Le50 2016: Morgan Sanson: Montpellier HSC
Now in his third season in Montpellier after what must be one of La Paillade’s best bargain buys when they paid just €700k for the young midfielder from financially-troubled Le Mans, Morgan Sanson is a wonderful player whose promise has been frustratingly impacted by injury recently.
Initially bought in as cover for Remy Cabella, rumoured to be departing in summer 2013 but who ended up staying another season, the young midfielder was often shifted back to a deeper midfield role, where he definitely shone. Tenacious and with a decent first touch, he started 30 games that first season, scoring one and setting up two more, but his contribution was often the pass before the pass. When Cabella did depart in summer 2014, Sanson came to the forefront, a crucial player in a season where Montpellier were pushing for a European place. His understanding with Jonas Martin was key to that – Martin the metronomic passer in midfield, Sanson concentrating on going past opponents. Then a series of unfortunate events took over.
Montpellier were 6th before a goalless draw away at Lorient where Martin was stretchered off with a dislocated shoulder. He missed the next six games, and was being eased back in with a couple of sub appearances when Sanson was carried off with a knee injury away at Toulouse. It looked bad – and it was. A ruptured ACL kept him out for the rest of the season; the prognosis, at least six months.
Deprived of one of their key playmakers, Montpellier didn’t manage to push on and catch Bordeaux, remaining in 7th for the rest of the season. Cynically, one could say that the injury had one positive effect – with six goals and four assists in the 2014/15 season, a solid spot in the U21s, and given that purchase price, Montpellier would likely not have held out too well against a decent money bid for Sanson. As it was, nobody came in for him, waiting to see what happened.
Sanson’s return came when Montpellier were in a very different place: after missing the first 13 league games of 2015/16, the club were struggling badly after an ugly start, although putting a decent run of form together. A lot of hopes were put on the shoulders of the young midfielder as he was gently eased back in with some substitute appearances from late November 2015. He played his first 90-minute game for seven months in the final match before the winter break, a 1-0 defeat at Nice, but then the fates struck again.
After a cup appearance in early January, he was injured again in training – same knee, different story – and missed another ten games as Montpellier went through yet more managerial upheaval and remained in a shaky position. Again, he was eased back in, in another loss against Nice and at Saint-Etienne, but made his starting return in some style, scoring both equalising goals in a 2-2 draw away at Guingamp.
There is something of the terrier about Sanson, a feeling that he will do whatever it takes, fight every last battle, to get his team through – this character was also shown during his lengthy lay-off, and subsequent relapse, when his social media profile remained resolutely up-beat. If he is truly back now, he will doubtless be ready to take charge of a late-season push; the question is whether new manager Frederic Hantz will adapt his approach to accommodate the player who has only recently been available to him.
The prognosis there is good; Hantz’s approach in midfield has been largely dependent on player availability, and with Ryad Boudebouz as the No. 10, Sanson may have another creative player to support, and distracted defenders to bamboozle.