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Kaustubh Pandey writes a detailed scout report on Neal Maupay, Saint-Etienne’s pacey forward.
SIf there’s a league that is starkly under-rated in terms of developing youngsters and giving them a chance at a young age, then it is the Ligue 1 of France. The league has managed to produce players like Ronaldinho, Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Jean Pierre Papin in the past, but they were snapped up by bigger European powerhouses once they gained enough recognition.
There’s never any shortage of players in the Ligue 1, who are being eyed by foreign clubs. The instance of Sofiane Boufal, who sealed a move from Lille to Southampton this past summer, is a one that proves the stronghold of Ligue 1 in providing starlets the right platform to nurture themselves for bigger occasions.
After Boufal though, there are multiple players in the French top division, who have caught the eyes of many across the world. The likes of Tiemoue Bakayoko, Issa Diop and Marco Verratti may be on the fore of things more than many youngsters, but there are many who are toiling their way up and taking huge strides towards success. One of them is St. Etienne youngster Neal Maupay.
Currently 20 and on loan at Ligue 2 outfit Stade Brestois, Maupay was born in Versailles in 1996 and began his professional football career in 2002, at the age of six with a small regional side AS Valbonne. Ligue 1 outfit Nice came calling in 2007 and Maupay spent five years plying his trade with junior Nice sides.
It was in 2012 that Maupay got the opportunity to represent the senior side, that too at the age of 16 after making rapid strides at the very young level. Claude Puel, someone who has handed debuts to the likes of Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Eden Hazard in the past, gave Maupay the taste of first-team football when he appeared as a substitute in what was a 3-2 win over Brest and before the end of the year, he scored his first ever senior goal against Evian. He had assumed the role of being a third choice forward, but his season ended prematurely as a serious cruciate ligament rupture kept him out for almost a half of the 2013-14 campaign.
His return to action saw him score twice and grab an assist in the remainder of the season and his impressive showings helped him earn a call-up for the Under-21s side at the age of 17.
The youngster didn’t feature as regularly in 2014-15 as he had during the previous season, as Nice finished in 11th spot. Maupay made 15 appearances that season, scoring once. That season sparked a mini-demise, not just in terms of playing time but in terms of a bit of quality too. And Nice were happy to sell a prized asset of theirs for a fee of just €600k.
The move to a Europa League side was a jump, but Maupay was sent out on loan to Brest this past summer, after having made 23 appearances in all competitions for the Les Verts in the 2015-16 campaign.
While the plan was to help Maupay acquire more playing time, the youngster’s goalscoring antics have helped Brest to the top of the league. He is currently tied with Strasbourg’s Khalid Boutaib at the second spot in the Ligue 2 goalscoring charts and has found the back of the net ten times in nineteen appearances already.
Maupay has Argentine roots because of his parents, much like Gonzalo Higuain and is eligible to feature for the South American nation too.
The 20-year-old is just 171 centimetres tall and weighs just 69 kilograms, but this makes him an agile character around the box. His pace and acceleration allows him to zoom past players and his movement in the final third makes him someone to always keep an eye on.
Being a small physical specimen can be an issue for some players, if not for most of them, but Maupay knows how to make perfect use of the body that he has. He can score, create and run at the opposition with some verve.
The most vital part of Maupay’s armory is his dribbling. He makes 3 dribbles per game, which just goes to prove how well he uses his body and how his slender body frame helps him in going past defenders.
Above, it’s worth noticing how Maupay squeezes himself between two defenders after running into the channel between them. The finish at the end of a tenacious run is impressive too. Above all, it is his hunger and desire to reach for the ball that makes him do that.
His versatility is a bonus for his side, he can play on the right and on the left. And it’s his pace on the ball that allows him to do that, apart from his willingness to run throughout the game. He is one of those players who is a grafter and his average positions across the field clearly seems to suggest that. He can drop into deep areas and allow the wingers space to move into. His ability to create things for his team-mates is impressive as well. This season, he has played 1.2 key passes per game at the time of writing.
It’s not just on-the-ball that Maupay usually shines, but his off-the-ball traits catch the eye too. Much like how he knows how to find spaces around the midfield and in front of the opposition backline, Maupay is adept at finding spaces in behind.
He, in fact, is the perfect young, pacey striker for a manager.
Although, Maupay’s body-frame is small enough for him to go past players with ease, he lacks the physical traits to tackle, head and win balls back. That will certainly act as a disadvantage for him, as he progresses in his career. He is past his teenage years and it’s unlikely that his physique will improve dramatically from here on.
He has won only 22 percent of his aerial challenges and his tackling accuracy stands at a lowly 44 percent, which isn’t good enough.