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Ligue 2 – Three U23 players who shone in 2014-2015

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he 2014-2015 Ligue 2 season has sadly come and gone, and football stadiums in and around provincial towns across the length and breadth of France will remain locked until the first pre-season matches take in place between mid and late July.

In the overall standings it was ESTAC Troyes that stole the show and Jean-Marc Furlan’s side were crowned worthy champions in May. They were followed relatively closely by fellow promotion winners Gazélec Ajaccio and SCO Angers.  But asides from providing an exciting race for promotion that went down to the very last Matchday, Ligue 2 this year once again demonstrated the fact that it has a well-earned reputation for being one of the best second-tier championships in Europe for spotting emerging talent.

In this article, I take a look at three players who stood out for me when I covered Ligue 2 matches this season. Avid readers may remember that in previous articles for the site, I looked at the progress of Sofiane Boufal (now of Lille) and Corentin Jean (reportedly close to signing for Monaco), two young players who have gone on to win themselves vastly increased numbers of admirers.

However, in this feature, I have decided to take a look at three players who performed brilliantly throughout the season, and whose profiles may still remain relatively low outside of Ligue 2 and French football in general. What is exciting to remember is that all three of these players are French-born talents who have made their way through French academies.

Bingourou Kamara – 18-years-old – Goalkeeper – Tours FC

KamaraBingourou Kamara is the youngest inclusion in my trio of players. Aged just seventeen, the Île-de-France native made his first-team début for Tours in a tricky away match for his side against Stade Lavallois, and he hasn’t looked back since, going on to make twenty-six appearances for his side in France’s second-tier. What makes this feat even more impressive is the fact that Kamara is a goalkeeper – a position which is traditionally reserved for more experienced players at first-team level. The eighteen-year-old was an integral part of the Tours side that won the French national U19 Championship in the 2013-2014 season, and directors at the club felt that the then rookie stopper was ready to make the step-up to Ligue 2 level.

What first strikes you when you watch Kamara is his agility and his athleticism. He stands at around 6ft4″ in height and he does well to move across the goal quickly when his services are needed. Tours had in general a complicated season, thanks to their poor form which lead to their coach Olivier Pantaloni’s dismissal in October and by the time the Winter break came, fans knew that every point would be vital if the club were to survive in Ligue 2. Kamara became an indispensable figure at the heart of the team’s successes, winning points with the at times show-stopping saves he pulled off.

The eighteen-year-old pulled off a vitally important penalty stop from a Fousseyni Cissé spot-kick in his side’s home match against fellow relegation battlers Arles-Avignon. It was a stop which would prove to be the difference between his side losing and earning a valuable point. The France u19 international also displayed an impressive level of maturity when he started against Ligue 1 giants Saint-Étienne in the Coupe de France, in a game in which Les Tourangeaux took Christophe Galtier’s side to extra-time.

Kamara does have areas in his game which he needs to improve if he is to become one of France’s top goalkeepers in the future. At times during the campaign his concentration appeared to let him down, but it would be unrealistic to expect such a young goalkeeper to have had a completely flawless season. He is yet to sign a pro-contract with his current employers, and this could allow larger French clubs such as Bordeaux and Lyon, or even European clubs such as Chelsea and Inter Milan – who are all reported to have followed his progress this year, to swoop in for him on a cut-price deal. Kamara certainly has a bright future ahead of him and he is a player whose progress will remain extremely interesting to follow.

Kévin Malcuit – 23 years old – Right-back/Right-wing – Chamois Niortais

Kevin MalcuitThe Franco-Moroccan has been without a shadow of a doubt one of the stars of the season for Régis Brouard’s Niort side, and he was deservedly awarded a place in France Football’s Ligue 2 team of the season earlier this month. His side may have had a complicated campaign, mainly due to the fact that they failed to capitalize upon their dominance of possession in a worryingly high amount of matches, but Malcuit was a consistent shining light within the Chamois’ squad ranks. The twenty-three-year-old added a certain degree of much needed flair to what was at times a rather dull season for the Deux-Sèvres-based club’s faithful supporters. His performances have earned him admirers from across France and his future in Niort remains unclear.

Malcuit began his career at AS Monaco, where he was mainly viewed as a potential striker, perhaps most likely as a result of his natural pace. Having become a regular within the Monégasque club’s B outfit, the young prospect eventually made two appearances with Monaco’s first-team under Claudio Ranieri in Ligue 2, before being loaned to Breton side Vannes to gain more first-team experience. He was used primarily as a winger during his loan spell at the Stade de la Rabaine, and he moved to National (D3) side Fréjus Saint-Raphaël upon his return to Monaco at the end of the 2012-2013 season. Having become a regular at the Var-based club, Malcuit eventually caught the attention of Niort scouts during the 2013-2014 season, and he was eventually transferred to the club during the January transfer window.

Malcuit has gone from strength to strength during his spell at Niort, developing into arguably one of Ligue 2’s most exciting players. He offers Brouard’s side great versatility, as he is equally comfortable playing as either a right-back or a right-winger. His quick feet and pace make him a difficult player for opposition sides to mark, and he has proven his creative efficiency this season, as he was the provider of three assists for his team this season, most notably a key pass which allowed Seydou Koné to score a vital last minute winner for the Chamois against Nîmes at the Stade René-Gaillard. He also scored two goals in his own right this season, using the striking instincts he learned from his early career to aid him in this regard. He finished extremely neatly in a home match against Arles-Avignon in April.

The twenty-three-year-old hasn’t had the easiest of career journeys so far, and this season has perhaps provided him with the stability that he has needed to excel. It must also be added that his signature was a brilliant piece of business by the club, and a special mention has to go club legend and current head of recruitment Franck Azzopardi. Malcuit signed a contract extension in April which will prevent him from being allowed to leave the club on a free transfer in the summer, but this will be unlikely to ward off interest from potential Ligue 1 suitors such as Bordeaux, Nantes and Saint-Étienne. It is widely known that the club will allow Malcuit to leave in the summer window, should a bid within the region of £400,000 be received.

Sehrou Guirassy – 19 years old – Centre-Forward – Stade Lavallois

GuirassyRecently named in the France squad for prestigious Toulon tournament, Sehrou Guirassy had a very impressive first full season in Ligue 2 with Denis Zanko’s side. He established himself as a regular within Les Tangos’ starting eleven and he would eventually go on to do the same within his country’s international U19 set-up. At the tender age of just nineteen, Guirassy has done well to adjust to the at times rather physical nature of the league and he has become one of the most talked-about prospects within French football. His name is also reported to have made it’s way to recruiters on the other side of the English Channel, who have since followed him with interest.

The Arles-born stirker, who is of Ivorian descent, first broke through to Laval’s first-team during the 2013-2014 season as an eighteen-year-old. He would make his début for the Pays de la Loire-based club against Le Havre, coming on as substitute and he began to be noticed as a quick striker who was extremely comfortable receiving the ball into his feet. Despite playing sparingly in his first season with the club’s pro-squad, Guirassy was an indisputable starter for Laval during the 2014-2015 season. He developed a close and effective striking partnership with the well-traveled Malian international striker Mamadou Diallo. Diallo’s experience appears to have rubbed-off onto his younger team-mate, as both players netted six goals each for Laval during the season, finishing as joint-top scorers for a Laval side that finished eighth in the overall standings.

Guirassy is a technically-gifted striker who excels when running at defenders with the ball at feet. He is also a physically-impressive player for his age and his strength has made marking him a problematic task for even the most competent centre-backs in the league. It’s worth noting that one of the nineteen-year-old’s six goals this season came against Troyes, statistically the league’s best defensive side. He also scored one of the most ingenious goals of the season when he back-heeled from close range to score against Le Havre towards the end of April.

One area in which Guirassy could improve however would be his link-up play and his ability to add to the rest of the team’s game in general. However, he does offer his current club with a truly exciting potential, and it’s believed that Tottenham Hotspur are among a host of keen Premier League admirers of the nineteen-year-old, as Spurs’ scouts are believed to have watched him on at least two occasions. It would not be a surprise for me at all if a Premier League side did attempt to lure him away from Ligue 2 in the close season.

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