It's been 18 months since exciting Bordeaux manager Laurent Blanc replaced the incompetent, star sign obsessed Raymond Domenech as France coach, but as Les Bleus head to towards their next major European tournament, Blanc 's revolution is showing patchy results.
His latest attempts to get France firing saw a edgy 1-0 win over the USA, while a 0-0 draw with Belgium resulted in his players being booed off theStade de France pitch. The problem is goals, with Karim Benzema , Loic Remy, Kevin Gamiero and debutant Olivier Giroud all failing to find cohesion. But in forward thinking Blanc 's hunt for fresh talent, he must do battle with another nation, to secure the services of a young striker many believe could lead the French line for years to come.
He's 16-year-old M'Baye Niang , currently contracted to Ligue One outfit Caen , but subject of an intense battle between the country of his birth, France, and that of his parents, Senegal. The winner will lay claim to one of the most exciting prospects in Europe at present, after a whirlwind rise to the top.
Niang was born in the tiny French town of Meulan , a little of an hour away from Paris. By the age of 13, word has spread to respected Caenscouts David Lasry and Laurent Blaize of a player with an amazing mix of physical and technical qualities, plying his trade for amateur side ASPoissy . They had to check out the tip off for themselves, and after a short trial, signed the prospect to their youth ranks.
After two seasons of rapid development, Niang was promoted to Caen 's reserve team in the fourth tier of French football - a notable achievement for a then 15-year-old. A solid tally of five goals in 16 games followed, and brought a call up to the national team, where he scored three times in six games for the Under-16's. Behind the scenes, the coaching staff were in agreement that they'd never seen a player with as much potential, and immediately promoted him to the first-team.
He would get a taste of the top flight with a brief substitute role against Toulouse in April, becoming Caen 's youngest ever player, before finding the net on his second ever start, and claiming the title of the second youngest player ever to score in Ligue One, and the first since 1978.
Niang would go on to play a key role in helping Caen avoid relegation, even scoring against Marseille on the final game of last season to ensure their survival. He finished the campaign with three strikes in seven matches, to all but cemented his involvement in the side on a regular basis. But with the 16-year-old earning so much attention, Premier League clubs are coming calling thick and fast.
It's not hard to see why. Niang may be 16, but he's already physically advanced and battle hardened. At a touch over six feet tall and with excellent upper body strength, there's more growing and developing to come, yet he won't be bullied by experienced centre halves.
Yet pigeon hole Niang as a target man at your peril - he's a lot more than yet. Yes, he's tall and strong with an athletic physique, but his favoured position is not as a classic striker, but more a creative centre forward. Much like his idol Thierry Henry, Niang prefers to start his runs on either flank, especially the left, before drifting inside and using his pace and power to maximum effect.
Niang is mature in his decision making, often making dangerous runs in behind defenders while also possessing illusive movement. He's a real handful, and although makes a decent wide-man or attacking midfielder, once he gains experience, is likely to be a more natural striker, playing further and further up the pitch.
In the next few seasons, he must look to improve his concentration, work with his back to goal and finishing under pressure, but there's lots to work with, and Niang can easily be moulded into a striker who can suit all different situations. Whether that's using his pace and strength to play on the shoulder, or his technical game with a role just off another front man, he's adaptable, and it will be interesting to see how he's used when he finally seals a switch away from Normandy.
Overall, Niang is a very exciting talent. He boasts all the physical qualities required, being tall, fast, strong and powerful, but add to that intelligence, good movement, versatility an eye for a pass and good link up play, and France had better hope they can fend off Senegal in the race to secure his services.Reuse content