Faouzi Ghoulam - Manchester United right to keep an eye on this hidden Ligue 1 gem
To call Faouzi Ghoulam’s last 12 months a bit of a rollercoaster is probably being very kind. Starting as Saint-Etienne’s number one left-back, then representing his country at the African Cups of Nations, and subsequently losing his place at Les Verts on his return.
During the summer his move to Italian side Torino broke down at the last moment only to return to Saint-Etienne and be banished to the reserve side. After kissing and making up with coach Christophe Galtier he has again established himself as the starting full-back and reports in The Express and other English media are heavily linking him with a move to Manchester United.
Still only 22-years-old, the French born Algerian international has been through the mill but now he looks to have all his problems sorted out and he is back to doing his talking on the field.
After missing the first four games of the season he has played every minute of the last seven, getting 111 on Squawka’s Performance Score and scoring his first senior goal against Marseille from the penalty spot.
In only his third game back he was a surprise choice to take the spot kick but he had no troubles dispatching it beyond Steve Mandanda, and it shows the faith Galtier and Saint-Etienne have in the youngster that has been at the club since 1999.
With most full-backs that come out of France the fear is that they may struggle defensively in the Premier League but Ghoulam has shown enough to quell the doubters. He is quick, strong and very athletic. Averaging nine defensive actions per game so far, he has already made 46 clearances and 14 interceptions in only seven games.
He reads the game well and although he has the ability to time his tackles well, he uses his anticipation to win the ball back without needing to dive in. Last season he only picked up three yellow cards in 26 games. In comparison Newcastle’s Mathieu Debuchy picked up nine bookings during his last full season at Lille. Ghoulam is a better defender, winning 90% of his tackles this season.
In Saint-Etienne’s fast paced free-flowing side, Ghoulam gets the chance to push forward, and this is where he comes into his own. Although he has only attempted nine take ons so far this season, five of them successful, he has the ability to beat his man with ease.
Ghoulam in full flight attacking the opposition is one of the most exciting sights in Ligue 1 at the moment. He can come inside and unleash dangerous efforts from outside the box – see his attempt off the crossbar against Lorient – or he can go wide and deliver crosses from the left-wing.
His final ball does need work, but at 22 there is plenty of time to work on his 67% passing accuracy, he finished with 73% last year and picked up three assists.
This season he has made four key passes and one assist, and this is a Saint-Etienne side that is still trying to replace the 18 goals of now Dortmund star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The talent is definitely there, Ghoulam was voted one of the best young players in France last year, and no offence to a side like Torino, but it would have been a massive loss for the European game if his talents had ended up there.
Now the rest of Europe is starting to catch-up. Liverpool showed an interest back in August, but they went for Aly Cissokho, now AC Milan and Manchester United are keen to attract the full-back come January.
“Manchester United? You are always flattered when such a big club is linked with you but I do not want to dream, the reality is to give 100 per-cent for St Etienne and see what will happen next.”
It looks like Ghoulam’s feet are firmly back on the ground after a turbulent summer. If he continues to give his all for St-Etienne then there won’t be many teams not interested come the January window.