The darker side of Sofiane Boufal

Lille attacking midfielder Sofiane Boufal has been taking huge plaudits over the course of the last few weeks for his talismanic performances in an otherwise dire Lille set-up.

Boufal, 22, has been linked with Valencia, Tottenham Hotspur and most recently Inter Milan, with Spurs having allegedly made a last-gasp deadline day bid for the player this summer.

However, in recent weeks a pattern has been emerging suggesting that the player has much to learn, with certain unsavoury incidents indicating poor character and demeanour on behalf of the former Angers player.

The first incident occurred at the beginning of the month during a Ligue 1 match against Montpellier which LOSC ended up winning 2-0.

Boufal scored a penalty during that match, but it was the manner in which he took the ball off of his team-mate Junior Tallo in the buildup to taking the spot-kick that raised eyebrows.

The young Ivorian striker Tallo had playing particularly well during this match and had assisted Boufal for a goal just three weeks previous against Rennes. Boufal admittedly earned the penalty himself but Tallo stepped up initially to take responsibility to score his first goal in a Lille shirt.

What proceeded to unfold was rather embarrassing for Lille, Boufal and Tallo combined. Boufal began arguing with Tallo about who exactly should take the penalty, before becoming impatient when it was clear that his words were getting him nowhere and forcibly preventing Tallo from taking the spot-kick.

While Boufal may well have won the penalty, he had already scored twice this season prior to the match against Montpellier. He perhaps should have been intelligent enough to see that if Tallo had got off the mark by taking this spot-kick, then he might have grown in confidence and began scoring freely for a Lille side that is still desperate to find a consistent goal-scoring force this season.

Boufal could have earned kudos from his manager and his team-mate by allowing Tallo to take the kick. Most importantly if he had done so he might have given Lille greater potential to perform better in upcoming fixtures with a more confident Tallo leading the line. Instead, Boufal appeared selfish, as if another goal to his tally might further boost the interest of Europe’s elite in acquiring his services. Tallo meanwhile remains without a goal.

Boufal showed ill-judgement in this instance, but it is not necessary to over-inflate this incident in order to argue the case to prove a wider character problem.

Just two games earlier at half time during a match between Lille and Reims, manager Hervé Renard was forced to separate Sofiane Boufal and Junior Tallo after the former criticised the Ivorian international for his inability to finish in front of the rest of his teammates in the dressing room. This exchange was brief because of the French manager’s intervention. Needless to say, Lille lost the match 1-0 on the night.

A pattern is emerging here, but perhaps it would be unfair to criticise Boufal if his rather colourful behaviour was simply due to a particularly poor relationship with one of his teammates. Antics this week proved that this is not the case.

On Friday, L’Équipe reported a training ground incident between central defender Renato Civelli and Sofiane Boufal. The squad was participating in a training drill focusing on dribbling and Boufal apparently thought it was amusing to continuously kick the ball away, thereby confiscating it and disrupting the drill. Renato Civelli repeatedly asked the young attacker to stop doing so, and when Boufal failed to relent, Civelli gave him a little kick for good measure.

Both players then had to be separated by their teammates, in front of manager Hervé Renard, who decided not to get involved.

Renard perhaps decided not to get involved because his very own relationship with Boufal this week has been affected by incidents during LOSC’s mid-week Coupe de la Ligue match against Troyes.

Renard was particularly annoyed with Boufal’s performance during the aforementioned encounter, laying into the player at half-time during their match against Troyes by saying: “Do you not care? Is the Coupe de la Ligue not good enough for you?”

There is no denying that Boufal is developing into an excellent player, perhaps the most exciting prospect that Lille have had since Eden Hazard, but his alleged poor behaviour, if it remains unpunished and unaddressed, might prevent him from reaching the heights that his talent merits.

Europe’s elite would be wise to take this into consideration before making any moves in January. Boufal is dangerously becoming untouchable through his excellent on-pitch performances, so much so that it is difficult for Hervé Renard to justify proceeding with disciplinary action. The biggest problem is that Boufal knows how integral he is to this struggling Lille side and by all means he wants to move on, but in the meantime, his self-centred attitude off the pitch is hurting LOSC’s results on it.

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