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FEATURE | Stephy Mavididi ruffled feathers to move to Montpellier – will it be worth it?

Stephy Mavididi has secured a move to Ligue 1 side Montpellier HSC for a deal worth around €5.7m after struggling to break through in his career, is this his chance to kick on?

Since turning professional in 2015, the 22-year-old had only played 31 games of first-team football during loan spells at League One Charlton and Championship side Preston, and failed to make a single appearance for Arsenal after coming through their youth academy.

He left the Gunners to join Italian giants Juventus U23’s side, which did come across as a surprising move, as it was unlikely that he would break into their first team.

After a whole season in the Serie C with The Old Lady’s reserve side, he did however manage to cluster up 21 minutes of first team football against SPAL towards the end of the season, making him the first Englishman to play for Juventus since David Platt back in the earlier 1990’s.

Mavididi, who’s represented his country at U17, U18s, U19s and U20s level was offered another loan switch to top-tier side Dijon FCO and this time it paid dividends.

The striker went on to have an eye-catching campaign in France, helping his side steer clear of relegation with a fantastic eight goals in 28 games and made a move even further up the table to Montpellier and looks on track to revitalise his career.

Although, it must be said that Dijon president Oliver Delcourt didn’t have many kind words to say about Mavididi, who appears to have lied to him about wanting to play back in his homeland as soon as they were about to activate the option to buy him permanently.

 “I am completely surprised. Not by Montpellier because I was a season ticket holder and it is my second club; Laurent is a friend. I have nothing against them, on the contrary. I am surprised in relation to the player because two hours before activating our option to buy him, he was nearly crying about how he wanted to stay in England with his family and that he wanted to sign for a club over there at all costs. In football, sometimes, that is how the wheel turns. We will find players that are far more motivated to fight for our colours.”

Michel Der Zakarian’s men finished eighth in Ligue 1 last season after the campaign was curtailed early due to the coronavirus pandemic and it is thought that Mavididi will fill the gap which was left by veteran Senegalese striker Souleymane Camara who retired earlier in the year.

This role in the initial stages will see him play second fiddle to the enigmatic duo of Andy Delort and Gaetan Laborde, likely to appear mostly from the bench, as MHSC’s regular striker force was on the scoresheet 19 times between them across the board last season in all competitions.

Mavididi is a primarily a striker and is used to playing off the shoulder of the last defender, but interestingly last season he was deployed in a myriad of different positions as part of Dijon’s regular 4-4-2 system and found himself playing in a lot of deeper positions or out on the left-hand side.

Mavididi made 6.74 dribbles per 90 minutes in Ligue 1 last season, which was the third-highest number of attempted dribbles of any Dijon player and a higher number of attempted dribbles per 90 minutes than any Montpellier player in last term. Mavididi also engaged in an average of 15.05 offensive duels per 90 in the league last season, which impressively places him in seventh place for offensive duels per 90 of any player in Ligue 1. 

His pace is one of his strongest assets. However, one negative aspect of Mavididi’s game is his relatively poor aerial ability and he seems to get bullied in the air often by defenders, something that Dijon’s coaching staff noted, which is why they shifted him out onto the wing.

Next season, this may become an even more clear and obvious weakness of his game. Montpellier contested the second-highest number of aerial duels of any Ligue 1 side last season, while they also played the second-highest number of crosses per 90 of any Ligue 1 team. 

La Paillade relied quite heavily on the aerial ability of both Laborde and Delort during the 2019/20 season, with Laborde contesting the ninth-highest number of aerial duels of any Ligue 1 player last season, therefore it’s clear that the 22-year-old has to improve on his aerial ability next term.

It is an exciting transfer nonetheless and it’s definitely a huge chance for the young Englishman to kick on and revitalise his career and hopefully play regular first team football.

B.McN.

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