The following article is extracted from Football News’s 200,000 word guide to the world of French football, The Football News 100 which focused on ranking individuals’ performances over the course of 2014 as a calendar year. To download the whole guide, click here.
The following piece was written in December 2014 and published on the 5th January 2015. Jordan Amavi was a new entry in 2014 and ranked 67th in our index out of French football’s 100 best players in this year’s Football News 100.
If one French football enthusiast were to ask another in which position on the pitch they thought there was the most emerging talent in during 2014, the other would probably reply at left back. Lucas Digne, Layvin Kurzawa and Raphael Guerreiro have, more or less, continued to progress at a pleasing rate which has enabled them to appear for their national teams in the last 12 months. However, one man who arguably has the potential to outdo the aforementioned youngsters is OGC Nice starlet Jordan Amavi.
The reason why Amavi has not yet received recognition in the French national team like Digne and Kurzawa have is perhaps because the Toulon-born man’s rise has been astoundingly rapid. After all, 20-year-old Amavi only signed his first professional contract in May 2014 as a reward for his incredibly mature performances in the absence of the then regular starting left-back for Les Aiglons Timothée Kolodziejczak, who has since departed for Sevilla.
Amavi spent his formative years at his local club Sporting Toulon Var before being picked up by OGC Nice in 2010. He was offered the chance to integrate into the Côte D’Azur side’s increasingly successful and reputable youth set up and duly upped sticks to Nice. After appearing for France’s U18 and U19 outfits, it was only at the beginning of the 2013-2014 season that Nice manager Claude Puel brought Amavi up from the CFA (reserve) side to initially shadow Kolodziejczak. The latter was receiving rave reviews at the time for his attacking contributions from left back and how he had been unleashed after a difficult time at Lyon.
If Amavi had been anxious to make his mark as quickly as possible in the first team, he did not have to worry about getting the chance. Throughout the 2013/14 season, Kolodziejczak was only available for selections in patches, with a string of injuries. There were however also more sombre reasons for “Kolo’s” absence including a reported rift between player and manager as the 2013/14 campaign came to close.
Anyway, Amavi put his head down and duly made his first Ligue 1 appearance for Les Aiglons in the 2013/14 season’s opener against Lyon, but it was a grim day for all involved except OL, who duly thrashed Nice by four goals to nil. While Amavi was initially dropped for the Nice’s following Ligue 1 game, he was brought back into the side a week later against Ajaccio where he gave a more assured account of himself. The young Frenchman went on to appear 19 times over the course of the 2013/14 campaign, committing just 15 fouls in the process.
Now this statistic leads us nicely onto what many believe to be the most remarkable facet of Amavi’s game. On his day, he is even the best wingers’ nightmare. Amavi has this incredibly rare, raw quality of being able not only to consistently anticipate his opposing man’s next move but to be able to dispossess him without conceding a free-kick. For a 20 year old, he has an absolutely stunning ability to read the game, far beyond his years. One of the final games of the calendar year, a nil-nil draw with Saint-Étienne in December springs to mind when trying to find Amavi’s last unplayable performance. He possesses this serenity on the ball, coupled by cool-headedness when trying to make an interception.
This effortless but lively full-back often seems to trick opposing attackers into thinking he lacks strength or commitment by the way in which he might approach them during a match, but really Amavi is finding a prime position from which he can then launch himself at the ball, dispossessing the attacker in the process. As a rather lean full-back, Amavi does not possess the physical attributes that some of the opponents that he comes up against might, but his formidable leap and puissance often enable him to attempt to reach the ball before the attacker rather than allowing the opposition to duel with him face to face, which might otherwise see Amavi shrugged off.
Claude Puel’s decision not to dip into the transfer window during the summer of 2014 for a left back despite Kolodziejczak’s departure is testament to the wonderful faith that the former Lyon boss has in his man Amavi. In September 2014, Amavi was able to claim his first professional goal for Nice in a match they eventually lost to Nantes. Amavi showcased his aerial ability by getting in front of the defender from a corner and nicking the ball in at the near post. He added a second to his tally in December away to Caen, where Les Aiglons came out with a narrow but crucial victory.
What is perhaps most disappointing for Jordan Amavi, famed for his rapidity and eagerness to bomb forward in Nice’s counter-attacking style formation, is his lack of any official assists in Ligue 1, despite having played another 19 games in the first half of the 2014/15 campaign. There are two principal reasons for this. The first is that Amavi’s crossing ability needs refining. Not that he hasn’t progressed in that area in 2014, on the contrary, but often, after a 50m burst down the left wing, he lacks the composure to get an adequate cross in.
The other reason exonerates Amavi from blame and that is Nice’s lack of an aerial threat in the opposition’s box. Puel has in the last few seasons played the diminutive Darío Cvitanich as a lone striker or more recently Alassane Pléa and Alexy Bosetti. All of whom are technically gifted, but prefer to attack defenders face on rather than jostle in the box to get their head on incoming crosses.
If there was one word to describe Amavi’s 2014 it would be exciting. He has continued to progress at international youth level and has now tied down his place as the starting left-back in France’s U21s. While he has thrown in the odd displeasing performance over the course of the calendar year, as to be expected for a man barely out of his teens, on his day, Amavi really is the complete left-back with, all being well, the most incredible future ahead of him.