FC Nantes commenced the new season with a woeful 0-0 draw away against 10-man Bordeaux last night.

Mehdi Zerkane was harshly sent off on his professional debut for the home club who had inexplicably installed their new manager only eleven days ago. Bordeaux hadn’t even been able to play under their new boss due to coronavirus and lack of recovery time, forcing the cancellation of two friendly matches. Still, in front of up to 5000 fans allowed inside the stadium, Les Canaris failed to exploit the home team’s lack of prep and a seventy minute man advantage. Whilst I understand the logic behind Zerkane’s dismissal, it highlighted a cynicism that every challenge must be sinister. Zerkane actually had the ball and if you lift your feet up to run then they must come down. Nicolas Pallois slid in and yes it could’ve been dangerous but it was accidental and unfortunate not intentionally dirty.

Nantes themselves had been struck by coronavirus and given that this match was brought forward due to the original curtain raiser been cancelled, it would be no surprise if Ligue 1 is severely disrupted or even temporarily halted.

Moses Simon was by far the brightest spark for Nantes but he can’t do it alone. As usual, you wonder where a serious volume of goals will come from. Quite honestly, a clean sheet and point away from home, even against 10 men, is a result Nantes should be grateful for. I’m really not sure what the ceiling limit is for Nantes this season. There are going to have to be some extremely poor sides in Ligue 1 otherwise the 2020-21 campaign could be fraught with danger.

This match, a derby encounter actually, was a horrible advert for an often maligned French top flight and an uninspiring way to kick off the campaign. In fact, from a TV viewing perspective, fake crowd noise would’ve been better than the sound of only 5000 spectators. Fingers crossed for better in the near future both for FC Nantes and French football in general.

Premier League 2020-21 Table Prediction

Hi followers

Below is my prediction for how the Premier League table will look at the end of next season:

  1. Manchester City
  2. Manchester United
  3. Liverpool
  4. Tottenham Hotspur
  5. Chelsea
  6. Leeds United
  7. Arsenal
  8. Southampton
  9. Wolverhampton Wanderers
  10. Leicester City
  11. Newcastle United
  12. Burnley
  13. Everton
  14. Aston Villa
  15. Brighton & Hove Albion
  16. West Bromwich Albion
  17. Fulham
  18. West Ham United
  19. Sheffield United
  20. Crystal Palace

I’ll see you in May 2021 to see how wildly off the mark I was!

Soul Sellers!

In England, fans and club directors crave and pay extortionate sums of money for the world’s premier football talent. Should a player move in the opposite direction and transfer to a historical big league (Namely a European one) then that seems to be okay. However, if a player moves to China or the USA for example, then phrases like “They’re selling their soul” get thrown about.

If it’s okay for teams in England to acquire the best players from around the globe and for all of us to boast that we’ve got the greatest league in the world, then why shouldn’t other countries be allowed to do the same? Don’t the people of China, USA, Japan, Australia and India etc deserve a great league of their own, one where local players combine with the world’s best? The aforementioned countries have at least tried and made progress. As for many nations in Africa or even South America, their top players have consistently abandoned their homeland to grace Europe and often the English Premier League.

Hypocrisy, jealousy and arrogance are just some of the words that can be applied to the attitude of many who turn their nose up at players venturing to less heralded footballing nations. Some of the attitude seems to stem from the fact that fans in nations such as China could be considered ‘new’ fans and that unlike in England because their grandfather didn’t grace the terraces every week fifty years ago, the league… doesn’t count!

Of course the Premier League is the most watched league in the world which is in part why the league’s big wigs won’t want other leagues raising their quality and profile. Sure, top players moving to China in particular are spectacularly well remunerated (Even with recent salary changes) but if they inspire Chinese youngsters to take up the game and their native teammates to up theirs then isn’t that a good thing? I’m a huge cricket fan but it’s shamelessly a far from global game, only recently hinting at catching up.

Football sells itself as the global game. Experienced professionals sharing their skills and knowledge in non-historical footballing hotbeds can surely only help football live up to its self-proclamation!

Susan Gardiner: The Wanderer – The Story of Frank Soo Book Review

The story of Frank Soo needed to be told and credit to Susan Gardiner for doing so.

Gardiner clearly researched her subject exhaustively and provides great thoroughness regarding Soo’s career. We’re provided with extreme detail regarding goings on behind the scenes, specifically in relation to transfer dealings as well as plenty of newspaper articles. I felt that we didn’t quite get to know Soo as a person as much as I would’ve liked but that in itself is part of the story. I found his later years, when it was seemingly harder to know about his existence, particularly touching.

Should Soo’s international appearances count as full caps? Without doing further investigation but based on the information that Gardiner provided, retrospectively, they probably shouldn’t. Football’s hierarchy could possibly have avoided some of the compromises at the time and allowed them to be.

The Story of Frank Soo definitely merits a film and spreading the word of his achievements could serve as inspiration to young footballers (Or potential footballers) of Chinese origins. In fact, it could serve as inspiration regardless of ethnicity.

Gardiner seems a little harsh on Stanley Matthews in my opinion. I don’t necessarily agree that he should’ve been expected to present Soo in great detail in any of his autobiographies. The book is also littered with typos almost exclusively found in the second half of the book. This has always been a bug bear of mine since my early days as a reader and a couple of horror shows in the first few books that I read. Surely enough proof reading could’ve been done to avoid this?! (If ever there was an invite to pick out my own errors!).

Still, The Story of Frank Soo is required reading and merits attention in English football today. Gardiner’s performance earns her a 7/10 rating.

One to Watch: #10) Runar Runarsson

Just the mention of an Icelandic player is enough to send shivers down the spine of England fans. To their relief however, it’s more likely to be French football fans witnessing Dijon goalkeeper Runar Runarsson in action.

The 5-cap Icelander finished the curtailed campaign between the sticks in Ligue 1 but faces serious competition from Senegalese shot stopper Alfred Gomis for the number one jersey… actually Rúnarsson wears the number one jersey but you know what I mean!

The 25-year-old was developed in the Icelandic capital at KR Reykjavik before going onto make 60 league outings for Denmark’s FC Nordsjaelland. Runarsson has plenty of youth caps and will hope to assume the Icelandic goalkeeping responsibilities from the experienced but ageing Hannes Halldorsson. He’ll likely need to be first choice at club level to earn that right though. Runarsson, who went to the 2018 World Cup, will aim to follow in the footsteps of his father who is Our Boys‘ (That’s their nickname!) most capped player with 104 international appearances… just 99 to go!

Runarsson mustard worked extremely hard to get this far in his career. Hopefully he can mustard the courage to become Dijon and Iceland’s number one goalkeeper!

Career Watch: #3) Luca Gagliano

Luca Gagliano made his first professional start last night as Cagliari hosted newly crowned Serie A champions Juventus at Sardegna Arena. With only eight minutes on the clock the youngster had notched his first career goal, instinctively poking the ball past Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon. By half-time Gagliano had provided the assist for Giovanni Simeone to double the hosts’ lead and seal a positive impression to those watching. Coach Walter Zenga replaced Gagliano at half-time but goalkeeper Alessio Cragno was in determined form for Cagliari as they held on for an excellent 2-0 victory.

There’s only one more league game for Gagliano to feature in this season but hopefully last night’s display is a sign of what’s to come…

One to Watch: #9) Helder Costa

Newly promoted Leeds United have signed Portuguese midfielder Helder Costa on a permanent deal from Wolverhampton Wanderers following an encouraging loan spell.

£14m is no small sum but aged 26, Costa, who has been capped at various youth levels for Portugal (61 caps!) and scored on his only outing for the full national side, has started to suggest that he could produce the goods at the top level. Costa contributed 4 goals and as many assists in 43 appearances (10 as sub) in The Whites‘ successful Championship campaign, featuring and contributing more regularly as the season progressed.

It all equates to some really encouraging signs as to what Costa, normally employed as a right-winger, can provide in the Premier League. As well as aiming to keep Leeds in the top flight, the Angola born attacker will have one eye on gatecrashing the Portugal squad for Euro 2020… in 2021!

Leeds United have enough about them to suggest that they can perform closer to how promoted Sheffield United did this season rather than how Norwich City performed… or at least somewhere in between, Helder Costa should be pivotal to that.

Disclaimer: My default image for my One to Watch articles, a Manchester United subbuteo figure, didn’t sit very well with a post about a Leeds United player! Having said that, maybe it looks odd when I use it for Atletico Madrid or Sampdoria players, never mind. Anyway, that’s why I went with an image of Leeds United players, though there’s two of them not one… errr, never mind. What happened to the guy on the right’s head… I have no idea!

Ligue 1 is Back… well, almost!

Ligue 1 will soon be back so you can get your French football fix! You know all about Neymar and Mbappe etc but Left Back Footy presents some lesser known players to look out for…

Walter Benitez – Nice

27-year-old Argentinian shot stopper Benitez kept an astonishing 16 clean sheets in 35 appearances last season. It wasn’t enough to earn him full international recognition and he hasn’t been able to maintain such high standards this term (4 clean sheets) but has still helped Nice qualify for the Europa League. If the call from Argentina doesn’t come, he’s stated that he’d be willing to represent France when he becomes eligible in 2021.

Adrien Hunou – Rennes

26-year-old Hunou performed well for France at youth level and is finally delivering consistently for Rennes. After a couple of decent campaigns on loan at Clermont Foot, Hunou bagged 8 goals in 2019-20 to help take Rennes into next season’s Champions League.

Otavio Santos – Bordeaux

26-year-old Santos is the still very much in fashion middle man at Bordeaux, stringing it all together in the centre of the park. Don’t expect goals or even assists but having clocked nearly 100 league games in his homeland he’s now settled in France. He might not be the headline maker but he makes Bordeaux tick!

Vincent Thill – Metz

There aren’t many Luxembourg internationals out there but 20-year-old Thill is one of them. His brothers are two others. Much was expected of the 29-cap midfielder with Europe’s biggest clubs interested but Thill finds himself back Metz following a couple of loan spells. With money tight for all clubs and recruitment opportunities limited, the 2020-21 campaign could be Thill’s time to come to prominence.

Abdoulaye Toure – Nantes

I couldn’t get through this article without discussing a Nantes player. Having lost other homegrown players such as Leo Dubois and Valentin Rongier in recent seasons, Les Canaris need 26-year-old captain Abdoulaye Toure to step up. He’s literally done that by assuming penalty duties but with a constantly changing squad all around him, Toure is the stability… as long as those links to West Ham don’t become reality!

Honourable mentions: I’ve already written about Strasbourg’s Adrien Thomasson in a One to Watch article as well as new Nantes signing Pedro Chirivella in a separate post. They’re both worth watching but I wanted to detail some fresh faces in this article.

Career Watch: #2) Luca Gagliano

Left Back Footy’s Career Watch prodigy Luca Gagliano debuted for Cagliari yesterday in a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Lazio. Six minutes on the pitch in Rome was enough to make some kind person put in the effort to create a Wikipedia page for the young frontman…

The Alghero born forward turned 20 just over a week ago so a first team debut will have been a nice little (If slightly belated) birthday present. Cagliari coach and 58-cap former Italy shot stopper Walter Zenga knows a thing or two about strikers having spent his career facing them head on. The former Inter Milan man clearly sees talent in the prodigious Gagliano.

Left Back Footy will keep you up to date with any major milestones and moments in Gagliano’s career. Keep your eyes peeled!

What are FC Nantes’ Ambitions?

I’ve followed my wife’s hometown club for about a decade now and my frustration is growing. The club are perceived to be one of the better run establishments in France. They have a history of developing homegrown players but the likes of Leo Dubois and Valentin Rongier now seem set to be followed out the door by current club captain Abdoulaye Toure. If, having reached their mid-twenties, said players feel the need to leave Nantes in order to play in Europe or earn international recognition then what does that say about the club? Where will the likes of Imran Louza and Ludovic Blas (Admittedly signed from Guingamp) be in three to five years time? Recent history would suggest… not at Nantes!

Alongside the homegrown talent, perfectly respectable players such as Adrien Thomasson, Majeed Waris and Mariusz Stepinski have all come and gone. Players such as Prejuce Nakoulma shone briefly, only to depart the Stade de la Beaujoire having not resided there all that long.

I’d love to think that Nantes could push for Europe this season and the permanent addition of Moses Simon as well as Pedro Chirivella combined with the development of the aforementioned Louza and Blas fills me with optimism but equally the squad as a whole only looks… okay. To lose Toure, heavily linked with a move away, would be to lose another part of the fabric and soul of the club. Having that homegrown contingent provides FC Nantes with character. During my time observing, the club has displayed not just character but ability. Flames of quality have flickered only to burn out around December time however.

Historically Les Canaris are one of France’s most successful club but unless you set a low bar when defining success then the club are currently far from it. FC Nantes have turned over plenty of managers in recent seasons, most of whom have started well and brewed talk of qualifying for Europe, only for the team to tail off into mid-table obscurity as the season develops. Honestly, I don’t expect much more than a repeat in the upcoming season.

Having dropped down to Ligue 2 earlier this century, it may be that Nantes are simply content with being in France’s top tier. It seems a shame that a club so well equipped and proven at grooming quality players, should serve a purpose as nothing more than a mid-table feeder club living off its history!

Fingers crossed for a fruitful and uplifting 2020-21 campaign for Les Canaris!