Villa Park respectively, giving this summer’s French connection a colonial African flavour. Relive their exploits in the Africa Cup of Nations final earlier this year:
Both of Abedi Pele’s sons have difficult acts to emulate in attack. Andre must follow in the footsteps of fine forwards Michu and Wilfried Bony, who played at a level previously perceived to be above themselves for Swans supporters.
Discovering a plethora of wide options available to Garry Monk is unlikely to deter the elder Ayew sibling. Previously employed by European mainstays Marseille, competition is something both brothers had to live with.
Jordan left the Velodrome for Lorient 12 months ago, and has again moved on with the brief of trying to fill Christian Benteke’s sizable shoes at Villa.
Rudy Gestede is the like-for-like replacement for the big Belgian frontman, sold to Liverpool for his release clause of £32.5m, but the younger Ayew may be that missing link between midfield and attack partnering the Benin international bought from Blackburn Rovers up top.
Tim Sherwood has also turned to Lille and Nantes to provide him with options to stem the tide of exits among a decimated engine room. Tom Cleverley chose a free transfer to Everton over permanently switching to the West Midlands, while Villans captain Fabian Delph made a controversial U-turn over interest from Manchester City.
Added to Jordan Ayew, Senegal anchorman Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Veretout is Nice left back Jordan Amavi, bringing total Villa spending on French-based footballers to almost £35m this summer.
The latter’s St-Etienne counterpart Franck Tabanou was taken to Swansea (check out their Premier League profile for this season), again in the spirit of creating competition, for a more modest £3.5m. Andre Ayew and Tabanou join last summer’s striker signing Bafetimbi Gomis, so those former two will be trying to feed the target man with service.
Considering the decidedly more modest budgets at Villa and the Swans, defining what will make these French-speaking additions to their respective rosters successful falls far short of emulating Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira in their ‘Invincibles’ pomp at Arsenal.
Having pundits and punters alike say they are subsequently surprised by how well Amavi, the Ayew brothers, Gueye, Tabanou and Veretout have taken to the Premier League would be a clear marker that they have done well.
With regard to full back duo Amavi and Tabanou, establishing themselves as first-choices down the left-hand side of defence is their first priority.
Swansea, 6/4 shots to once again finish in the top 10 with Coral, have seemed reluctant to make Neil Taylor a regular after he sustained a badly broken leg in their maiden Premier League campaign.
Amavi, meanwhile, could also have an easy time getting ahead of a procession of average alternatives in defence on Villa’s books. Tim Sherwood’s midfield and striking additions are set to be thrust into the spotlight straight away more through necessity than invention, although they were brought to the West Midlands with this clearly in mind.
Poaching French footballers remains en vogue for Premier League clubs looking to build on and better what they previous achieved. The debuts of the super six brought in from Ligue 1 by the Swans and Villa should be watched with great interest.