One to watch – Azor Matusiwa
Of course, there are many regulars still present at the club. Captain Yunis Abdelhamid or Japanese attacker Juyo Ito, for example. However, at the heart of the team, not many players stand out as much as the Dutch midfielder, while still staying under everyone’s radar. Joining Ajax’s youth team in 2013, he left for notorious development side FC Groningen in 2019. Essential to the northern side, the fans were distraught to see the board let him go to Reims on the final day of the transfer window in the summer of 2021.
Often playing alongside Marshall Munetsi or Jens Cajuste in a double pivot, he does the work in the shadows, making him one of the most important players in Will Still’s side. He is very capable in the air, while his main strengths lie in his interceptions, his clearances as well as his progressive passes, which are for the counter attacking style used by Reims. While his resistance under pressure isn’t always optimal, he has definitely progressed with the ball at his feet. He has recently extended his contract to 2027, showing the faith the club has in him.
Signing to watch – Teddy Teuma
Typically the type of signing that makes Reims standout from the rest in France when it comes to scouting and intelligent recruitment. Captain of Union Saint-Gilloise and the Maltese national team, Teddy Teuma is one of a kind. Born in Toulon, he started his career in the fourth tier of French football with neighbouring club Hyères FC, and was picked up by US Boulogne before making a switch to Red Star FC. 18 months later, Union Saint-Gilloise came to offer him his first opportunity abroad, with the objective of returning to the top flight of Belgian Football. He was quickly made captain, and the versatile midfielder pushed his team through to promotion in 2021, leading them very close to a historic title on their return to the top flight. Progressing through the ranks, Teuma was the face of the fairy-tale story: a small stadium on the edge of Brussels, led by Birghton owner Tony Bloom and a data-led recruitment strategy. An excellent set piece taker, he never shies away from the chance to hit a long shot into the back of the net. Coming into a relatively young squad, Teuma’s experience at the highest, and lowest, level makes an excellent leader on and off the pitch, bringing energy to the dressing room. He can be expected to slot in straight into a central midfield position, he can tackle, intercept and pass with equal quality. For €5 million, with two seasons of continental cup experience, this is an shrewd transfer from Reims’ recruitment team.
Barring new arrival Ludovic Butelle in goal and captain Yunis Abdelhamid, 40 and 35 years old respectively, the rest of the squad is 30 years old and under, with many players being born after the year 2000. This squad is still incredibly young, and the departure of the experienced Andreaw Gravillion has not helped. While the scouting model is intelligent and has brought in a lot of up-and-coming talent, it was clear that in the difficult moments last season, that lack of experience shone through. Nonetheless, there is certainly excitement around the new arrivals, whether that be Teuma, but also undiscovered talent such as Reda Khadra, Oumar Diakité, Amine Salama or Joseph Okumu. Unfortunately, the latter, the most expensive signing, was injured in his first pre-season game for the club, but there is expectation for Okumu to slot right in at the heart of the defence once he returns. Ito, Cajuste and Alexis Flips are still around to bring energy and pressing to convey Will Still’s ideas onto the pitch. More signings could be incoming to bring more life to the attack, with players such as Ernest Nuamah and Adama Bojang expected by the end of the window. It’s a squad well suited to the manager’s ideas.
Unbeaten for 19 games after Will Still became the manager, Reims were the league’s form team until the spring. Nothing seemed to stop team, with a solid defence and a constant threat on the counter, particularly lethal against top teams. Showing up in big games might havr been Reims’ biggest strength last season, managing results against PSG, Lyon and Rennes. Their attacking style is a delight to followers of the club and the league, and they will hope to score some more goals to reach their objective, a top-half finish. Defensively however, there is no doubt that they are amongst the best in the division. Understat indicated that in open play, Reims outperform their expected goals against by 10.68 points. Abdelhamid and his backline partners will certainly be crucial once again to any success this season.
Their stamina and longevity of their high-intensity style clearly had flaws, with many goalless draws occurring around Christmas, and a downfall of results after the unbeaten streak came to an end. They were also one of the lowest-scoring teams in the Ligue 1 last year, managing only 45 goals in a 38-game season. Only five teams scored fewer, 3 of which went down to Ligue 2. According to Understat, they underperformed their expected goals by 10.56 points, showing a real problem in efficiency. Their investment in the transfer window to recreate a new strike force is certainly a way to curb that problem, but they will need to hit the ground running, in order to avoid the threat of relegation at the end of the season. Luckily, it seems that Diakité has hit the ground running, the former Red Bull Salzburg striker scoring 5 goals in pre-season.
The real question is how Reims will do without Folarin Balogun, who is returning to Arsenal after his impressive loan spell in which he scored nearly half of the team’s goals last season. The new arrivals should help, but will this enable them to continue their upwards trajectory and reach the European places within the next three seasons, as projected by general manager Mathieu Lacour? The reality on the pitch could be different. However, here is no doubt that their scouting team has been very successful over the past few months, giving them a little more confidence compared to other clubs around them who have been very quiet in the transfer window. With most of their transfers done early, enabling them to settle in well into the team, which helped winning 4 of their 5 games in pre-season, this Reims squad seems ready for action.