This summer, Téji Savanier completed a transfer that took him full circle, in a career that’s taken him through Montpellier B, Arles Avignon, Nîmes, and now Montpellier HSC.
As his CV suggests, Savanier is a local guy. His three previous clubs all lie within 40 miles of each other. Never one to chase the dream, he’s forced it into reality on his own doorstep. Years of perseverance at a lower level had seemingly set the bar for a player in his 27th year. No one really expected him to step into Ligue 1 last campaign, and seamlessly up his level to perform at the peak of the league’s assist chart.
Could it be, that he’s simply a late bloomer? Maybe. Or is there something to the theory that some players merely adjust to their surroundings and level of competition? Its possible. Maybe better scouting from other clubs should’ve identified this potential and whisked Savanier away to a higher level earlier in his career. But you get the feeling that he’d have refused. So determined has he been to remain close to family and make success come to them.
After a debut Ligue 1 season that saw him crowned many peoples’ Player of the Season, Montpellier HSC have seen fit to spent around €10m on a player they brought through their own youth setup.
This represents a move even closer to home for Savanier. A move to the club he came through at. Part of the generation that went on to win Ligue 1 in 2012. A move to the city where his all-important family are based.
It seems like the perfect move for him, that allows him to both step up a level, and remain in his beloved hometown. He won’t even need to move house, so close is his family home. These are the things that matter to Téji Savanier.
There was reported interest from clubs such as Monaco and Marseille, not to mention much bigger clubs abroad. But typical to his career so far, he’s picked the club best placed to allow his life outside football to remain unmoved.
Not to say that’s a compromise. Montpellier played a counter-attacking brand of football last season that saw them finish one position outside the Europa League places. Based around a solid defence and two forwards behind often lone striker Delort, they would contain opponents and spring into offensive areas looking to punish over-exerted midfields. If manager Michel Der Zakarian intends to play a similar way next year, Savanier could find himself playing a familiar role. One that suits both him and his new team in equal measure.
To play this style of football you need midfielders that can win the ball and quickly find offensive players with quick and incisive passes through the lines. There was no one better in Ligue 1 last season in this role than Savanier. In Nîmes’ set up, he’d very often be the deepest of the midfielders, thus charged with hunting the ball down. He does this very well, despite maybe not being the most athletic player.
But it’s on the ball that Savanier comes alive. Having spent most of his career playing in a play-making #10 role, he dropped back 20 yards last season to allow him to dictate from deep. It’s a move that has enabled him to flourish. Being in a newly promoted side has more than likely seen him receive the ball a lot more than if he were higher up the pitch. He now plays a role akin to Arsenal era Cesc Fabregas and Tottenham era Scott Parker. A somewhat potent mix of off-the-ball and on-the-ball skill sets. Something few players blend so well.
Then there’s his dead-ball delivery. He’s a specialist of the technique. He once claimed, “I’ve been working on it since I was a kid. I have a way of hitting the ball that’s maybe a bit different.” His goal from a direct free kick last season against Dijon was a testament to that technical prowess.
Countless assists from corners and free kicks will have Hilton and co licking their lips at the prospect of playing with Ligue 1’s highest assist maker last season. The aforementioned Delort and exiting Montpellier forward Gaëtan Laborde will have a supreme archer, supplying the arrows for any attack in open play that will surely run through Savanier. Téji Savanier has supported Montpellier HSC since childhood. Still goes to games as a fan. He’s come home.
He told L’Équipe: “Nothing can go wrong for me there. This is where I was born and where I’ll die.”
Savanier needs to step up a level once again next season. The only difference this time is that it won’t be a surprise at all if he does.