This is taken from the GFFN 100, our leading 150-page FREE publication ranking the best 100 players in France, see the full list and read every profile right here.
Shunning the prospect of Premier League football in favour of a move to northern France appeared, on the face of it, to be a lateral career move at best for goalkeeper Brice Samba.
After some penalty shoot-out heroics in Nottingham Forest’s play-off semi-final win over Sheffield United – stopping three spot-kicks – the former Caen man was expected to go on to prove his worth in the English top flight. Having reportedly been unsatisfied with his former team’s contract offer, the goalkeeper instead decided on a move back across the Channel. In signing for Lens, he could scarcely have chosen a better environment in which to thrive.
Franck Haise’s side have emerged as Paris Saint-Germain’s main rivals in the league – to the surprise of nobody who’s watched the Sang et Or’s development since their return to the top flight a couple of years ago. This year, though, the team look set to shake off the disappointment of consecutive finishes just outside the European spots, and are now aiming high.
Lens have only let in ten goals across their fifteen league encounters so far, registering the second-best defence in the league. Samba’s dramatic goalline stops and imposing presence in one-on-one duels have made him a fearsome proposition for many a Ligue 1 attacker. The former Marseille man has even opened the door to a potential France call-up – a goal which doesn’t seem so far-fetched if he keeps up this level of performance.
The Congo native first came through the youth teams at Le Havre, where he played for the reserve team, before a four-year spell at Marseille during which he would only be afforded one appearance in the first team. It was only once he made the move back to Normandy that he would break through, appearing in all 38 of Caen’s league games in the 2018/19 season. Although they were relegated, the team would end the season with a better defensive record than any of the teams around them.
Samba may well end up in the Premier League in the end – his performances have inevitably attracted attention, and Lens will be hard-pressed to keep hold of him should a lucrative offer, in the vein of Crystal Palace’s for Cheick Doucouré, come in.
Raphaël Jucobin | GFFN