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SUNDAY SPECIAL: Metz can thrive in Ligue 1 and Guirane N’Daw might hold the key

Florent Malouda may have stolen the highest applause upon his capture, but the key to Metz’s quest to hold down a place in Ligue 1 this season may well lie at the feet of a 30-year-old Senegalese dark horse. Guirane N’Daw may not be a celebrated name, but in the midst of the returnee’s battle for survival, the itinerant may bring to bear a priceless influence in the search for top flight longevity.

Metz’s promotion to Ligue 1 after six years in the French lower divisions was one that was met with bland indifference. For a club that has literally mapped out a capricious amour with the Ligue 1, it is only natural to remain unsurprised upon their latest aggrandizement. After half-a-dozen years of lower tier football – one that had taken them as far as the third tier of French football in 2012 – Les Grenats secured a much-awaited return last April. But the fact that it was to be their third return to top flight action in 12 years has palpably watered down the expectations of many. For the local faithfuls, they cared less. Understandably after all the toil, you might want to cut them some slack. Even then, they would agree that a huge cloud of mystification was bound to hit the northeastern French city over the coming months.

For obvious reasons, it is only too easy to predict that Les Grenats main fixation upon the commencement of the 2014-15 calendar would be to hold down a Ligue 1 spot by the end of the season. A very modest dream indeed, but nonetheless an ambition that will warrant an awful lot of hardwork and proactive expedience.

Largely successful at maintaining the nucleus of the squad that had won them promotion, Les Grenats have gone on to make some major signings, the quest for survival an assailable impetus. However, losing their main scoring threat Diafra Sakho to English side West Ham was probably their greatest setback. But that was seemingly always coming. Preventing the Senegalese hit-man who bagged 20 goals en route to promotion was certain to prove a bomb too fierce to catch.

Still undaunted, Les Grenats moved quickly, bringing in Juan Manuel Falcon, good-old Florent Malouda as well as Modibo Maiga on loan from West Ham to a largely already organized side. Even further signings were made in other departments including the acquisitions of Jonathan Rivierez and Jose Luis Palomino in defence, as well Sergei Krivets and Cheick Doucoure in midfield. However one addition that may well bring the house down is 30-year-old Guirane N’Daw.

Signing from Greek side Asteras Tripolis, N’Daw’s industry and ruggedness may well add more oil to a largely stable midfield. Ahmed Kashi and Romain Rocchi’s tireless effort back in Ligue 2 proved worthless. But now in Le Championnat, Les Grenats will seek to add more solidity to their game, a quest which makes N’Daw’s signing a priceless felicitous bargain. And indeed, early signs have evinced.

With an assiduous and good tackling approach to games, N’Daw’s robust, uncompromising nature furnishes a perfect fit to coach Albert Cartier’s philosophy of seeing out survival amid his mostly preferred 4-4-2 formation; aggressive, compact midfield, involving the pressing of opponents. Considering that they lost their most trusted man upfront ere the start of the season, an added objective will be to avoid conceding goals whenever possible. This even makes N’Daw’s protection of the back four more vital to Les Grenats’ ambitions albeit the leaking of 6 goals out of 7 games so far leaves a lot to be desired for.

At 1.9m and a well-known hard tackler, N’Daw, who equally fits well in central midfield when not playing a more defensive role, possesses a towering figure which comes in handy in an area Les Grenats had been found wanting in the past; defending set pieces. Upfront, it may conversely prove a secret weapon in notching in a couple of headers from offensive set plays.

Indeed, his 7 Ligue 1 appearances this season before this weekend’s action boast an average of 3.0 aerial wins, a percentage duel win of 45 plus a total of 6 chances created, even though his percentage shot accuracy of 33 leaves a slight taint.

Having already played at eight different clubs including Ipswich Town, Birmingham City and Real Zaragoza in a 12-year peripatic career, N’Daw’s experience is one Cartier can gleefully look up to. Even so, an earlier nine-year stay with three Ligue 1 clubs including Sochaux, Nantes and Saint-Étienne from 2002 to 2011 encompassing a staggering 193 games sounds even more refreshing. He was instrumental in Asteras Tripolis’s surge to Europa League qualification last season, a testament that under the right guidance, he could blossom quite well.

All that said, N’Daw is not quite always the sacrosanct emissary and at times seems to get on the wrong end of situations. His hard-tackling nature leaves him prone to bookings and suspensions. 3 yellow cards in just 7 games so far this season forebodes a maleficent presage. That aside, his all-action approach leaves him predisposed to injuries, one that had been a major worry especially during his times at Zaragoza and Birmingham.

Agreeably and per early indications, Metz quest for survival could by and large boil down to resilient team work rather than individual brilliance. Even so, there are always bound to be influential mainstays to propelling every team effort and therein lies N’Daw.

At the time of writing, Metz sit in sixth position in the league table after seven games which admittedly seems like an early case of ephemeral flattery. However, if Les Grenats can keep their noses to the grindstone, their early positive portension may well prove a dream too good to be true come the end of the season. Much of that could possibly come from an unsung man deep in midfield by the name of N’Daw. If he finds his feet, Metz may well break the back of the beast. If not, Les Grenats will have to find early, timely alternatives in seeing out their dream. He may not be their most important player but, N’Daw certainly holds a tad of the key to Metz quest for survival.

P.T.N.

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