When it comes to the playing staff, signings are a great way to improve the squad, both in terms of quality and depth, and indeed, are becoming the most common way. However, onlookers, especially fans of a club tend to derive great joy when a product of the club’s academy makes it through to the first team, and gains importance in it. With this in mind, we will look at some of the best youth academies across the world of football.
This part of the series looks at the best players to emerge from the academy at Le Havre.
For most casual fans of French football, Le Havre is probably known only as the club that former United States boss Bob Bradley is managing, or the club from which Paul Pogba joined Manchester United, and not for any measure of on-field achievement. While it is true that they have never had success in the top flight, having no major titles outside of the 1959 Coupe de France, and indeed have even spent most of their existence in Ligue 2, the club do have a rich history of producing some fine talents, of whom the Juventus midfielder is just one of many.
Established in 1872 and part of the first national league in France in 1899, Le Havre have lately produced a long line of influential players. Currently under the direction of Yohann Louvel, the club’s training center has only operated since 1983, but has nevertheless turned out a steady stream of highly successful players, both for France and other countries. Indeed, the club have even done well enough to win the prestigious Coupe Gambardella (the French youth championship) in 1989, an impressive achievement given the means of their competition. Aside from the B team, Le Havre II, the club also operate an U-19 and U-17 team, both playing in the national division at their respective levels. While the Normandy club’s training center is no La Masia, it has had a surprising impact on Ligue 1, particularly in the last fifteen years. Note that while Riyad Mahrez did spend three years at Le Havre prior to joining Leicester City, he had already turned professional, and played for both the B team and the first team, meaning that he was not involved in the club’s academy.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are professional footballers who have played in or after 2000.
JEAN-ALAIN BOUMSONG // SENIOR DEBUT: 1998
Although failing to fully establish himself for very long at any one club at senior level, the big Cameroon-born defender was an important part of several major titles, and was capped 27 times for France between 2003 and 2009, being included in the squads for both the 2006 World Cup and the 2004 European Championships. Born in Douala, he came to France at the age of 14 and became a part of Le Havre’s academy, playing parts of three seasons for the club before moving to Auxerre in 2000 upon Le Havre’s relegation. After four seasons there, a period which included his debut for Les Bleus, Boumsong moved first to Rangers and then to Newcastle United before joining Juventus for their lone season in Serie B. After being a little-used substitute for the Bianconeri upon their return to the top flight, he joined Lyon for the run-in of the last of their run of consecutive titles. With the rise of Dejan Lovren, Boumsong moved to Panathinaikos, one of Greece’s top teams, from whom he retired in 2013.
LASSANA DIARRA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2004
Another player who has moved about quite a bit during his career, Diarra has enjoyed a late-career renaissance since joining Marseille in the summer, being included in the two most recent France squads after several years away from the team. With doubts about his size leading to him having cycled through several clubs before latching on at Le Havre in 2003, Diarra played a year for the club’s academy before becoming a first-team fixture during the 2004-05 season. That off-season, he was surprisingly signed by Chelsea, a nominal successor to the aging Claude Makelele. Despite winning a cup double for the Blues in 2007, Diarra never really fit in, and moved to Arsenal that summer, where he also played sparingly, despite making his debut for France. A winter move to Portsmouth saw him win a second consecutive FA Cup before making the leap to join Real Madrid in 2009. A key player during his early time at the Bernabeu, the arrival of Sami Khedira saw Diarra’s playing time gradually diminish to the point of no longer being a regular national team player before leaving to join Anzhi Makhachkala. After the club sold off many of their top players, he spent a brief period with Lokomotiv Moscow before sitting out last season. Since joining Marseille in the summer, he has been a revelation, his energy and ability with the ball at his feet making him a constant threat from midfield, earning a well-deserved return to Didier Deschamps’ France squad.
DIMITRI PAYET // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
While Payet’s incandescent start to his time at West Ham has considerably raised his profile, the Reunion-born attacker’s performance in London should come as no surprise to those who have been following his career. Last season, playing for Marseille, his sixteen assists set what is believed to be a Ligue 1 record, and he also chipped in with seven goals. Throughout his time at Nantes, Saint-Etienne and Lille before that, he was one of the division’s most dangerous players, operating either as a number ten or on the wing, combining a dangerous shot, a good work ethic and a fine eye for picking a pass. Before breaking through for Les Canaris, Payet was on the books at Le Havre for four years, another in a stream of players from Reunion such as Guillaume Hoarau and Florent Sinama Pongolle who came through the club as a result of a partnership between them and JS Saint-Pierroise, the island’s top club. Issues with his attitude hastened a return to the island at 17, but it wasn’t long before Nantes brought him back to France, the first stop for a player who has continued to improve, despite being at odds with Didier Deschamps in terms of being selected for France.
PAUL POGBA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2011
Arguably the world’s most intriguing player at this point in time, Pogba’s career saw him only spend two years in Normandy, but given the prominence which it afforded him, his time at Le Havre can’t be undersold in terms of its importance. It was while at the club that Pogba first became a youth international, playing with the U-16 squad and leading Le Havre to a second-placed finish in the national league at that age group, beating out more highly regarded clubs such as Lyon and Nancy. His move to Manchester United in 2009 was the source of some not inconsiderable controversy revolving around accusations of the club having tapped up the player, but since moving on from Manchester to Juventus, he has become one of the world’s best players, linked with every big club across Europe. While some would argue that his time at Manchester would be more influential, being called up for and succeeding with the French youth sides occurred during his time at Le Havre, firmly establishing himself on the radar of Europe’s heavyweights.
IBRAHIM BA // SENIOR DEBUT: 1991
While his career after his big money (€12M in 1997) move to AC Milan stalled somewhat, injuries certainly took their toll, and for a while, Ba was one of France’s most promising talents. A right-sided player, Ba was capped eight times for France, having parlayed his single season with Bordeaux after coming up with Le Havre into a move to one of Europe’s most celebrated clubs. His first season with club, he was a regular, but the club finished a disappointing tenth. A title would follow the next season, but Leonardo and Thomas Helveg were preferred as Alberto Zaccheroni replaced Fabio Capello. A loan move to Perugia was marred by a knee injury and the rest of his career petered out slowly, but despite this, Ba deserves to be mentioned here, if only as a cautionary tale.
SOULEYMANE DIAWARA // SENIOR DEBUT: 1999
Making his debut with Le Havre near the tail end of the 1998-99 season, Diawara would go on to play parts of four seasons with the club. During this time, he became a Senegalese international, before moving first to Sochaux and then, briefly, Charlton. A return to France saw Diawara win the title in successive seasons, first with Bordeaux and then with Marseille, with whom he achieved regular Champions’ League participation. Last season was spent with Nice, where the player had moved in search of more playing time, and at 36, he has recently hung up his boots, capping a career in which his reliability was key for club and country, playing more than fifty times and helping Senegal qualify for five consecutive Cup of Africa Nations finals.
MAMADOU NIANG // SENIOR DEBUT: 2000
Another player who first gained recognition at Le Havre but made his career at Marseille, Niang is also, like Diawara, a vastly experienced Senegal international. A two-time UNFP Team of the Year selection, Niang turned professional with Troyes after having spent his entire development with Le Havre, then moving to Racing Strasbourg, where became a regular, winning a Coupe de la Ligue with the club. His form for the Alsace club then earned him a move on to Marseille, where he spent the best part of a decade, winning a league title and an Intertoto Cup. His career has drifted somewhat since leaving for Fenerbahce in 2010, but on his day, Niang was one of Ligue 1’s most dangerous strikers, a player of whom Le Havre should be proud.
CARLOS IDRISS KAMENI // SENIOR DEBUT: 2004
While Kameni never featured in the league for Le Havre, his four seasons at the club (including six months on loan to Saint-Etienne) did much to burnish his reputation as one of the world’s best young goalkeepers. Currently plying his trade for Malaga, Kameni helped Cameroon win the Olympics in 2000 at just 16, and Le Havre were quick to snap him up. A move to Espanyol in 2004 gave him the chance he sought, and he was quick to transfer to La Liga, where he was a great success, becoming one of several players brought in by Malaga during their brief flirtation with being a financial power. While Willy Caballero displaced him during the reign of Manuel Pellegrini, Kameni has nonetheless continued to rack up the accolades for Cameroon, coming back into the fold for a recent World Cup qualifier against Niger after having been in the wilderness in recent years.
STEVE MANDANDA // SENIOR DEBUT: 2005
While an unfortunate bridesmaid to Hugo Lloris for the French national team over the last few years, Steve Mandanda has been one of Ligue 1’s most impressive goalkeepers for several seasons, and at just 30, has the opportunity to continue to do so. While the current Marseille defense surely must have the Zaire-born player stretched at times, he has also enjoyed sustained periods of success with the club, having arrived from Le Havre in 2007. A three-time Ligue 1 goalkeeper of the year, Mandanda won the 2010 title with l’OM as well as three successive Coupe de la Ligues. Mandanda played two seasons for Le Havre, having spent five years in the academy.
VIKASH DHORASOO // SENIOR DEBUT: 1993
Born in Honfleur of Mauritanian heritage, Dhorasoo was never a nailed-on selection for the national team, owing to a high level of competition. He did, however, earn 18 caps forLes Bleus, but more than that, was an integral part of Lyon’s run of success, his move from Normandy in 1998 being one of the keys to the club’s seven consecutive titles before moving to Milan in 2004. He returned to Ligue 1 after failing to make a mark in Italy, spending a year with Paris Saint-Germain, but his tricks and sublime goals from across the front line for Lyon were a thing of beauty.
Le Havre ended the past weekend, at the time of writing, just two points off promotion, but youth has been less of a mandate for the club of late. Mathieu Duhamel was a big money signing for the club over the summer, the veteran striker replacing the younger Mickael Le Bihan, who was sold to Nice. Still, the cupboard is far from bare in Normandy. Harold Moukoudi is a promising central defender who has been capped up to the U-18 level for France, although he has yet to make his professional debut. Another B team player, Mohamed Chemlal, was originally developed at Caen’s academy and had featured for Boulogne at 17 in a handful of cup matches prior to that. He is also a French youth international, although at 20, his career may have stalled slightly. Still, the collective success of LeHavre’s players across Ligue 1 in the past two decades is impressive; imagine a team combining the likes of Diarra, Payet, Mandanda, Pogba rivaling Paris Saint-Germain for the title.
Written by Eric Devin
Eric Devin is an Oregon-based football writer. He writes about Ligue 1 for Get French Football News and Outside of the Boot.
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