Le50 2016: Didier Ndong – FC Lorient
Since arriving at Lorient in January 2015, Didier Ndong has proven to be one of Sylvain Ripoll’s most selected and most dependable players. The Gabon international has barely missed a game in that spell and his standout performances mean bigger suitors have swiftly taken note. His flamboyant hairstyle may suggest someone more focused on the looks and outlandishness of the modern footballer but after seeing him in the pitch, you very quickly understand that he is so much more than that and possesses the attributes needed for success.
After starting out with Tunisian side CS Sfaxien, les Merlus parted with just over €1m for the then 20-year-old and it didn’t take long to see why. Whilst not looking particularly well built, Ndong is surprisingly strong and able to outmuscle even the toughest of opponents. He is at his best when playing in the heart of the midfield but is as comfortable dropping back as he is pushing forward. It’s not too surprising therefore to see his vice-President at Lorient, Alex Hayes, say “Ndong will be the next Michael Essien”. The similarities between the players go further with Ndong unafraid to get stuck in when it comes to tackling and still full of energy up to the 90th minute.
Whilst not an out and out goalscoring midfielder, his effort against Monaco in September 2015 demonstrated that he is capable of the spectacular finish. Ndong has shown potential both in France and Tunisia that if required, he is more than able to become more of a goalscoring threat. With the ball at his feet and his off-the-ball vision, he can be a menace to opposition defences. His ball retention skills are excellent and he can very quickly turn defence into attack with his pace, power and dribbling ability. It’s that tenacity and determination in midfield that stand as Ndong’s leading attributes. As his coach Ripoll has said “he is a complete player who can play offensively or defensively in midfield. He can provide a cutting edge and has a great character and personality”.
An area that he could perhaps look to improve on is his decision-making and focus as often a lack of concentration leads to the wrong pass being made. There is still plenty of fine-tuning to be done for Ndong but there is no doubt he has a substantial bank of core skills that will serve him well. He has spoken of his love for being an “organiser”, so if he can add a little polish to his game he will go on to become a fine leader of the team.
Lorient’s sporting director Christophe Le Roux had words of caution when speaking about the midfielder: “he had to be channeled. After that he settled quickly into European football. Today, he continues to grow, to work well but his post-training is not over. He has enormous potential, but it is still a little raw”.
Premier League clubs Southampton and Stoke City have been linked with Ndong since he joined Lorient and the number and quality of teams interested is only going to increase as he continues his development. Lorient themselves see what potential Ndong has by swiftly putting a minimum transfer fee of €10m, something else that is only going to get bigger in the coming seasons. Ndong is now an established figure in the national side in what is turning into something of a golden generation for Gabon, including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mario Lemina. There is no reason why Ndong, with continued development, cannot follow their examples and move to one of Europe’s giant clubs.