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GFFN Weekly: Todibo comes full circle, Saliba's next move and John Carew versus an orange

GFFN Weekly: Todibo comes full circle, Saliba's next move and John Carew versus an orange
By Get French Football News • Issue #3 • View online
Welcome to Get French Football News’ new newsletter! GFFN Weekly is full of exclusive content from the English-speaking world’s leading French football experts.
For just £2 per month, memberships help to support GFFN while giving you a direct line to our team to get your questions answered on any topic discussed below and beyond. If there’s a problem position at your club, a transfer you want an update on or have a Ligue 1 question that needs answering, tweet @GFFN with the hashtag #GFFNWeekly or comment on this week’s Twitter post.
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William Saliba (21, CB, Marseille)
William Saliba (21, CB, Marseille)
What do you see as a reasonable move away from Lyon for Maxence Caqueret if his contract doesn’t get renewed? PK5, Twitter.
‘Reasonable’ leaves room for interpretation, but the right move for Caqueret at this stage of his career should come with the promise of considerable game time as a guaranteed starter. Leaving Lyon to stagnate on someone’s bench, even Liverpool’s or Manchester City’s, makes little sense given OL’s sizable stature and potential. OGC Nice are interested ahead of the summer but, despite INEOS’ resources and Christophe Galtier’s deft management, that’s still a sideways move. A free transfer to Nice when his deal expires in 2023 would make sense from Caqueret’s point of view, allowing both clubs’ trajectories to materialise. However, after a similar departure for Amine Gouiri in 2020, it’s unlikely OL would allow that. As a result, Caqueret could well be sold this summer if a deal can’t be found soon.
Caqueret’s ethereal yet waspish quality as an all-rounder deep in midfield makes nearly every top European club a possibility in theory, but few seemingly have the inclination to sign him right now. Comparisons to Marco Verratti make PSG possible but unlikely (and unwise for the player) as, for balance, Paris would likely be best to only start one of the two. Outside France, Arsenal are a neat fit as, unlike previous target and fellow OL midfielder Houssem Aouar, Caqueret has shown consistency, a combative edge and the willingness to impose himself on a midfield scrap Aouar often lacks. Aesthetic similarities to Andres Iniesta makes Barcelona an intriguing option but, given competition from Gavi, Pedri and Frenkie de Jong, it’s an unrealistic one. Especially considering that Sergio Busquests is still far from retired and, although Caqueret can play as the deepest midfielder, he’s not overtly a central pivot and is far better deployed with support and a license to push forward.
Despite bewitching Ligue 1 observers, in truth, the 22-year-old lacks the profile to jump straight into a team like Barcelona’s and a destination that falls somewhere in between Lyon and the top eight European clubs is more likely. This aid’s the Arsenal idea but also makes the likes of Atlético de Madrid, Sevilla, Dortmund, Tottenham and both Milan clubs more viable options. However, while Caqueret may lack much profile outside France, based on the evidence, Europe’s elite should be willing to take a risk. Given his ability, focus and trajectory, his ascendance to such a level, not to mention Didier Deschamps’ France squad, seems inevitable.
Members! Tweet your questions for our team to answer using #GFFNWeekly or comment on Issue 3’s Twitter post and we’ll feature them next week.
Jean-Clair Todibo (22, CB, OGC Nice) to Chelsea
At just 22, it might seem odd to suggest that Jean-Clair Tobido could soon come full circle. But the rangy centre-back’s miserly 76 senior career outings have been eventful. Such was the explosion of talent during the Frenchman’s first ten games in top-flight football with Toulouse back in 2018, that Barcelona were convinced to sign the player. In that opening salvo, an 18-year-old Todibo exhibited graceful passing, a supreme ability to breeze past pressing forwards and a developing defensive acumen. His emergence was the most exciting of any Ligue 1 defender for a decade or more. Although his risk-taking, akin to an early John Stones, sometimes caused havoc, outright mistakes were rare.
Having sensed an opportunity with big clubs circling, Todibo was exiled from the TFC squad after he refused to sign a professional deal, meaning little to no compensation for the club that developed him. In January 2019, Todibo joined Barcelona and was handed Xavi Hernandez’s old number six shirt. There, however, his rise stopped. As he struggled to adapt to life in Spain while suffering through minimal game time, Todibo’s unerring on-field confidence seen at Toulouse quickly evaporated. When arriving at Nice two years later, Todibo had played just 17 more senior games, largely via loans with Schalke and Benfica.
Given the then 21-year-old lacked the experience of peers such as Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara, who’s been a regular since his late teens, Todibo’s resurgence with Nice is all the more arresting. Although fewer risks are taken, having often played his way into trouble in Spain, a more stripped-back and assured style of defending remains alongside his technical ability and finely-tuned passing. Aided by the streetwise experience of his partner, veteran Brazilian defender Dante, and Christophe Galtier’s astute coaching, Todibo has arguably been Ligue 1’s leading centre-back this season as part of a well-organized and rigorous unit. Such rapid development, however, underlines the level he could have reached by now had he been allowed to develop more naturally via another season at Toulouse, before moving onto a top-six side like Nice. However, Todibo is now ready for the move he needlessly rushed into at 18.
Although their murky ownership situation remains an issue, Chelsea are in need of defensive reinforcements with the future of all four leading centre-backs uncertain due to age and expiring contracts. Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel and Todibo are a perfect match. Well suited to Tuchel’s style, the Frenchman offers calmness, skill, a wide range of passing, physicality and efficient defending. Meanwhile, given that Todibo needs direct, nuanced, modern coaching, Tuchel’s ability to refine and develop his players would push the 22-year-old on, and quickly too given his ability and potential. Todibo isn’t the only Ligue 1 talent to leave France far too soon or badly stunt their development through poor decision-making, but his swift recovery is rare. Despite a lack of experience, Todibo’s talent is finally winning out. 
Chelsea’s Ligue 1 centre-back alternatives:
Sven Botman (22, CB, Lille) - The much-talked-about Dutchman is set to leave Lille this summer with Milan and Newcastle leading the way. However, despite being the only LOSC title winner besides Renato Sanches to continue his development this season, his potential falls short of Todibo’s as a less gifted and less versatile centre-back. A Todibo-Botman combination, possibly either side of Thiago Silva, is an exciting idea nonetheless.
Benoît Badiashile (21, CB, Monaco) - The young defender has long been linked with England - West Ham and Newcastle held talks in January - but his form has plateaued after impressing as a teenager following Thierry Henry’s disastrous spell at Monaco. Despite his physicality and broad skillset, a lack of obvious gumption and aggression in defending makes him a risky option for a Premier League club at this stage.
Nayef Aguerd (25, CB, Rennes) - Without the proactive Moroccan centre-back to marshal his young and often erratic defensive colleagues, Rennes’ current ambitions of Champions League football would’ve been scaled back a while ago. Having competed with Todibo for the title of Ligue 1’s best centre-back this season, Champions League football might be needed to keep him at the club beyond the summer.
Does your club have a problem position that needs filling? Members can tweet GFFN using #GFFNWeekly or comment on this week’s announcement tweet with their woes and we’ll provide solutions next week.
With a summer of intrigue edging nearer, this team of Ligue 1 players would be available for free with their contracts up in July. Ligue 1 may be the ‘League of Talents’ but it’s also a league of bargains and all of these impending free agents could provide cost-effective options for sides across the European spectrum. Who should your club sign?
GK, Benoît Costil (34, Bordeaux) - Despite some undulating form in recent years, the France international (one cap, many squads) has often been Bordeaux’s saviour across an erratic recent era for the 2009 champions. Average form, injury and a falling out with teammates and staff has seen him side-lined and the young Gaëtan Poussin preferred of late. Nevertheless, the veteran Ligue 1 stalwart still has much to offer beyond the summer.
Good fit: Angers, Lorient, Watford.
RB, Akim Zedadka (26, Clermont) - Despite competition from Marseille, Sevilla and Lazio, Lille are expected to sign the Algerian on a free this coming window. Luis Campos may have left some time ago but this is an astute move worthy of the famed sporting director. Consistent and intelligent at both ends, Zedadka is Ligue 1’s best-kept secret.
Good fit: Lille, Sevilla, Lyon, Marseille, Everton, Frankfurt.
CB, Boubacar Kamara (22, Marseille) - Atlético Madrid reportedly remain favourites to sign Kamara who refused Wolves and others last summer as well as a new short-term deal at OM, who were hoping to engineer a transfer fee at some stage. Despite being deployed in midfield for some time, a recent move to his preferred centre-back role has been a success and he’s now equally adept in both positions.
Good fit: Manchester United, Atlético Madrid, Dortmund, Arsenal.
CB, Jason Denayer (26, Lyon) - With Lyon and Denayer’s wildly differing ideas on how much the Belgian should be paid beyond the summer, a divorce is almost certain. Where exactly Denayer fits into the hierarchy of European defenders is far less sure. Season to season, Denayer’s performances have oscillated from ruthless and rugged but intelligent to indifferent, slow and indecisive. Having posted his best, and most consistent, campaign last season, injury and an apparent lack of interest have seen the latter version of Denayer return once more.
Good fit: West Ham, Crystal Palace, Aston Villa, AC Milan, Leverkusen.
LB, Ghislan Konan (29, Reims) - Although he’s yet to rediscover his peak David Guion-era form at Reims, the Ivory Coast international is one of Ligue 1’s most understated but reliable left-backs and is seeing significant interest from Fenerbahce ahead of the summer. 
Good fit: Lille, Bournemouth, Montpellier.
DM, Jonas Martin (32, Rennes) - The recent announcement that Martin’s contract wouldn’t be extended to make room for younger players came as a shock. Thanks to previous injuries and competition, this has comfortably been Martin’s best season since leaving Strasbourg. Although his age will deter many, he has a lot to offer Ligue 1.
Good fit: Strasbourg, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux.
CM, Xavi Simons (18, PSG) - Unusually for a club who’ve often cared little for their youth system of late, PSG have spent 2022 signing up academy graduates to longer-term deals. Xavi Simons is one reason why. With his deal soon up, the precociously talented and versatile midfielder is in danger of being the latest exciting young prospect to be poached by a rival. Although PSG are still desperately trying to convince the Dutchman to stay, his lack of game time has been a sticking point.
Good fit: Barcelona, Manchester City, Dortmund.
AM, Farid Boulaya (29, Metz) - The Algerian is wildly inconsistent but remains a match-winner, depending on his application and state of mind. Although fighting relegation hardly suits his skill set, he could yet prove a useful source of creativity for a variety of mid-range clubs. At 29, a genuine step-up is beyond him, however.
Good fit: Montpellier, Angers, Nantes, Galatasaray.
WF, Angel Di Maria (34, PSG) - After PSG’s season failed to coalesce and the arrival of Lionel Messi, the Argentine’s Paris career will unjustly end in mediocrity. He should, however, be remembered as the great unsung hero of the QSI era such was his ability to quietly dictate games and provide inspiration when his more heralded teammates couldn’t. This, nevertheless, has been his worst season in France and the time is right for everyone to move on. At 34, he may only have one more season left in Europe.
Good fit: Lazio, AC Milan, Barcelona, Villarreal.
WF, Kylian Mbappé (PSG) - Is joining Real Madrid really a good idea? Given the momentum gathering behind extending his stay in Paris (as was discussed here last week) that seems to be a question Mbappé is asking himself - along with much of France. Although Madrid muscled past PSG and Chelsea in the Champions League knock-out stages, both wins were fortunate, carried a sense of overachievement and relied heavily on Karim Benzema (34) and Luka Modric (36). Neither will be around for much longer and, given financial issues plus La Liga’s downturn of late, where’s the next great Madrid team coming from? Mbappé could be about to waste his prime productive years on a decaying institution thanks to his own personal mirage.
Good fit: Liverpool, …PSG?
ST, Burak Yilmaz (36, Lille) - Having been crucial to Lille’s shock title win last season, the Turkish striker hasn’t been able to generate the same fierce intensity and consistent quality since. Under new coach Jocelyn Gourvennec, he’s no longer even sure to start after just four league goals this campaign. Retirement seems near but Yilmaz is planning at least one more season as a pro with Turkish and American clubs interested.
Good fit: Inter Miami, Fenerbahce, Trabzonspor.
William Saliba (21, CB Marseille) and Arsenal
William Saliba’s return to Ligue 1 has become a case study in how crucial the right environment is to a young player’s development. Applying talent is just as important as having it. A risk-taking, technical, ball-playing centre-back, the 21-year-old Frenchman is the type of player that, at this stage of his career, is certain to make mistakes. Indeed, he needs to be allowed to do so. After languishing at Arsenal for six months after a £30m move in 2020 following a season of injuries with Saint-Etienne, the Saliba that arrived at Nice in January 2021 was effectively the same player that broke through with Les Verts in the 2018/19 campaign.
Despite steady improvement under Jorge Sampaoli at OM this season, Saliba remains a defender with two personas. The first and increasingly dominant version is unerringly calm, serene and assured. He glides across the backline to extinguish danger with an air of authority while his passing is snappy, graceful and helpfully progressive. The other Saliba is easily unsettled, indecisive and slow to react when the opposition amps up their intensity or press. He’s static in his positioning and looks over-awed. Meanwhile, lacking the ability to impose himself physically and take charge generally is an issue for whichever Saliba turns up. His next club will need a proactive and rigorous coach to hone those areas of his game.
Nevertheless, of all the centre-backs discussed above, the 21-year-old boasts the highest ceiling as few in Ligue 1 can match his combination of a burgeoning defensive nose, a supreme ability to turn away from trouble and physical potential. Although mistakes remain, he deserves significant credit for managing such wide-ranging responsibility under Sampaoli. 
In the Argentine coach’s constantly evolving and often lopsided system, Saliba has regularly been asked to cover vast swathes of Marseille’s right flank alone. One of the midfielders, usually Valentin Rongier, often shuffles across to drop in at right-back. With Saliba nominally the right of three centre-backs, the other two naturally drift left as a result, leaving Saliba exposed. As Lazio showed in the Europa League, this asymmetry can be exploited but Saliba’s mobility and assured defending have usually won out. With the Arsenal loanee slowly eradicating mistakes, something he wasn’t given the chance to do before due to lack of minutes, Saliba is now OM’s leading defender and a key player for Sampaoli.
With Saliba’s loan deal ending, decisions are immanent for Marseille, Arsenal and the player. With his contract up in 2024, next season will likely be Arsenal’s least risky chance to integrate Saliba into their first team with an agreeable fee still achievable next summer should things not work out. Marseille, meanwhile, will need to weigh up Saliba’s importance and if they can afford a big fee to sign him permanently - which seems unlikely. France’s latest international, meanwhile, has stated he doesn’t want to sit on the bench at Arsenal and may see another loan as the best option. However, he may have to agree on a contract extension with Arsenal to make that happen. Although this suits OM, Arsenal might be less keen and could yet choose to sell with suitors, other than Marseille, likely to be plentiful.
Regardless of his destination, a deficit of experience to this point means Saliba will need considerable game time next season if he’s to realise his potential. As such, his summer could be career-defining. 
Members, is there a transfer you’d like insight or an update on? Tweet GFFN using the hashtag #GFFNWeekly or comment on this week’s post and we’ll look at them next week.
Zlatan Ibrahimović (PSG v Bastia, Ligue 1, 13/14)
GFFN: “Hi Ibra, one question on this: How?”
Zlatan: “What John Carew does with a football, I can do with an orange.”
GFFN: “Great, thanks.”
Sublime scorpion goal Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC (10') - Paris Saint-Germain - SC Bastia (4-0) - 2013/2014
Sublime scorpion goal Zlatan IBRAHIMOVIC (10') - Paris Saint-Germain - SC Bastia (4-0) - 2013/2014
Malo Gusto (18, RB, Lyon)
Among this season’s emerging cohort of young talent, Lyon’s teenage right-back Malo Gusto is the most unusual prospect. Firstly, he barely resembles a typical full-back. Tall and rangy with the swagger and technique of a number 10, Gusto often gives the impression of a right-sided attacking midfielder being asked to fill in. In fact, that’s not far from the truth. Having started out as an attacking midfielder in youth football, Gusto was enlisted as an emergency full-back at OL’s academy with the age category above suffering from injuries. After a good performance, he’s stayed put.
Gusto’s description of himself as an “offensive, hard-hitting, powerful, fast, technical player” is accurate. At his best, the teenager, who looks anything but thanks to his goatee beard and wiry ponytail, is a pacey winger, confident in possession with an ability to skip past opposition defenders and whip in threatening crosses. However, Gusto’s transition from skilful attacking midfielder to reliable defender remains in progress. Although his alertness, proactive style and ability to often neatly time his tackles is a promising combination, he remains, understandably, raw. His decision-making in defensive scenarios, both on the ball and in challenges, can be erratic. This has led to some wasteful passing in dangerous areas and rash tackles - he’s been fortunate not to concede a raft of penalties. 
In the unfortunate 2-1 defeat at PSG earlier this season, both sides of Gusto were seen. After a threatening attacking first half display, the teenager was targeted by Neymar and soon outmanoeuvred, conceding an admittedly controversial late penalty. Although this holds the 18-year-old to impossibly high standards given his age and inexperience, the game underlined major flaws in his defensive skillset. Although club captain and fellow right-back Léo Dubois’ form has evaporated this season, Peter Bosz has been too quick to opt for the risky Gusto option, contributing to Lyon’s downfall, both in Europe and domestically.
Nevertheless, Gusto’s potential remains thrilling. The swagger and technical ability that casts him more as a midfielder than a defender are highly reminiscent of Trent Alexander-Arnold. While areas of his game at both ends need refining (his crossing, in particular, is wildly inconsistent) he possesses all the raw materials to become one of the continent’s leading right-backs. Next season could see a breakthrough.
Is there a promising young player you want more analysis on? Tweet GFFN using the hashtag #GFFNWeekly or comment on the new Twitter post and we’ll take a look in issue four.
Name the missing players from Bordeaux’s starting XI against Lyon in the first leg of 2010’s all-French Champions League quarter-final. Answers next week.
This week's quiz.
This week's quiz.
Last week's answers.
Last week's answers.
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FIFA launch ‘FIFA+’ streaming service | Get French Football News
Pablo Longoria talks surfing in handwritten letter to Paul Baysse after injury | Get French Football News
Keep an eye on your inbox for issue four and further insight on French football. In the meantime, tweet us your questions, transfer queries and problem positions for next week using the hashtag #GFFNWeekly or by commenting on this week’s post. GFFN is a completely independent organisation and your support means the world - You can become a member right here:
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-The GFFN team
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