As Montpellier HSC were dumped out of the Coupe de la Ligue by FC Nantes on Tuesday night, two key players were missing from their midfield. Playmaker Ryad Boudebouz, an irreplaceable talent, capable of pulling the strings of any club in France, and Morgan Sanson, the engine, drive and heart of the southern side for the past few years.
The former will feel like the biggest loss, out until at last February, the Algeria international will miss the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations. With 47, only Dimitri Payet – another Ligue 1 alumni – has created more chances in Europe’s top leagues this season. However, it’s Sanson, with six assists, who is helping his teammates find the back of the net.
Jean Michael Seri of high-flying Nice has eight assists this term, but Sanson’s place in the top 10 around Europe should be respected, especially with La Paillade sitting 13th and, like Seri, that accounts for 25% of the goals his team has scored this term.
Montpellier 3-0 PSG : le meneur de jeu sudiste Morgan Sanson, 1m82, 22 ans pose sa candidature en équipe de France. pic.twitter.com/BOcImtBlF2
— Numa Mann (@Numa_Mann) December 3, 2016
The 22-year-old also has three goals, and when comparing numbers to his team-mates, he is everywhere, contributing on every element of Montpellier’s play. He ranks in the top five for interceptions, shots per game, key passes, players fouled and crosses made. No one else in the team has played more minutes either.
Boudebouz may be the creative hub, the spark, but Sanson is the metronome, the young midfielder makes this team tick and after feeling pain in his thigh in the 2-1 away defeat to Lille he missed the cup defeat as a precaution.
Coach Frederic Hantz needs his star back, especially if MHSC wants to stay out of the relegation battle this term. After joining from Le Mans in the summer of 2013, the teenager was expected to become the long-term replacement for Remy Cabella. The winger was always going to leave for pastures new, but quickly Sanson made his mark as a central midfielder, playing 32 times in his debut Ligue 1 campaign.
Although he had never played in the top flight, he took to it like a duck to water. Cabella would leave for Newcastle and the team quickly fell into Sanson’s hands. He had already shown different facets to his game, either playing deeper, winning the ball and then starting a counter with his driving runs, or taking on the playmaker mantle, drifting past opponents, pushing the ball down the channels.
It looked like he had it all. In his second full season, he scored six times, adding two assists, but the exciting thing was, you could see there was more to come. His progress was suddenly halted in the dying weeks of the season, coming off against Toulouse, it didn’t look good. The prognosis, a ruptured ACL knee injury and the youngster wouldn’t be seen again for seven months.
He made 14 appearances last season, but only started six times. There had been signs of the old Sanson, but his recovery was taken slowly. A full pre-season behind him and he was ready for action, and you can see the difference it has made.
For on-looking scouts, the hardest thing for them will be determining what type of midfielder he is. Sanson has played as a defensive No.6, but also as Montpellier’s No.10, in truth he is a mixture of them all with a good dose of being an excellent box-to-box midfielder too. He really is, anything he wants to be.
In the recent 3-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain, it was the 22-year-old that led by example. He set the tone from the first second, harrying the Parisian midfield. Young Christopher Nkunku started that game, also widely regarded as a top prospect, but Sanson never gave him a second. He finished with two assists, five tackles and three interceptions.
“It was night we had imagined in our dreams,” Sanson told reporters after the PSG game. “The more it progressed, the more confident we were. The coach has made sure we are in the best condition and that we have a clear plan.”
— Andrew Gibney (@Gibney_A) December 14, 2016
For the second and crucial goal, it was all down to the midfielder’s intelligence, running ability and strength. Bursting down the left, he knew there was a lack of options in the centre. He waited patiently, held off the advances of Thiago Silva before laying the ball off to Ellyes Skhiri to fire high past Alphonse Areola.
Sanson is constantly working. It’s like he has ants in his pants. As soon as he wins the ball, or plays a pass, he’s on the run, making an angle, looking for the next option. You can almost see the cogs in his brain turning as he masterminds his next move.
Olympique de Marseille are known to be interest in a move this winter, as Frank McCourt tries to build his new empire at the Stade Velodrome. Olympique Lyonnais are long-term admirers and would have perhaps made a move before his injury.
“Yes, I have read a lot of things, but, as I have already said, I am remaining 100% concentrated on Montpellier for the moment,” said Sanson when asked by beIN Sports about the Marseille interest. “I am coming back well, I am savouring it, but I remain truly concentrated in order to continue my progression and I work every day with Montpellier in my head.”
— AFC Bournemouth News (@bmth_football) December 8, 2016
A move to England is not off the cards though and AFC Bournemouth are reported to have been in attendance to monitor his progress, and you can see a Jack Wilshere like resemblance in his play. The passing and movement, the drive to push forward, perhaps this is Eddie Howe’s plan if the Arsenal loanee doesn’t continue at the Vitality Stadium and it’s a league that interests the player too.
“What pleases me is the hype around this championship,” he told So Foot magazine in an interview. “The stadiums are full every game, they eat, sleep football. This is not the only league that attracts me, but the overall quality is great, so yes, it’s attractive.”
It would be a huge surprise if Bournemouth were the only club with eyes on Sanson, Leicester City in the past have watched his early progress, and any club who needs a talented, well-rounded and smart midfielder, could do much worse than enquiring about his availability.
The injury to Boudebouz would make any winter move unlikely, however, in the summer, watch for the vultures to descend on the Stade de la Mosson once again. Back to his best after a long-term injury, Sanson’s future looks extremely bright, it’s just a matter of where he shines next.