Often overlooked in favour of the hierarchically superior and globally renowned Ligue 1, France’s second tier of football, Ligue 2, can somewhat justifiably be described as being overshadowed. However, if one scratches beneath the surface, it doesn’t take long to realise the league’s importance to French football and the wider game in general.
In recent years, Ligue 2 clubs have played an extremely prominent role in bringing through some of the best prospects in the country, some of whom have gone on to have profound impacts on the English game. Notable examples include Olivier Giroud, who made his professional debut with the then Ligue 2 club Grenoble Foot 38 and later began to score regularly with Tours FC, and a young Florent Malouda who broke through to La Berrichonne de Châteauroux’s first-team, before earning a move to Lyon where he would eventually catch the eye of his future coach at Chelsea, José Mourinho.
A slightly more contemporary success has been Diafra Sakho, last year’s Ligue 2 Player of the Season, who has been a big hit with the West Ham United faithful since his summer move to London from Metz. Ligue 2 seems to be a happy hunting ground for scouts on the lookout for attack-minded players.
There’s still plenty of talent to be found in France’s second-tier, and with this in mind I have decided to profile three of the most exciting strikers I’ve come across this season whilst analyzing Ligue 2. Though two of these players aren’t in the top three of the league’s top scorers standings, they do have extremely attractive dimensions to their respective styles of play which I will examine and it’s for that reason that it would be safe to assume that we’ll hear a lot more about them in the future.
Idriss Saadi – Clermont Foot 63
Currently the league’s top scorer, netting eleven goals and 45% of his team’s goals so far this season, Idriss Saadi has had a remarkable impact at Clermont since his move from Saint-Étienne, a club where he spent the best part of eight years as a youth player. Valence-born Saadi, who has high hopes of breaking into the Algerian international set-up, played twenty-four times at first-team level for Les Stéphanois and also had reasonably successful loan spells at Gazélec Ajaccio and Stade de Reims, but decided to leave Christophe Galtier’s side for Clermont, with the promise of regular starts acting as a lure.
Saadi has an impressive physical presence which, combined with his pace, has given rise to his nickname as ‘Le Taureau’ (the bull). The centre-forward always impresses with his natural goalscoring insticts, as he almost always appears to find himself in the right place at the right time to score for his side, utilizing his ability to finish well with both feet. He uses his pace well to get himself into one-on-one situations and proves his worth with his composure to almost always finish well. He has also impressed this season with his initiative as a striker, with season highlights so far including his audacious lob from the edge of the box against Nimes on Matchday 13 and most obviously his breathtaking overhead kick to win the three points against Le Havre at home on Matchday 6.
The centre-forward’s strength, pace and diverse finishing abilities have made him stand out this season, in a Clermont side that would really be in difficulty without his goals. However, Saadi is not yet the finished product. For a striker of six foot, he sometimes fails to provide what would be an obvious aerial threat for his side, in terms of both link-up play and his inability so far to score headers. Having said this, Saadi is a remarkable talent for a player of just 22 years of age and his progress in his first year as a starting lone centre-forward has been extremely pleasing. He is definitely a player worth tracking throughout the rest of the season.
Jonathan Kodjia – Angers SCO
Despite winning promotion from the league last season while on loan at SM Caen, Jonathan Kodjia has once again returned to Ligue 2, this time in the colors of Angers SCO. A product of the Stade de Reims youth system, similarly to Saadi, Kodjia decide to leave his formative club in the search of regular first-team football, with France’s second-tier being his destination of choice. The 25 year old, who didn’t begin his professional career until the relatively late age of 19, has at times been a joy to watch for Stéphane Moulin’s outfit who are currently sitting in sixth position in the classement. With seventeen starts to his name so far in the league, Kodjia has scored eight times, equating to a ratio of one goal for the striker in every three scored by Les Angevins this season.
At times last season, Kodjia found himself playing on either flank for Caen, as a result of his two-footed ability, however he often looked a bit out of place and uncomfortable when starting as a winger. He has since blossomed as a lone centre-forward for his new side, leading Angers’ attacking line convincingly. With relentless pace and tricky feet, marking Kodjia has at times this season proved to be an unenviable task, as he often appears to pass defenders with ease. At 6ft2 and with obvious composure on the ball, he is at times a very elegant player to watch, but he also impresses with his strength when holding the ball up and with his ability to win the ball in the air.
Despite his movement generally being excellent, Kodjia can sometimes appear to be a bit too static upfront on his own. He also recently revealed a slight character weakness when he was given a straight red card after he lashed out at an opponent against Troyes with a kick whilst his side were trailing in the second-half. However, despite these apparent weaknesses, he has played brilliantly at times for his side, especially when he has received the support of Angers ‘flair players’ Sofiane Boufal and Razza Camara. Angers as a side generally lack consistency, but if they can find good form again we’ll be sure to see more goals from their number twenty-two upfront.
Corentin Jean – ESTAC Troyes
At just 19 years of age, Troyes’ Corentin Jean is by far the youngest inclusion I’ve chosen to focus upon, but the right-sided attacker is certainly a well-deserved addition. Claude Robin, a former Lille and Lyon defender and the current head of Troyes’ youth academy, has been effusive in his praise of the youngster, explaining that he couldn’t believe that no other side had been tracking Jean when Troyes initially approached him. He told local press that “when I saw him, I asked myself ‘how could he have been overlooked?‘ I’m not one to exaggerate, but he has it all”.
Breaking into his side’s first-team at just sixteen and living up to the hype, Jean made the most of his debut by scoring against Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue. He then went on to score three times for his side in Ligue 1, most notably a long range curled strike with his allegedly weaker left-foot in a home game against Montpellier.
Since his side’s relegation from Ligue 1 at the end of the 2012-2013 campaign, Jean has become a regular feature in the Troyes first-team. Though not always starting games, the 19 year old has featured fifteen times for the Champagne-Ardenne club this season, starting ten games and coming off the bench five times, and importantly getting his name on the scoresheet six times in Ligue 2. Despite not being the most prolific of goalscorers, it’s Jean’s near unique style of play that wins him fans. A strong runner, he possesses good dribbling and passing abilities, and above all enthuses supporters with his eye for goal from distance, as well as his ability to play on both sides of the forward line. In 2013, the Blois native became only the second Troyan to be receive a call-up to the France U19 set-up, representing his country six times and following in the footsteps of PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi, another graduate of the Troyes academy.
At just 5ft7, Jean’s lack of height does often hold him back when he’s being tightly marked by stronger and taller centre-backs and this can appear to limit his effectiveness when he plays. However, at just 19, Jean is one of the most exciting talents in the league and is bound to receive more attention from clubs larger than Troyes as his career progresses. With his keen eye for goal and his technical skill on the ball, a comparison between the young Troyan and former France international Ludovic Giuly appears fitting. If he is to reach the top level, Jean still has plenty of work to do, but the France U19 international is ticking all the right boxes so far, making him an extremely exciting prospect to follow.