With just four slots left to fill in this year’s GFFN Ligue 1 XI of the Season, we move to the attacking midfield area of the pitch.
The first attacking midfielder to have been voted in is OGC Nice’s Hatem Ben Arfa. In one of the standout stories in European football this season, Ben Arfa in 18 months has transformed himself from a Hull City reject to an individual with tens of offers from Europe’s very best.
Under the guidance of Claude Puel, Ben Arfa was able to rediscover football values that are actually important, like imparting wisdom and experience on younger players, like playing football because you love it, like playing with freedom.
All of these ingredients have brought about a glorious renaissance for Ben Arfa, who propelled OGC Nice into an automatic Europa League place for next season, in perhaps the greatest surprise of the 2015/16 Ligue 1 campaign.
Every weekend there was a new GIF or Vine that went viral of a trademark Hatem Ben Arfa run and strike. His impact has been immeasurable, but his success is also in part due to the midfield dominance that Les Aiglons held over so many of their opponents this term, thanks to the technical ability and strength of the Seri – Koziello – Mendy trio.
For without them, Ben Arfa would not have had as much space or time or chances to make the magic happen. 17 league goals this campaign made him the Ligue 1 top scorer for a player who was not a striker.
Ben Arfa even consistently tracked back to help defensively! A revelation I am sure that would surprise several Premier League watchers. In fact, the only reproach that one could conceivably level at the French international was that as his confidence re-grew as the season went on, he became decidedly more greedy on the ball, a reality that many Ligue 1 watchers turned a blind eye to because of his magical moments.
The other attacking midfielder selected also arrived in Ligue 1 last summer and also had something to prove.
Angel di Maria’s Manchester United move, when one considered Louis van Gaal’s philosophy, was only ever going to finish one way, and after protracted fee negotiations, the Argentinian became PSG’s 2015 marquee signing.
In a new environment where he knew that his family would flourish in the form of the city of Paris, Di Maria performed from the off with the swagger, confidence and technical excellence that he became renowned for at Real Madrid.
By breaking the all-time Ligue 1 assists record for a season (18) in less than 12 months of having been within French football, Di Maria, both on the wings and as part of PSG midfield three, has proven his quality.
Although never quite being able to build up as good as an understanding with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Javier Pastore has, Di Maria’s stunningly accurate crossing ability will serve Edinson Cavani incredibly well next season when the Uruguayan takes up the mantle as PSG’s main striker.
Di Maria & Ben Arfa are part of a rare breed of players who have the capacity to make thousands of people stand up at once or collectively gasp during a football match. Although both had lost their way at a certain point during their respective careers, their natural talent and ability has shown through and routed all doubters in 2015/16.