Continuing Juventus French Connection: Clément Lenglet
Juventus know a thing or two about nurturing French footballing talent and the club has boasted several of Les Bleus’ finest players over the years. Legends of yesteryear such as Michel Platini, Didier Deschamps, Zinedine Zidane, David Trezeguet and Lilian Thuram all excelled at the Old Lady while Paul Pogba is forging his own legacy in the current side. Juve added talented Parisian forward Kingsley Coman on a free transfer after his PSG contract expired last summer but the latest promising French starlet set for a move to Turin is AS Nancy-Lorraine’s young defender Clément Lenglet.
After missing out on promotion last year, Nancy were forced to tighten the purse strings for the 2014/15 season and numerous senior players such as Thomas Ayasse, Alexandre Cuvillier, Benjamin Moukandjo, François Bellugou and Thomas Mangani left, while the club also cashed in on Paul Nardi, Yohan Mollo and Jeff Louis. Paul Nardi returned on loan as part of his transfer arrangement with Monaco but with only the addition of Julien Cétout, the injury-prone Fabrice Ehret and Guingamp loanee Mana Dembélé, manager Pablo Correa had to completely reshape the side. He has done so by promoting talent from within. Nancy’s U19 side had a strong 2013/14 season, finishing second in their Championnat National U19 group, while the reserves finished third in their CFA 2 group. Clément Lenglet played a part in both of those sides and his reward for his form was a promotion to the senior squad for the 2014/15 campaign.
Lenglet started his footballing journey with AMS Montchevreuil and then US Chantilly in his native Oise before joining Nancy in the summer of 2010. His move to Nancy earned him almost immediate international recognition as he gained his first youth international cap for Les Bleus in October of that year, representing the U16 side in a friendly against the Netherlands. Lenglet has gone on to represent France at every youth level, accumulating 33 youth international caps in total, with his two latest appearances being for the U21 side in their March friendlies. He was joined in the France U21s for these matches by his Nancy teammates Paul Nardi and Rémi Walter, a testament to the current strength of the Nancy youth program.
Lenglet only made three substitute appearances in Ligue 2 for Les Chardons last season and started the current campaign with first team opportunities limited to the cup competitions. He did not waste those opportunities however, as he produced a tremendous display against Saint-Etienne in the Coupe de France in which Nancy kept out their Ligue 1 opponents for 90 minutes away from home, only to be undone by a Franck Tabanou screamer in extra time. Lenglet found himself on the bench for Nancy’s next league match away at Angers, despite calls from the fans for him to start, although he was thrust into the action early due to an injury to Joffrey Cuffaut. It was a baptism of fire against an inspired Jonathan Kodjia but various injuries and suspensions meant that Lenglet retained his place in the side for the next couple of games nonetheless.
A good display at Nimes was followed by a nervy performance at home to Brest in which Lenglet was caught in possession for the opening goal. His manager Correa kept faith with him though and Lenglet has gone on to start the last 12 league matches, completing the full 90 minutes in all of them. He has improved game by game and has formed a good partnership in the centre of defence with the experienced Joël Sami, with Nancy having only conceded six goals in their last eight league matches since the fixture against Brest.
Physically, Lenglet is built to be a central defender. At 6 ft 2 in he is a real presence in the air and he possesses good strength for a man of only 19 years of age, something he will no doubt build on as he develops further. He is a little limited pace-wise though and as such does not look altogether comfortable when defending one-on-one against a rapid opponent. To counter this he likes to mark his opponent very tightly and looks to keep them with their back to goal. He therefore becomes less effective when dragged out wide and would not function as well in a full-back role.
Lenglet’s main strength, however, is the mental aspect of the game. Composed in possession and cool under pressure, he plays with an assurance that belies his young age. He takes few risks in defence and is decisive in alleviating danger in the most simple and efficient manner. More often than not he tends to keep his passing simple but he is a capable long passer on his left foot, as evidenced by his assist for Youssef Hadji at home to Brest. These qualities have seen him used as a defensive midfielder on occasion, although he is most at home as a left-sided centre back.
While the news of Lenglet’s transfer to the Italian champions may have surprised a few, there’s no doubt that the bianconeri have captured a player with great potential. Like his compatriot Coman, Lenglet will be unlikely to have a huge impact on the first team in his first season and will instead look for opportunities in the cup competitions as he continues to learn his trade. A loan back to French football would not be altogether unexpected and Nancy may look to complete a deal similar to that which saw Paul Nardi return on loan for a season after his Monaco move. Juventus’ successful long association with French footballers will make this an exciting transfer for the fans and Lenget will hope to one day become the next French star to shine in the famous black and white stripes.