M’Baye Niang: Why Arsenal Should Be Taking Another Look
M’Baye Niang was born in the western suburbs of Paris where he grew up until he joined the nearby professional football club based in Caen, Normandy. There, he began his flash rise to football glory playing every season with team mates older than him by at least a couple of years…
The 2010-2011 season wouldn’t differ, as he started it within the U17 team (even if he was still 15 at the time), but was quickly moved up to the U19 squad and then to the reserves group of the SM Caen. His performances couldn’t go unnoticed by the flagship team coach, and this is the reason why a professional contract was offered to him, shortly after he turned 16.
This phenomenal rise could have taken a halt here if it had happened anywhere else in France. But here at Caen, there was a coach who loved taking risks (and telling journalists to bugger off regularly, but that’s another story). Franck Dumas did not hesitate long when his club performances where on a steep descending curve and when his most experienced forward got hit by an injury. He simply picked his reserve team goal scorer to replace him and tried to shake up his squad by adding a starving kid to the group.
M’Baye enjoyed his first appearance in Ligue 1 on the 24th April 2011. A week later, he was awarded with a starting position and greeted his coach on his second start with his first professional goal. A season he started with the U17 ended with seven appearances and three goals in the national top division.
In parallel, his international career had a lot of difficulties to take off. Indeed, even if regularly picked in the France U17 side, he missed on this category’s world cup because of a rant with the national coach. Later on the Senegalese Olympic management contacted him in order to represent his parents’ country. An obscure administrative story forced him to give this call a miss. Two month later he was dully picked for the Olympic French squad and thus sealed his international destiny.
The following season would be much more complicated for the young star. He clearly struggled to cope with his rising stardom. Numerous solicitations and a bit of teenage arrogance saw him getting back in the ranks with disappointing performances and a statistical record looking way too much like a clean sheet. Halfway through the season, he seemingly realised his mistakes, conceding that he "slowed down the work. […] People were expecting a lot of me and so far I did not provide the right answers. The coach is unhappy and I don’t deserve to play." He then confessed he had to improve drastically his attitude in and out the pitch.
He thought that would be easy, but he was wrong. A year after his professional debut, the boy noticed at first sight for his speed and agility, was not so impressing anymore. He couldn’t help his club avoid the relegation to the Ligue 2. The scenario for a shooting star fading before anybody sees it at its full power was unrolled to him.
Luckily for him, his relegated club is now in dire need of liquidities, and the sell of their most valuable asset and most promising player could alone secure their budget for the upcoming year.
Arsene Wenger, with his undeniable knowledge of French football saw the opportunity first and shipped him over the channel for a trial. The Arsenal board took their time to organize the paperwork and they were taken over by the fast thinkers of AC Milan. Thankfully for Wenger, it appears the match between Niang and Milan was not one made in heaven.
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