“Once you see the green light, then you can go.” This was either sound roadworthy advice on Instagram from Olivier Ntcham earlier in the week, or an indication, see what I did there, that he was sold on making a move north which means that he pulled on the green and white hoops against Lyon today for the first time in a match. A four year deal and a fee of £4.5m plus add-ons looks like being the salient details. If you believe the respected French journalist, Nabil Djellit, the total cost for the player could hit £7m. As is always the case these days under Rodgers though, the only people who know the facts, are the people at the club involved in putting the deal together.
The player has spoken about how Moussa Dembélé played a part in his decision to be in Glasgow for the next few seasons. As an aside, the aforementioned journo, ran a poll on Twitter for Marseille fans about which striker they’d like to sign for the forthcoming campaign, which is topical at the moment given their reported interest in our player. Needless to say, he came out as the most preferred option, polling 37% of votes, with AC Milan striker Carlos Bacca and our new signing’s, first name sharing Olivier Giroud polling 27% each. Spare a thought for Wilfried Bony who finished bottom with a paltry 9% of the votes, although I’m sure he’s far from heartbroken. You’d have to think though that it would be bad form to convince your mate to join you at the Invincibles and then leave to go to a side that finished fifth in Ligue 1 last season.
The man sporting the 21 jersey at Celtic is one of several players to have come through the famed and well respected Le Havre youth academy. The promising ones will go onto play first team football, therefore putting themselves in the shop window for clubs everywhere to have a look at.
Jean-Alain Boumsong, recipient of an EBT of £630k from Rangers (IL) is one such player. Nice amount for a six month stay in Glasgow, as well as his actual wages, before heading south to join Newcastle. Spells at Juventus, today’s opponents Lyon and Panathinaikos would follow. Another graduate who would go onto turn out for Lyon was Vikash Dhorasoo. Renowned as one of the finest players Ligue 1 has seen, he certainly caused Celtic problems in the UCL campaign in season 2003/04.
Le Havre trousered over £3m from Marseille for their left back, Benjamin Mendy in 2013. Last year, he moved onto Monaco for over £11m, just as well they had a sell on clause inserted in the deal. Little over a year later and he’s now being talked about as the best left back in the world and is on the brink of a move to Manchester City for a fee anywhere in the region of £40m.
Former Celtic target, Lassana Diarra broke into the French side’s first team during the 2003/04 season. After being rejected by many academies, Le Havre gave him a chance and would be well rewarded. Playing regularly in his best position, Diarra stood out like a sore thumb and and landed his big move to Mourinho’s Chelsea. He’s done the rounds since then but always for decent money, showing that he was clearly given a good grounding during his time in France.
Chuck in the likes of Florent Sinama Pongolle, Souleymane Diawara, Carlos Kameni, the Cameroonian who’s widely considered the finest African goalkeeper of all time, striker Guillaume Hoarau who’s since played for PSG and Mamadou Niang, who can count an appearance in a Club World Cup final on his CV. Right winger and ex AC Milan player, Ibrahim Ba who was once said to be one of the most mercurial youngsters in world football cut his teeth with Le Havre as did Dimitri Payet, Steve Mandanda and some guy who goes by the name of Paul Pogba. It’s clear to see that the Frenchmen know what they’re doing at youth level and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by some of the biggest clubs who play this game that we love. Finally, it’s a common misconception that Riyad Mahrez also came through the academy. He didn’t but it was during his three and a half years there that he came to the attention of the EPL and Leicester won that race for the paltry amount of just over £400k. With a big money move looking likely for him in this window, it’s likely that the cash generated from the sell on clause will fund the Le Havre academy for many more years to come.
So Olivier is in good company. What about the new Celtic number 21 though and how did he find his way to Celtic via Le Havre and Manchester City? He chose to leave France for City in the summer of 2012. He had options at the time to go elsewhere, including Juventus and could also have moved when he was younger, but he decided that Manchester was the place for him. City were more than happy to fork out £730k for him and he crossed the Channel intent on forging a career for himself there. Pretty bold move for a 16 year old to make but the midfielder doesn’t seem short on self belief. He’s already on record as saying that he’s comfortable to be the club’s most expensive signing since our captain a decade ago. He left the French side’s under 19 squad to join the under 18 set up, part of the Elite Development Squad (EDS). He quickly became an important part of Patrick Vieira’s squad and took part in every match of City’s UEFA Youth league campaign in 2014/15. The tournament involves each side involved in that season’s UCL group stages and he contributed to City winning all of their group games against Roma, Bayern Munich and CSKA Moscow, even chipping in with a goal against the Italians. Roma would have their revenge in the quarter final but Ntcham did himself no harm at all with his performances. He played every single minute of their International Premier League Cup campaign in the same season, scoring in each of the three group stage matches against Benfica, Schalke and Leicester. He’s got previous Celtic experience as he knocked us out in the quarter final stages that year, against a young Celtic team that finished top of our group. Fans might remember the tournament for being the one that Griffiths drove down to Sunderland so he could get some game time. City beat Leicester in the semis before lifting the cup against Porto in the final. It’s no revenge for 2003 but I’ll take it!
A couple of months later, City were keen to accelerate his development, whilst rewarding him for how he was progressing and so arranged a two year loan deal with Genoa in Serie A. That said, not before he was offered and signed a new five year deal first!
When he arrived in Italy, the then manager, Gian Piero Gasperini liked to play a 3-4-3 formation, something that Conte obviously used well last season for Chelsea. It’s said to be regarded as a formula that helps create fluid interplay between teammates all over the pitch, so he should fit in well with how Celtic like to play. The current Genoa gaffer, Andrea Mandorlini, has been fulsome in his praise for the youngster complimenting him on his talent, work-rate and potential, saying that “it’s clear he will be a star.” The president of Genoa went even further, proclaiming that,“I’ve been in the world of football for 26 years and I’ve never seen a similar player at his age. He has unlimited potential, and is really a fantastic talent.” No pressure then!
It’s clear that Rodgers sees him playing more in the number 10 type role but he played in a few different positions with the Italians. He was mainly deployed in a false nine role within Genoa’s front three, although he’s seen game time on the left wing. He’s played the advanced role but has also been asked to sit deeper when needed, something that could be vital away in Europe if Celtic make it to the group stages.
Given his background and where he’s played, it’s almost inevitable that comparisons have been made with other players. Pogba would seem the most obvious, although Yaya has been mentioned also. Clearly City don’t see him as a Toure replacement but the Manchester United man is someone that he’s played against before. “I played against Juventus three or four times and enjoyed playing against Pogba when he was at Juve. We had good battles in midfield. I like the way he plays and he’s someone I try to use in my style on the pitch.”
He was the French under 16 captain and has played at every other level including a couple of caps for the U21 side. Along with countryman Dembélé, he was nominated for UEFA’s Golden Boy award last year, which is made up of the top 40 U21 players in Europe.
It’s an often said quote about games being played on grass, not on paper, but all the comments so far from those who know him have been extremely positive. It’s early days but the signs look very promising.