13. Malang Sarr
This past season, many youngsters in Ligue 1 stood out for their qualities, for their talent, and for their fresh, brand-new scent that they displayed each passing weekend. As an obvious example, Kylian Mbappé scored more than 25 goals in less than 5 months in his debut season for Monaco. At 18, he joined the elite and generated interests from every club in Europe.
The French national team is set to reap the rewards of their world-class development in the coming years, from explosive wingers to aggressive midfield destroyers, walls in central defense, and cat-like goalkeepers. One could probably create a French squad, with no player older than 24, and challenge for the World Cup.
Within OGC Nice, there is an 18-year-old that gave superb, consistent performances last season, but who never got the attention he deserved. Malang Sarr is still very young, but if he keeps standing out in Lucien Favre’s Nice, there will be many clubs seeking his signature.
Thanks to his preseason performances last summer, Malang Sarr was a starter from the first week of Ligue 1, against Rennes, where he marked his debut by scoring a header. After this game, he never returned to the reserves, winning a guaranteed starting spot, and playing in the Europa League.
On that August 14, he became the 2nd youngest player to score a goal in Ligue 1, with just 17 years and 204 days, after Bartholomew Ogbeche. His rise was meteoric, earning Favre’s trust each time he touched the ball and later won the ball off his rival.
His great performances in the first half of the season made him a strasopheric French prospect, being called the future of France’s defense, and the likes of Barcelona, PSG, Chelsea, Arsenal and Milan were interested in signing him.
Sadly, an injury in early February caused him to miss a month of action, and when he returned, Malang Sarr was not the same. His form dropped massively, and he began to commit errors with regularity, causing him to lose his automatic starting spot.
Whenever he made a poor decision or shoddy tackle, less people talked about him, as another 18-year old in the principality was tearing up France and Europe.
In the last two games of the season, he won back his starting spot, but it wasn’t enough to support a team that was destined to play the Champions League play-offs. Everything suggests that Malang Sarr will stay with Nice this coming season, and I hope that he can consolidate himself among the elite of French football. And who knows? Perhaps he can even put together a campaign worthy of being selected for France’s World Cup team.
Malang’s best attributes are his technique, speed, anticipation, passing, strengths, power, tackling, positioning, ball control and decision making. He is a left-sided center back, allowing him to switch from LCB to LB with natural ease.
Through his technique, his great reading of dribble, when to go long and when to pass through the lines to support the build-up, he reminds me a lot of Samuel Umtiti, Barcelona’s French center back.
Despite his youth and small defects, Malang Sarr is a very complete center back, one who can create for his team and destroy his rivals. He can control build-up by breaking the lines and generating opportunities for his teammates, and if he plays left-back, his speed and strength never let him down.
When he doesn’t have the ball, he’s like a steel trap; dominant in 1v1 duels, and with a strength that, together with his intelligence, make him an indomitable defender. It is not a coincidence that Nice ended the season with the 2nd best defense in Ligue 1, only behind PSG.
If the football gods are just, soon, Malang Sarr will have his moment of glory and joy. He is still very young and has a lot to learn, but we must be calm and see how he develops as the years past. If he keeps up his progression, we will be talking about the defender of an era in twenty years.
By: Antonio González/@AGA26A. Translated by: Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio.