Two years ago, Benjamin Corgnet was playing amateur football. Yet his rise has been so rapid and so impressive observers in France are wondering when it is going to stop. The Dijon playmaker took his first steps in Ligue 1 this season at the age of 24 and has performed so exceptionally he is attracting interest from Arsenal and Newcastle, as well as several French teams.
It is no longer unusual for top players to emerge late on the scene in France. Franck Ribery, Mathieu Valbuena, Laurent Koscielny, Didier Drogba and most recently Olivier Giroud are examples of late developers who have gone on to enjoy international careers.
But Corgnet’s case is even more extreme. He received no formal training – his parents turned down an offer for him to join Lyon when he was ten – and had long given up on the dream of playing professionally by the time he enrolled in medical school aged 18.
For fun, he began playing for his local team, Union Sportive Millery-Vourle, yet he was so good the club sealed back-to-back promotions to reach France’s sixth tier. A move to a stronger amateur outfit Chasseley MDA followed before Corgnet got his break when Patrice Carteron brought him to Dijon – then perennial Ligue 2 strugglers – in 2010.
Although right-footed, he is capable of playing killer passes and finishing well with either foot
Corgnet’s dynamic midfield displays helped Dijon finish third and earn their first-ever promotion to France’s top tier. He was named in the Ligue 2 team of the season and attracted a €1.5m bid from Nice. “People laughed when I said we wouldn’t sell for less than €6m,” Carteron said. “They’re not laughing any more.”
Corgnet’s price tag has doubled in the last six months. He is Dijon’s top scorer with eight league goals – including strikes against Lyon, Montpellier, Marseille and Bordeaux – and is now seen as one of Ligue 1’s most gifted midfielders.
Carteron plays his star man as the central attacking player behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1. His great strength is his ability to run with the ball at pace, breaking through tackles courtesy of his balance and ability to accelerate rapidly from a standing start. Although right-footed, he is capable of playing killer passes and finishing well with either foot.
As Laurent Blanc did not pick him for the recent friendly against Germany, it seems unlikely Corgnet will make the France squad this summer. But if he continues to progress at his current rate it will not be long before he dons the blue shirt. “If he played for a different club, he’d be in the France team already,” Carteron claimed. It seems pretty certain he will be playing for another team come next season.
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