At almost every club there is a young player, from the youth setup, who is a fan favourite almost before their debut. Someone, who they say should be given minutes in the team. They’ll tell you he’s the next best thing, having seen him for years it’s only a matter of time before making his impact. For supporters of Angers SCO in recent times this was Sofiane Boufal. It was then Nicolas Pépé who was followed by Rayan Aït-Nouri, who was then followed by Jean-Mattéo Bahoya.
Bahoya joined the Angers SCO academy a decade ago at a time when the infrastructure had just been rebuilt. Investing was one of the big steps the then president, Saïd Chabane, took early in his tenure. The vision being that the club can once again start developing youth talents at a quality and rate rarely seen in its century-long history.
Pépé and Aït-Nouri were examples of great teenage talent identification and development through the Angers system: Pépé signed at 18 from Poitiers FC, and Aït-Nouri signed at 15 from Paris FC. Bahoya, is someone different. He’s a talent who emerged directly from the plains of La Baumette, the Angers SCO complex and training centre. And just like Pépé and Aït-Nouri, his world-class potential has landed him a big-money move, with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt signing him for €8 million in the January transfer window.
Bahoya is a player whose unique talent was on display from the very start. Joining at 9 years old, it didn’t take long for the trainers at the club to realise his technical qualities and speed were well above his age range. Starting with the Angers U10s, he progressed through each youth team step by step. In the 2021/22 U17 season he scored 34 and assisted 19 in 25 matches. Scouts were taking notice.
Angers snapped the young attacker up on a 3-year professional contract. 6 months later in January 2023, he experienced his first minutes of professional football, entering the field during a fierce cup game at home against RC Strasbourg. Previously, as a ball boy at the Stade Raymond Kopa, Bahoya had imagined himself stepping over that touch line one day. He had achieved, and now there would be no looking back.
The 2022/23 Ligue 1 season is one that Angers supporters are more than happy to forget about. Plagued by struggles and controversy both financially and internally for years, the slide was inevitable. However, the extent and the severity of the fall was more comparable to an avalanche. With a tally of just 18 points in a 20-side league, 1 point away from equalling the record lowest.
Bahoya’s first minutes came at the hands of the 2nd coach of that season, Abdel Bouhazama, who as head of the academy since its rebuild, had watched this young boy’s progression from the beginning. The then 17-year-old’s Ligue 1 minutes were for a side who were staring down the inevitability of relegation even from as early as February. Despite his team’s struggles it was clear that Franco-Cameroon starlet could handle himself at Ligue 1 level with a standout performance against PSG.
For the first time in nearly a decade, le SCO would be back playing Ligue 2 football. The transition into this most recent season was therefore crucial, to tackle a different footballing challenge with a league reducing to 18 teams, all while attempting to heal the wounds of the previous season.
Now the 3rd coach in the space of four months, Alexandre Dujeux was given the reigns to embark on this new campaign. A monumental squad rebuild began over the summer; with an overarching desire to construct a group that would be able to recapture what the Les Scoistes term LaDalleAngevine: the bite, the grit and determination that once was a driving force behind this minnows superb recent Ligue 1 journey.
Experienced Ligue 2 veterans like Joseph Lopy and Jordan Lefort were free signings to add the nous needed for the second division life complimenting the already experienced Angevin favourites, Pierrick Capelle and Abdoulaye Bamba. Once the club’s finances were approved by French footballs financial body (DNCG), a raft of 1st professional contracts for youth talents were concluded. These players were known to the first team despite most with few if any minutes.
Angers are yet to lose at home, conceding only six goals in 12 games, with their first home match of 2024 seeing them edge Quevily-Rouen 3-2 with Fared El Melali completing his brace in the 93rd minute. Their performances have consisted of the occasional eye catching, high scoring affair, with the bulk of wins stemming from a plan of patience and game management as Angers often score first, ease off the attack to defend the lead and wait to snatch a second on the counter.
This exact scenario is where Bahoya has taken full advantage of, and even led to the newly coined term, within the supporters, “Bahoya time”. Three of the young attacker’s five goals have come in stoppage time with a fourth in the 88th minute. Either supporting a centre forward or placed on the left side of attack, his change of pace and close control is a frightful weapon against opposing defenders with Dujeux opting to use the academy graduate as an impact substitution. For those last minute, fast counter-attacking moves, Bahoya has often found himself on the receiving end of the final pass.
In those positions he’s shown an impressive level of composure for his age when lining up and taking the shot. From his ten shots this season, seven have been on target and five of those converted. Of course, that is an unsustainable level given the small sample size, however, his calmness on the ball in the attacking third is clear enough to those watching.
For Angers SCO, what of LaDalleAngevine? Suffice to say that it has been found once again on the banks of the Maine river. Those tight games under pressure have demonstrated the reforged fighting spirit that had been lost. With coach, Dujeux, taking a large portion of the compliments having been instrumental at generating a positive atmosphere back in the changing room, on the pitch and in the crowds which are growing in number as more return to the Stade Raymond Kopa.
To date the rebuild has been a stellar success for Angers SCO. The club isn’t completely at ease off the field but it’s a rosier situation compared with the soap opera consistency of negative press from previous seasons. There’s a feeling amongst supporters that they’re getting back to “what worked best”. On the pitch, there are standouts in key positions. The heroics of Yahia Fofana in net, whose return to Ligue 2 has shown once again his talents as a keeper.
The stalwart veteran and club captain Pierrick Capelle who at 36, outruns the rest of his teammates and is the template of fortitude and commitment to the whistle. There’s also the turnaround of Loïs Diony, a forgotten striker in the French football landscape, now revitalised into a consistent goal scorer for Angers, who sit first in the table, two points above second-placed Auxerre and six above Grenoble Foot.
Yet what always moves supporters from their seats is watching a young prospect ignite the stadium with their first forays into the professional game. Jean-Mattéo Bahoya has trodden those electric fiery footsteps. For Angers SCO, the investment and faith they have placed back in their youth system has paid off, and Bahoya is clear proof of that both on and off the pitch.
By: Thomas Wiseman / @WYSAF1
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Eddy Lemaistre / Icon Sport