Jeffrey Gamby Boulger looks at five of the most high profile Frenchmen to have come to the Premier League over the course of the last two seasons and whether or not they have failed to make an impact in the English top flight.
Emmanuel Rivière – Newcastle United:
As Newcastle continued their pursuit of talent in the French market, Emmanuel Rivière arrived from AS Monaco at the beginning of this season as a partial replacement for loanee Loïc Rémy who opted to join Chelsea in the summer. At Monaco, Rivière operated in the shadow of outstanding striker Radamel Falcao during the Colombian’s brief spell at the principality club and this was an opportunity for Rivière to lead the line at a high profile club and to take centre stage.
But Rivière has so far endured a desperately poor season. Disrupted partially by injuries and an inevitable settling in period, Rivière has looked anything but a Premier League striker this campaign. With only glimpses of his true ability, his performances have been perfectly aligned with a player totally devoid of any confidence. Not trusted or given regular playing time by previous manager Alan Pardew, little has changed under his successor John Carver as he regularly warms the substitutes’ bench with little faith shown in him by the Newcastle management.
The Magpies have suffered a brutal injury list this season and therefore a huge dip in form, but with top scorer Papiss Cissé missing a combined total of 10 games through suspension this season and young starlet Ayoze Pérez not finding the net once since Carver took over in January, Rivière is still a peripheral figure at St. James’s Park. With a total of just one assist to his name and two goals against Crystal Palace in a 3-2 victory in the F.A Cup in 23 appearances, Rivière‘s plight speaks for itself.
Despite showing a brief glimpse of the talent he does possess in that game and a few cameos since, this was a low cost transfer that has simply not delivered. One might fear for his future at the North East club with a squad overhaul reported to be on the cards in the summer. With 10 goals and 4 assists last season coming in 30 appearances, Rivière’s physique and technical ability means he has the tools to succeed in the Premier League, but whether he will be given a fresh start and an opportunity next season remains to be seen.
Verdict: Failure. But lack of playing time does not help. Will he be given another chance next season?
Eliaquim Mangala – Manchester City:
After joining Manchester City for an extortionate fee of £32,000,000 from FC Porto in the summer, this was all set to be Mangala’s arrival on the world stage, his opportunity to test himself amongst some of the best players in Europe and confirm his status as one of the most sought after and highly rated defenders in Europe.
Sadly, this season has not quite materialised as Mangala would have liked. With Manchester City suffering a shock slump in the league with just four wins in 15 games ensuring the title is beyond them, they are now locked in a battle for Champions League qualification. With outstanding captain Vincent Kompany suffering a severe loss of form amongst injuries at key times, this was an opportunity for the Frenchman to stamp his authority on the team and fill the void.
Unfortunately, Mangala has been seemingly unable to step up, so much so that he is regularly a substitute for the Manchester club with the player himself admitting to his inconsistent start to life in England, and manager Manuel Pellegrini preferring the experience of Argentine veteran Martín Demichelis instead. His season can be summed up by his most recent performance against rivals United. With the reds already winning 2-1, Mangala was introduced for the injured Kompany at half time but could not affect the game and some poor defending, from the team as a whole it must be noted, allowed United to walk away with a 4-2 win.
With many questioning his high transfer fee, the Frenchman faces uncertain times with the club also seeking to overhaul their ageing squad, with Pellegrini’s own future in doubt. But hope should not be lost. A commanding presence, Mangala’s athleticism, physique and prowess mean he is well suited to the Premier League. Still only 24, there is time for him to settle and improve. If he can, City could still reap the rewards of a player with huge potential for years to come.
Verdict: Should get more time. Has the potential to do well, and would not be the first player to take a season to acclimatise to the Premier League. But he must improve. A player of his ability must make more of a consistent impact.
Mamadou Sakho – Liverpool:
Probably the best performing individual on this list at the time of writing, some would say it a little harsh to count Mamadou Sakho as someone who is “failing”. But on the dawn of yet another injury for the imposing defender, which will rule him out of upcoming league games against West Brom, Hull and QPR, and an FA Cup semi-final with Blackburn, there is a real sense that now being in his second season in the Premier League, Sakho still has yet to fulfil his enormous potential.
Led by innovative young manager Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool often fluctuate between a three man defence and more traditional four man formation. This results in a more fluid rotating policy than at some other clubs, meaning with the general exception of Martin Skrtel when fit, Rodgers does rotate his team and on occasion his tactics. That then perhaps highlights the reason for Sakho’s inclusion on our list.
With this in mind it should have been up to the Frenchman to prove himself indispensable to his manager, operating in either a triumvirate alongside Skrtel, or as a stalwart in a more traditional central defensive pairing. However Sakho has not achieved the status that his talent is capable of. With such huge potential during his time at PSG, even when he does perform adequately, this is not enough for someone of his ability. He should be capable of playing to a much higher level than he has done so far in his fledgling Liverpool career in particular.
His often languid playing style has drawn criticism in the fast paced Premier League, and his propensity to pick up niggling injuries has further limited his progress. There is no doubt he has all the values to be a great player. His strength, tackling and leadership qualities are there, but at present they remain entrapped by that damning term, “potential” which has yet to break free since Sakho’s passage across the Channel. There is however, hope.
At 25, in a similar vain to compatriot Eliaquim Mangala, if Sakho can avoid the injuries which he has sustained since his arrival on Merseyside and cement his position in the Liverpool XI, after a full pre-season in the summer, which he was deprived of last time around because of the World Cup, Sakho can prove himself to be one of the most dynamic central defenders in the Premier League. Furthermore, Sakho can play a part in a lasting defensive partnership for France to rival any in the world. But with Raphaёl Varane of Real Madrid maturing so excellently at the Bernabéu, and Kurt Zouma also putting in some brilliant displays already in the Premier League, Sakho must no longer be hit with injury distractions hindering his otherwise steady progression this season. Otherwise, the good faith that Deschamps continues to show in him might soon run out.
Verdict: Similarly with Eliaquim Mangala, he has all the attributes to dominate the division. Whether it is a lack of confidence, an inability to adapt to manager Brendan Roger’s team selections and tactics, or simply his frequent injuries that are holding him back, he must realise his potential soon otherwise he risks becoming a player who “never quite made the next step”.
Benjamin Stambouli – Tottenham Hotspur
With a total of 23 appearances so far in the 2014/2015 campaign for Spurs, one could argue Stambouli has featured in as many games as expected following his £4.7 million switch from Ligue 1, with more hopefully to come as the season draws to an end.
However, with a solitary goal coming against Partizan Belgrade in the Europa League in November (a slightly fortuitous strike after a Roberto Soldado effort came off the post) and only 10 appearances in the league, if you examine the season in more detail then it is impossible to suggest that Stambouli has made a memorable impact thus far.
With 13 of his 23 appearances this season coming split between the Europa League and domestic cups, and 6 of his 10 league appearances coming from the substitute’s bench, Stambouli has more bookings this season (five in total) then Premier League starts. Stambouli has technical ability and was one of the best defensive midfielders in Ligue 1 last season, and one could argue the player was bought as a squad player rather than a star man for the Spurs midfield.
Verdict: Depends on why he was brought to White Hart Lane this season. As a squad player, he has fulfilled this role adequately. But he has not forced his way into the Tottenham side and therefore on any other form of judging his first season in England he has been average at best. But has the opportunity to improve next season, if he stays. The question for Stambouli is, “I am better than this?”
Étienne Capoue – Tottenham Hotspur
Unfortunately for Spurs, another Tottenham player makes it as the fifth and final Frenchman on our list. Étienne Capoue was brought in during previous manager André Villas Boas’ tenure in 2013 as the club oversaw a £110 million recruitment drive following Gareth Bale’s world record move to Real Madrid. Along with signings such as Roberto Soldado (£26m from Valencia), Paulinho (£17m from Corinthians) and Nacer Chadli (£7.5m from FC Twente), Capoue is now fighting for his place at the club while manager Pochettino insists he has a future at Spurs.
But the fact his future is even in question is testament to his less than spectacular time on English shores. It should be noted that a two month absence through injury last season just as he was putting in some decent displays has dented his progress since his arrival, and the player made a strong start to the 2014/2015 season, with a particularly impressive performance in a 1-1 draw with rivals Arsenal in September.
However his season has tailed off dramatically, and with a tally of only 36 appearances so far in his two seasons with the club, his inconsistency has overshadowed his brief glimpses of potential. A strong player, with good passing and aerial prowess there is no doubt he has the ability to be a valuable defensive midfielder. But turning 27 this summer, this is a player who should have been able to grasp his opportunity in the Premier League with both hands as he approaches the peak of his powers and cement his place in the starting XI.
A step up in his career from Toulouse and surrounded by a very talented team at White Hart Lane, a managerial turnaround has not worked in his favour it must be said. Preferred by André Villas Boas, where he undoubtedly performed his best, his time on the pitch has tailed off significantly under the tutelage of Tim Sherwood and latterly Pochettino. Simply, a player with his ability should be Spurs’ reference anchorman and it might be best for both parties if Capoue sought the exit door this summer,
Verdict: Unlucky considering he has already played under three managers in his time in England, along with injury interrupting his most productive spell at the club. There is no doubt he has ability, and could have taken the team’s managerial changes as the chance to cement his place in team, but he has not been able to do so. May benefit from a fresh start somewhere else next season as the club prepares to cut its losses on several players. A failure, but unlucky and a more settled management could have got the best out of him.