Le50 2016: Yoan Cardinale: OGC Nice
With the return of Hatem Ben Arfa and the incredible counter-attacking football on display at Nice, the goings-on further back have gone slightly under the radar. At the start of the season most expected Simon Pouplin to be the first choice but he lasted just over 30 minutes in the opening game of the season.
Talented youngster Mouez Hassen, who had been earning positive reviews from his performances in the academy, took his place in the side. Nice has always been a good breeding ground for goalkeepers, with two ex-Nicois, Hugo Lloris and David Ospina, currently either side of North London.
What no-one expected was that Claude Puel would have to turn to a third goalkeeper when Hassen suffered an injury of his own a couple of months later. Yoan Cardinale had already played a couple of games when Hassen was ruled out and initially he was deemed too heavy and not agile enough to be a top level keeper.
Since then Cardinale has put in a couple of truly impressive performances, most notably during the games against Montpellier and Marseille. Nice got four points out of those two matches and without those points they would be have been sixth, rather than the lofty heights of third.
Without his presence, they would have definitely been four points worse off, and given how close things are in the race for Europe, these small margins could be crucial.
During these games Cardinale showed off his greatest skills, namely his reflexes and shot-stopping. Nice allow more shots against them per game than the likes of Marseille and GFC Ajaccio and it’s a good thing for them that Cardinale is able to react quickly enough to flush out the danger and be alert to opposition shots.
There have been mistakes, and sometimes one feels there may be a clanger just around the corner but in fairness to Cardinale he is evidently working hard to keep his concentration up during games and improve his decision-making, so he can cut out these errors. It’s also worth pointing out that he is a 22-year-old goalkeeper who probably didn’t expect to be anywhere near the first team this season.
Since Hassen has returned to full fitness he has had to make do with a place on the bench, with Puel choosing to reward Cardinale for his good form with a regular place in the team. Ironically Hassen is still regularly in the France U21 squad but he can’t get back into the Nice team.
It’s certainly going to be interesting over the summer to see what decision Puel makes with his keepers. If Cardinale keeps playing as he is it’s going to be hard for his manager to pick any keeper other than him. Often with footballers they need a bit of luck to get their break and Cardinale certainly had that. He took his chance well though and it’s going to be fascinating to see how he develops going forward.