Newspaper article International New York Times

English Clubs Get Gold at Bargain Prices from French League

Newspaper article International New York Times

English Clubs Get Gold at Bargain Prices from French League

Article excerpt

When votes are cast for the England's player of the year, it could come down to Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez and West Ham United's Dimitri Payet.

France has no competitive league to speak of, given that Paris St.-Germain, stocked with imported stars, already has clinched the domestic title with two months left. Yet players sold on the cheap by French clubs are good enough to be among the most outstanding in England this season.

When votes are cast for the English Premier League player of the year, it could come down to a choice between Leicester City's Riyad Mahrez and West Ham United's Dimitri Payet.

Both are regularly described as magicians. Both are dribblers from the old school, relatively small and slight figures with the flair to trick opponents, the ability to score and create goals, and the hunger to keep doing it consistently.

There is a third player in English soccer who might eclipse both in the eyes of some managers. His name is N'Golo Kante. He, too, plays for Leicester, the team that just keeps winning at the top of the league.

Kante, a midfielder, is different from the other two because his role is the equivalent to being a long-distance runner. He clocks up the miles, game after game. He wins possession like a pickpocket, so quick and so clean that he steals the ball almost before opponents realize they have been robbed.

"Kante is my battery," Leicester Manager Claudio Ranieri often says. "He energizes everyone."

When you add up the fees it cost to acquire these three game- changers, it amounts to small change. Mahrez cost half a million dollars to get from Le Havre. Kante's transfer fee was $9 million from Caen, and Payet was traded by Marseille for $16 million.

It has been more than 20 years since the then-president of the French Football Federation lamented at a UEFA meeting that unless something was done about the English and their television money, they could destroy soccer in his country.

That hasn't happened. True, from Thierry Henry to Eric Cantona to the best of the French players now, it seems that every English club has at least one prominent Frenchman.

But France replenishes what it loses or sells abroad. One reason is that the French clubs coach technique, rather than robustness, in their academies. Another is that it has a huge pool of players from the immigrant communities within France, along with those youngsters from the country's overseas departments and territories who end up on the Continent.

Henry's parents moved to Paris from Guadeloupe and Martinique. Zinedine Zidane is from Marseille of an Algerian family of Kabyle Berbers. Patrick Vieira, Marcel Desailly, Jean Tigana and Claude Makelele all moved from Africa to France at a young age and learned their skills there.

The talents have global roots, and give credit to France for finding and schooling them. …

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