Ligue 1’s final match-day saw seven teams including Caen on the verge of relegation. Hoping to avoid defeat they would play host to 2nd place Marseille in what was always going to be a tough end to the season.
Against the odds it was Franck Dumas’ side that took a surprise early lead through Yohan Mollo’s 7th minute strike. With half time approaching the home fans were hoping to go into the break with their slender lead intact.
Midfield maestro Benjamin Nivet received the ball inside the centre circle and with a lovely ball out wide he found 16-year old striker M’Baye Niang racing through on goal. The youngster charged into the box and then with the composure of a veteran finisher he calmly stroked the ball past Steve Mandanda giving his team an unlikely 2-0 lead. Marseille would come back to level the game late on, but Caen were safe and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, M’Baye Niang was the real deal.
Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have all been linked Caen’s teenage sensation this week for a price of around €8m being mentioned. His three goals in only four starts towards the end of last season seems to have caught the attention of Europe’s top clubs, it’s no surprise though. Europe’s elite have been apparently interested long before he even made his debut for the first-team.
Caen’s youth team scouts David Lasry and Laurent Blaize travelled to Meulan a little town less than an hour from Paris. After receiving a tip off about a 13 year old with outstanding ability and physical stature, they were instantly impressed. A short trial at Caen followed and the club acted quickly to put Niang in contract with the side from Normandy. They knew they had a special talent on their hands.
Two years in the youth team followed and Niang’s developement continued to impress the coaching staff. Once he turned 15 he was promoted to the reserve team. Caen II play in France’s fourth tier and the step up didn’t seem to faze him in any way. Playing alongside France U17 international Lenny Nangis, the young striker managed an impressive record of 5 goals in 16 games, for any player of his age in the fourth tier this is virtually unheard of.
Speaking to OuestFrance.fr Caen U19 coach Phillippe Tranchant was full of praise:
“M’Baye has huge potential; we’ve never seen a player like him at the club before.”
His impressive performances didn’t go unnoticed and Niang was called up to the France U16 squad, three goals later and he was called up for the U17s. There was some surprise that Niang didn’t make the squad for the U17 World Cup in Mexico. Patrick Gonfalone deciding in the end to go with exciting winger and team-mate Lenny Nangis.
It was back in April during Caen’s 1-1 draw against Toulouse when Ligue 1 fans would get their first glimpse of the young striker. To little fanfare Niang replaced Kandia Traore with 13 minutes to go. The small cameo led to a starting role in the 4-0 away win over Nice. With most of the attention on Youssef El-Arabi and Romain Hamouma it went virtually unnoticed that Niang had become the youngest ever player in Caen’s history.
Back at the Stade Michel d’Ornano coach Franck Dumas kept faith in Niang leaving him in the starting XI for the visit of Lens. Instantly he paid back his manager’s faith. Only two minutes into the match Niang received the ball on the left-hand side of the box, his shot was weak but on target and it was left to ‘keeper Vedran Runje to fumble the ball into his own net. There was no doubt Niang would go on to score better goals, but you always remember your first.
The opening goal in the 1-1 draw with Lens saw Niang become the 2nd youngest scorer in Ligue 1, St-Etienne’s Laurent Roussey still hold the record from back in 1978. In Caen’s next game against Rennes he came off the bench just after half-time and again made an instant impact. Yohan Mollo released El-Arabi down the left and a perfect first time pass found Niang in the box to apply the finish. The goal earned Caen a valuable away point.
Dumas seems to be purposely limiting Niang’s minutes which is smart move with a kid of only 16 years old. M’Baye has yet to play a full 90 minutes at Caen and with the likes of Tottenham, and with both Manchester United and Manchester City showing interest there is a chance that he never will.
In his short time on the big stage Niang has shown tremendous ability and potential. Physically big and strong, he times his movement well to lose defenders and get in-behind opposition defences. The goal against Marseille showed excellent composure when one-on-one against one of the best goalkeepers in France. It also seems as if he has his head in the right place and a move to England at this stage would be a surprise.
“I do not forget where I come. I want to keep my feet on the ground. I am developing at Caen, I want to impose myself at this club, and I do not know what I would do abroad at 15 and a half! “
With Youssef El-Arabi on the verge of a move away from Normandy next season could provide Niang with plenty of opportunities to show more of his excellent potential and become a very important player for Caen. The club seem to have his best interests at heart and they hope he could follow in the footsteps of William Gallas and Yoann Gouffran in becoming another of Caen’s impressive graduates.
Whether he could make the same developments at a Premier League club remain to be seen. Fans of Ligue 1 and Caen should keep their fingers crossed that he will continue his journey on French shores next season.