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 AS Cannes.
Founded in 1902, AS Cannes are not a particularly well known club. With good reason, too. Their greatest success, winning the 1932 edition of the Coupe de France, occurred 85 years ago, and since then they have endured a lacklustre existence. Largely stuck in the French 2nd division, this temporarily changed in the late 80s and early 90s as the club began to produce more improved teams, putting a key emphasis on youth development. They finished 4th in the 1990/91 Division 1 and in 1995 won the famous French youth cup, the Coupe Gambardella.
Unfortunately, larger clubs prised away the talent and induced a decline in the side. Cannes were relegated from Division 1 for the final time in 1998 and ever since it has been a slippery slope; with relegation from Division 2 in 2001 followed by a decade stagnating in the 3rd division. During this time they lost their professional status, and in 2006 the youth academy was closed down. They were then administratively relegated twice in the space of a few seasons, almost went bankrupt, and ended up in the 7th division. Despite this, they have the proud record of launching the careers of two World Cup winners and countless other internationals.
10 BEST PRODUCTS
Note that these are professional footballers who have played in or after 2000.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE // SENIOR DEBUT: 1989
Unquestionably one of the greatest midfielders of all time, and an idol to myself and millions of others at the turn of the century. Helped Cannes record that best ever league finish in 1991, prior to joining Bordeaux the following year. Went on to play over 150 games for Juventus before becoming the world’s most expensive footballer in 2001 after his move to Real Madrid. As part of the Galacticos he scored a stunning volley in 2002 to win the Champions League final. He was also crowned FIFA World Player of the Year on three occasions (1998, 2000, 2003) and Ballon D’Or winner once (1998). Went out in rather unfortunate terms with his infamous headbutt on Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, although he already had a winner’s medal in his collection from 1998, alongside success at Euro 2000. Now manager at Real, he helped the club win La Undécima last year, and is currently fronting a title charge.
JOHAN MICOUD // SENIOR DEBUT: 1992
Another Euro 2000 winner, albeit less well known than Zizou, Micoud was a dynamic attacking midfielder specialising in set pieces. He left Cannes for Bordeaux in 1996, and won the league in 1999 prior to a move to Italian side Parma. During his time in Italy he won the Coppa Italia, before his stay was curtailed by Parma’s financial troubles. As a result he changed country again, moving in 2002 to Werder Bremen. In Germany he won a league and cup double in 2004, before ending his career back at Bordeaux. He returned to Cannes in the summer of 2016 as president.
PATRICK VIEIRA // SENIOR DEBUT: 1994
Tough tackling midfielder who actually played most of his youth football away from the Riviera, at FC Drouais and FC Tours, before honing his craft in Cannes’ academy. He was a fast developer, making his debut at 17 and by 19 was club captain. Like Zidane he helped France win the World Cup in 1998 and Euros in 2000. His career was largely played in England with Arsenal, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. Captain of their 2003/04 Invincibles season, he was also noted for his fierce rivalry with Manchester United’s Roy Keane, the pinnacle being their 2005 tunnel argument. Latterly with Juventus and Inter Milan, where he won 3/4 Scudettos depending on who you ask. Retired in 2011 at Manchester City and is now manager of their sister club New York City, with aspirations of returning to the Etihad as boss one day. Interestingly, Cannes were the only French team Vieira played for.
JONATHAN ZEBINA // SENIOR DEBUT: 1996
Another French international, Zebina was a versatile defender who never quite fulfilled his early promise. Initially impressing at Cagliari and then Roma, with whom he won the 2001 Scudetto, he was reunited with Fabio Capello in 2004 at Juventus. His preferred right back role was taken by Gianluca Zambrotta though, meaning an awkward shift to back-up centre back. He did stay loyal and feature more after their relegation in 2006, but his time in Turin was mired by inconsistency, a poor disciplinary record and wage disputes. He finally left Juve in 2010 after his contract was cancelled, becoming something of a journeyman with Brescia, Brest, Toulouse and Arles Avignon. Now owner of a large contemporary art collection and gallery in Milan.
PETER LUCCIN // SENIOR DEBUT: 1996
Combative defensive midfielder Luccin grew up in Marseille, following Zidane’s path from Cannes to Bordeaux in 1997. He then joined Marseille, becoming captain of the French U21s prior to a £9.9 million transfer to arch rivals PSG in 2000. Loaned to Celta Vigo the following summer, he featured heavily and joined permanently as the side went on to qualify for the Champions League in 2003. His next move was to Atlético Madrid in 2004, with whom he played over 85 games. He was reunited with former Celta boss Víctor Fernández at Real Zaragoza in 2007, but injuries meant his time on the pitch was limited at La Romareda. After a loan to Racing Santander he was released in 2010, being out of the game for a year before short spells in the MLS with FC Dallas and FC Lausanne in Switzerland. Finally hung up his boots in 2014, with a dreadful disciplinary record of 146 yellow cards and 13 reds from 456 appearances. Among these was an incident in 2002 where he spat on Celtic’s John Hartson.
SEBASTIEN FREY // SENIOR DEBUT: 1997
Making his debut at 17, Frey established the goalkeeping spot as his own during two highly promising seasons with Cannes. These performances led to a move to Inter Milan, where he was initially loaned out to Hellas Verona, but returned as first choice after winning the prestigious Guerin d’Oro award as the media’s Player of the Season. Was however sold in 2001 after Francesco Toldo’s arrival from Fiorentina, and handed the unenviable task of replacing Juve-bound Gianluigi Buffon at Parma. Frey performed admirably, helping the side win the Coppa Italia in 2002 alongside Micoud. In the wake of the financial situation at Parma he was initially loaned, and then sold, to Fiorentina. Again, he played consistently for several seasons, before injuring his ACL and missing most of the 2010/11 season. He was picked up by Genoa and then Turkish side Bursaspor, but the injury had taken its toll and he wasn’t the same player. His younger brother Nicolas, currently a right back with Chievo, also came through the Cannes academy.
JULIEN ESCUDE // SENIOR DEBUT: 1998
Yet another French international, this time with 13 caps to his name, Escudé was a solid central defender. After leaving Cannes for Rennes in 1999 he made over 100 appearances for Les Rouges et Noirs, and was rumoured to be on the verge of transferring to Manchester United in 2002, before joining Ajax a year later. Here he won the 2003/04 Eredivisie before a fall out with manager Danny Blind led to a €2 million transfer to Sevilla. During his time in Andalucía he became a key part of the side, winning two UEFA Cups and two Copa del Reys, making over 220 appearances through his 6 year stay. Retired in 2014 after two seasons at Beşiktaş. His older brother is a former world top 20 tennis player who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 1998.
GAEL CLICHY // SENIOR DEBUT: 2002
Left back who almost died during his formative years with Cannes. Taking a shortcut over a training field, he tried to jump over a gate and a ring he was wearing got caught. This tore the skin off his finger and during the operation to repair it his heart stopped for 15 seconds. Alongside fellow Cannes graduate Vieira he won the 2003/04 Premier League title with Arsenal, becoming the youngest player to receive a medal. Was initially second fiddle to Ashley Cole, but became first choice after Cole’s move to Chelsea in 2006. In 2008 he was named in the PFA Team of the Year, and following several solid campaigns was sold to Manchester City in 2011 for €8 million. In his time with City he has won a further two Premier Leagues and two League Cups, and is still a regular under Pep Guardiola.
MORGAN AMALFITANO // SENIOR DEBUT: 2003 (For CS Sedan)
Winger Amalfitano didn’t debut in the Cannes first team, leaving in 2003 for CS Sedan. Here he became a consistent performer at right wing, going on to Lorient and then Marseille. Was loaned to West Brom for the 2013/14 season, scoring the winner at Old Trafford in a 2-1 victory. Was not bought by the Baggies after a mid-season dip in form though, instead joining West Ham. After another lacklustre season in English football he fell out with new boss Slaven Bilić, and eventually had his contract terminated in October 2015. Returned to France to play for Lille, and in January this year moved to Rennes.
VINCENT KOZIELLO // SENIOR DEBUT: 2014 (For OGC Nice)
Midfield wonderkid who has played a major part in Nice’s unlikely title charge. Was on Cannes’ books from 2006 to 2013, but like Amalfitano never actually made a senior appearance. He joined Nice’s academy that summer, making his debut the following year against Lyon. He has since made himself one of the first names on the team sheet thanks to his stylish passing and vision, and seems destined for the very top. Koziello’s performances have led to him being scouted by several heavyweights of football, including Arsenal, Juventus, and most importantly, this site!
On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be too much to get excited about. A club in the French 6th division wouldn’t necessarily rank too highly on the list of destinations for talent scouts, and a look at their current youth ranks tells a suitably sombre story. After the 2006 closure the academy has re-opened, albeit on a smaller scale, with the U19s 12th in their 14-team league, U17s bottom and U15s second bottom. This is however against clubs from Ligue 1 and Ligue 2, who have vastly superior budgets. For Cannes to still be competing at this level is an effort which should be applauded.
The first team meanwhile, despite their lowly status, are experiencing success with a fairly youthful squad. As mentioned they are now in the 6th division, currently sitting top and looking to go one better than their 2nd placed finish of last season. One shining light is Dylan Bronn, a 21-year-old central defender who joined Ligue 2 Chamois Niortais last summer. He was only intended to be used as a reserve, but such have been his performance levels he has started 27/36 games, and last month earned his first cap for the Tunisian national team. Whilst I’m not saying he will go on to replicate the careers of his predecessors, to produce a player who can seamlessly go up four leagues and into international football takes some doing. Even in dark times there is still talent to be found at AS Cannes, and it seems nothing will be able to halt this tremendous production line.
You can read other articles in the series here
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