Ligue 1 has cultivated a reputation for being one of the greatest talent factories in the game. France’s success at World Cup 2018, plus the incredible depth of the national selection pool, have helped affirm this position.
The stream of young talent coming through continues to show few signs of abating, with 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe poised to take up the mantle as the world’s next great player as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo slip into their 30s and increasingly close to retirement.
While he continues to generate headlines, having notched an incredible quadruple last Sunday in a remarkable 5-0 rout of Lyon, there are still a plethora of largely unheralded young talents bursting to come through.
Here are five young Ligue 1 players already earning regular match time worth keeping close tabs on.
Tanguy Ndombele (Lyon, £3.07 here)
Since the turn of the millennium, Lyon have been one of the driving forces of talent production in France. It is how they first established an iron grip on the Ligue 1 title, and though that has been lost for a decade, they continue to have one of the most successful academies in the country, yielding the likes of Nabil Fekir, Karim Benzema and Corentin Tolisso to name but a few.
Ndombele did not come through the system at Lyon, but rather his success owes to their shrewd scouting. Signed, initially on loan, from Amiens last summer, the move was made complete this year for a total of around €10 million.
Chelsea were among the clubs rumoured to be interested in him this summer, eyeing him as a replacement for Ngolo Kante, had Paris Saint-Germain swopped for the ex-Leicester man.
Ndombele, though, has won more comparisons with Michael Essien than Kante, prized for his forcefulness on the ball, his ability to regain possession and his technical ease with it at his feet.
Manchester City have been credited with an interest in a player who only needs to polish off his finishing to become the complete package.
Ibrahim Sangare (Toulouse, £1.94 here)
Another player to have earned comparisons with Essien is Toulouse midfielder Ibrahim Sangare, who has enjoyed an all-action start to the season with a club that has defied expectations in the early running.
TFC boss Alain Casanova has had a hand in developing the likes of Etienne Capoue, Adrien Rabiot and Moussa Sissoko, and said at the start of the season that “he’s of that level”.
Indeed, Casanova has hailed the player’s technical ease in tight situations, his work rate and his tackling, but warned: “He can still improve tactically. But that aside, he’s very complete.”
And so far Sangare has lived up to his billing for his new coach, turning in strong performance after strong performance. For a young man who has only been playing first team football for a matter of months, it has been highly impressive and it is surely only a matter of time before big teams start taking note.
Moussa Diaby (PSG, £2.02 here)
It would be remiss to go through this list without mentioning an up-and-coming PSG forward, but while it would be a waste of time heralding the talents of Mbappe, the hottest teenage prospect in a footballing generation, it is worth drawing attention to one of his club-mates, who has made everyone take notice.
Tim Weah may have gained the spotlight in the summer for his strong performances as much as his illustrious family name, but he has since found himself been overhauled by Diaby in the thoughts of head coach Thomas Tuchel.
While the USA international has been used as a centre forward, Diaby’s versatility has provided him chances since the start of the season. When on the field, there can be little doubt the 19-year-old has taken them.
He looks bright and able, having scored one and set up two more. He has fully justified Tuchel’s faith and has apparently earned his place above Weah in the pecking order for the foreseeable future.
Marcus Thuram (Guingamp, £2.01 here)
Like Weah, Marcus Thuram, the son of 1998 World Cup winner Lilian, finds himself saddled with a family name that could weigh heavily upon him. However, the Guingamp forward has actually been the one success story of his club’s wretched season to date.
Although he was dismissed prior to the international break in a 1-1 draw with Montpellier – a red card that could have cost his side dear given that it arrived with less than 10 minutes on the clock – that is the one moment of immaturity he has displayed in an otherwise formidable start to the campaign.
Where his team-mates have wilted, Thuram has showed an impressive willingness to lead. Testimony to this are his dribbling statistics, which show him as one of the leading players in top-level European football in this category. With those around him persistently misfiring, it is little surprise he has been so willing to shoulder such responsibility.
Whether Guingamp go down or not this season, it is impossible to see Thuram staying with them: he is simply too good.
Jonathan Bamba (Lille, £2.51 here)
Nicolas Pepe has earned an immense amount of acclaim at Lille this season, and rightly so, for the wingers has been in devastating form. He has generated interest from the likes of Barcelona and Arsenal, and has therefore pushed his team-mates into the shade.
Indeed, his draw has been such that the contribution of Jonathan Bamba has been largely overlooked since the beginning of the season. The 22-year-old has posted figures similar to that of Pepe – seven goals (one better off than his more heralded team-mate in this regard) and one assist – and prior to the international break put former club Saint-Etienne to the sword by scoring twice against them, propelling Lille to a rather unexpected second in the league in the process.
Bamba is a similar style forward to the much-heralded Pepe, devilishly quick, knee-knockingly direct and with a keen eye for goal.
Pepe will inevitably continue to generate interest, but big clubs cannot ignore the equally impressive Bamba.
All these players and more are available to trader of Football Index: