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The Academy Series | 10 best Metz products: Pirès, Pjanić, And Mané Feature

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 FC Metz.


They say money doesn’t buy success in football. Despite throwing millions into coaching, state of the art facilities and signing on incentives, many clubs fail to achieve the type of prosperity which comes so naturally to a small club in north-eastern France. This club have never won the league and have only recorded two cup triumphs in their 85-year history. Their success however is off the pitch, with an academy which has produced a World Cup winner, African Player of the Year and several Champions League regulars. The club in question is FC Metz.

One thing that puts their academy a step ahead of others in the area is that Metz look beyond the borders of France for talent. They are majority shareholders in Génération Foot, an academy in Senegal which has helped to unearth several Premier League regulars and over 30 professional players. At the end of each year the best player from this academy is selected to join Metz upon reaching the age of 18, when they are legally allowed to sign on as a non-EU player. There are also close ties with the Luxembourg FA, taking advantage of the short distance to the border. Recently the club have cast their net further afield into the hugely untapped Asian market, with a partnership in place with the Chinese FA and three promising Indian players training with the academy last spring. Add all this together, and as you can see from the list below, the result is some serious talent.


Note that these are professional footballers who have played in or after 2000.


Winger who spent most of his youth career at hometown team Reims before joining Metz’s academy in 1992. Made his debut the following year, spending six seasons at the club as he helped win the 1996 Coupe de la Ligue and in the narrow title loss in 1998 which ended in 2nd place, only behind Lens on goal difference. Following a turbulent two years with Marseille, Pirès moved to Arsenal in 2000 for £8.3 million. He won the Premier League twice along with three FA Cups, as well as been named in the PFA Team of the Year for three consecutive seasons between 2002 and 2004. In 2006 he left for Villarreal having only been offered a 12 month extension to his contract, going on to make over 100 appearances in Spain. Returned to England for a short stint with Aston Villa in 2011 and made a handful of appearances four years later for Indian side FC Goa. Part of the France squad that won the 1998 World Cup and the Euros in 2000, in 2016 he was voted as Arsenal’s 6th greatest ever player.


Joining Metz from the renowned finishing school of Clairefontaine in 1995, Saha spent two years in the academy prior to debuting in 1997. Either side of an unsuccessful loan spell at Newcastle he only scored 5 goals in 47 league appearances for Les Grenats. However, he found his form back in England with Fulham, scoring 27 league goals in the 2000/01 promotion campaign to end as top scorer. He continued performing in the Premier League and after a fantastic start to the 2003/04 season joined Manchester United for £12.4 million in January 2004. Saha started off with 7 goals in 10 games and made the France squad for Euro 2004, although was unfortunate with injuries during his career at Old Trafford. He did however pick up two Premier League titles and a Champions League winners medal before joining Everton in 2008. He scored the Toffees’ opener in their 2009 FA Cup final loss to Chelsea, and following brief spells at Tottenham, Sunderland and Lazio retired in 2013.


Togo’s record scorer and a huge part of their shock 2006 World Cup qualification, Adebayor was brought to Metz in 1999 from Togolese side OC Agaza. He spent two years in the academy prior to his Ligue 1 debut in 2001, and following two impressive campaigns joined Monaco in 2003. His big break came in January 2006 courtesy of a £3 million transfer to Arsenal, where he became the main striker following Thierry Henry’s departure in 2007. During his time in London he notched an impressive 62 goals in 142 appearances and won the 2008 African Player of the Year award. A £25 million transfer to newly enriched Manchester City came about in 2009, from which the defining memory is his knee slide celebration against his former employers. After falling out of favour under Roberto Mancini, Adebayor was loaned to Real Madrid and then Tottenham, the latter of whom he refound his form with. He moved permanently to Spurs the following season, but failed to turn in the performances from his first season and became a massive wage burden prior to his release in 2015. Now plies his trade in Turkey for Istanbul Başakşehir, with a record so far of 6 goals in 9 games. Despite his impressive CV, Adebayor has only ever won one trophy, the 2011 Copa del Rey.


Obraniak chose to represent Poland (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

A local who made his debut at 17 in a cup match with Martigues, Obraniak was the leading figure in the 2001 Coupe Gambardella winning team and was expected to have a big future. Capped by France at U21 level, the skilful midfielder joined Lille for €1.2 million in January 2007. During his stay at LOSC he scored 22 goals in 198 appearances, won the Coupe de France final in 2011 with a last minute free kick against PSG and changed his international allegiances to Poland. This is something that has always divided opinion, as by his own admission he speaks very little Polish. A major flashpoint came in 2012 where after a sending off against Montenegro teammate Jakub Błaszczykowski publicly criticised him. After finding his playing time with Lille limited by the performances of Eden Hazard and Dimitri Payet, Ludo moved in January 2012 to Bordeaux, where he won another Coupe de France in 2013. Following this he embarked on a tour of Europe, enjoying stints in Germany, Turkey and Israel prior to returning to France in 2017 with Auxerre.


Another Clairefontaine graduate who ended up in Metz’s academy, centre back Bassong played 84 games before joining Newcastle in 2008 for £500,000. Following their relegation and his impressive form he transferred to Tottenham for £8 million, whilst opting to play for Cameroon. However, he soon fell out of favour to William Gallas, joining Wolves on loan in 2012 before switching to Norwich at the end of the season. Bassong played consistently for a few years, but once again fell out of favour and was released at the end of last season after only making 13 appearances. As he looks for a new club his time will be taken up by performing DJ sets in London nightclubs over the summer.


Central midfielder Pjanić is the supreme example of Metz’s relationship with Luxembourg bearing fruit. The creative playmaker played for the micronation at youth level before switching to his country of birth Bosnia in 2008. Around the same time his string of excellent performances led to a move to Lyon for €7.5 million. Following another impressive spell where he established himself as the heir to Juninho thanks to his playmaking efforts and free kick taking, in 2011 he left France for Roma. After five seasons in the capital Pjanić made the move north to Juventus following back-to-back seasons as Serie A’s leading assist provider. With Juve he has once again established himself as a key player, winning the Scudetto, Coppa Italia and reaching the Champions League final in his first season in Turin.


The first Senegalese on the list, thanks to the aforementioned link with Génération Foot, Sakho joined Metz in 2009 and impressed in the reserves. He made his debut the following year and after several productive seasons, including 20 goals and the Ligue 2 Player of the Season award in 2014, he followed the now familiar path for Metz graduates to the Premier League. He joined West Ham and shone during his debut season with 12 goals. Last season however he only played four matches thanks to a series of injuries, rejecting a move to Sunderland and failing a medical at West Brom last summer. Endeavouring to return to full fitness, he currently remains with the Hammers as a squad player.


Koulibaly in action for Napoli (Photo credit: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Another Senegalese international, albeit an anomaly as Koulibaly was born in France and joined Metz in 2003 from SR Saint-Dié, rather than through Génération Foot. After going back to his first club he returned to the Metz academy for a second spell in 2009, playing a key part in the 2010 Coupe Gambardella victory and making his professional debut later that year. Following relegation in 2012 the imposing centre back moved on to KRC Genk and after impressing in his two seasons in Belgium secured a £6.5 million move to Napoli. In Italy he has been a revelation and is now allegedly one of the most sought after defenders in Europe.


Another Génération Foot graduate, Mané arrived in France in 2011 injured and at one point was considering quitting due to homesickness. Having completed his rehabilitation he debuted on 14th January 2012 in a loss to Bastia, only playing 22 times and scoring just twice prior to a £4 million transfer to Red Bull Salzburg. During his time in Austria though he scored 44 times in 87 appearances, with such prolific form leading to a £20 million transfer to Southampton in 2014. Again Mané went from strength to strength, reaching double figures in the league in both of his campaigns at St. Mary’s. Last summer he joined Liverpool for a then African record of £35 million, enjoying an impressive first season at Anfield. Despite missing the closing months of the season with a thigh injury, he still finished as the Reds’ joint top scorer in the Premier League.


Ivory Coast born former-French U21 international who only made two league starts for Metz’s first team prior to signing for Lyon in January 2015. Made his debut for Les Gones against his former club as a first half sub for the injured Alexandre Lacazette in a 2-0 win. Went on to make a further three appearances before bursting onto the scene in 2015/16 with an impressive 12 goals, primarily from the left wing. Somewhat stalled last season however thanks to a combination of being played out of position by Bruno Genesio and supposed selfishness in his play. The talent is still there though, as he still managed 10 goals and is being reportedly tracked by Liverpool among others. In April this year he changed national allegiances to the country of his birth, making his debut in June.

Alongside these players, Metz’s academy has also developed the likes of Papiss Cissé and Rigobert Song, who both began their careers in Europe here. However, as they had debuted professionally in their home nations of Senegal and Cameroon they are not included on this list. The club also played a big part in the development of Franck Ribéry, whose first taste of top flight football came at the Stade Saint-Symphorien.


It certainly seems promising, with the first team managing to survive in Ligue 1 last season with a 14th place finish. Key to this are two promising academy graduates. First is Thomas Didillon, a 21-year-old goalkeeper who is excellent with the ball at his feet. Arguably the jewel in the crown is 19-year-old Ismaïla Sarr, a fearless winger who has already drawn comparisons with his compatriot Mané. Despite only playing half of Metz’s matches this season he has scored some crucial goals, already made his full debut for Senegal and is now widely tipped to move on this summer.

Other first teamers from the youth department include 20-year-old Gauthier Hein, another skilful midfielder, and 21-year-old defender Matthieu Udol. Further back in their development, but no less promising, are the Luxembourg born duo of Vincent Thill, already a full international at the mere age of 17, along with captain of the U19 side Emir Bijelic, who plays for Bosnia. There are also a host of France U16 internationals both past (Yohan Junger, Youssef Maziz and Milan Robin) and present (Vincent Collet, Yann Godart and Guillaume Dietsch). Further players to watch no longer at the club include Bnou Marzouk, who left in 2013 for Juventus and was on fire last season for Swiss second tier side FC Chiasso, and Lyon’s Olivier Kemen, who recently finished a loan spell in Ligue 2 with Gazélec Ajaccio. It’s fair to say the current crop of Metz graduates will certainly make their mark in the world of football over the next few years.

You can read other articles in the series here

James Kelly

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