At the end of the 2010/11 season the 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 difficult end to the season.
Against the odds it was Franck Dumas’ side that took a surprise early lead, Yohan Mollo’s 7th minute strike putting the home side 1-0 up. With half time approaching the home fans were hoping to at least 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 striker 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 a name to remember.
Last summer the 16-year was linked to Tottenham Hotspur and even the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City were thought to be keeping an eye on the now French Under 21 international. This week the rumours surrounding Niang’s future picked up pace as Normandy newspaper Ouest-France reported that the 17-year old would be travelling to London to spend a week on trial at Arsenal. A successful visit could lead to the Gunners making a move for the striker.
Not to be outdone in the French market rumours then surfaced that Newcastle had already begun talks with the youngster, hoping to steal a march on their Premier League rivals. It’s fair to say that Niang is a wanted man.
It is no surprise as Europe’s elite have been apparently interested long before he even made his debut for the Caen 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 almost 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 almost 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.
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! “
For musicians the second album is always the most difficult, for Niang it was similar for his second season in Ligue 1. Struggling to find consistency in his form and a constant battle against injuries he never really got into his stride. In fourteen starts he scored two goals, one of which was a superb 30 yard strike away at Annecy against Evian, but unfortunately for Caen these moments were few and far between.
It is clear that Niang has the potential to become a very powerful and deadly striker at any level, however at the moment this talent is very raw, and needs to right guidance to hopefully grow into the player he threatens to be. Sitting on the bench at a Premier League club might not be the best move for the 17-year old.
At the end of last season Caen again faced the prospect of going down, but this time there were no heroics from Niang and Franck Dumas side failed to survive. Dropping down to Ligue 2 is somewhat of a disaster for a team like Caen. Following the footsteps of Nantes and RC Lens, Caen will now see their best young talent leave the club.
Defender Thomas Heurtaux has left to Udinese, winger Frédéric Bulot has moved across the border to Standard Liege and now it looks like M’Baye Niang could be the next talent to leave Normandy to further his career.