France is a footballing hotbed at the moment, with the national side winning the World Cup last summer.
Their success came following a decade of youth production, with the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Samuel Umtiti and Raphael Varane all coming through youth academies across France.
While those three have all moved for big fees, there are also bargains to be had – N’Golo Kante anyone?
We’re turning our attention to France’s top league in this post with a little help from a friend. Jeremy Smith, a French football expert, picked out three players that Cardiff should target in January.
Right-Back – Kenny Lala (Transfermarkt valuation – £12m)
An unknown for many British football fans, Lala has proved an effective full-back in France’s top league. At 27, Lala won’t have too many more opportunities to move to the Premier League and has spoken about his desire to play there.
Jeremy: “Strasbourg’s right back was the league’s most creative defender last season (goals and assists combined) and has already equalled those full-season stats for this season. He has matured into an excellent attacking right back who can defend too and is thriving as a wing back in a back five. His contract was due to end in the summer although an automatic one-year extension has been triggered. Strasbourg may neverthelss be willing to listen to good offers from clubs in the PL – a league Lala has often said that he’d like to experience.”
Defensive midfield – Ole Selnaes (Transfermarkt valuation – £8m)
Not another Norwegian? I hear you say. Well, yes, but fear not Cardiff fans, this one seems the real deal. Established in France since 2016, the midfielder has impressed at Saint-Etienne.
Jeremy: “Saint-Etienne have had some ups and downs the last couple of seasons but one of their most consistent players has been Selnaes. A strong, committed, clean-tackling international defensive midfielder who is also able to play a more box-to-box role – and has weighed in with 5 assists so far this season – he may be tempted to move on after a few years in France, in order to become the latest Scandinavian to make a mark on the PL.”
Striker – Mario Balotelli (Transfermarkt valuation – £20m)
The controversial Italian has a mixed record in the Premier League. At Manchester City, he won the Premier League in 2011/12 and the FA Cup the year before. A disastrous at Liverpool came in 2014/15, but in Balotelli’s defence, he was never going to fit in there.
He was also a former team-mate of Greg Cunningham’s at Manchester City, with the current Cardiff defender giving Balotelli his favoured #45 shirt whilst with the Citizens.
Jeremy: “Going cheap so not a big risk financially. Talented striker with a powerful shot and an underrated creative game. Has experience of the PL and is a former title winner. The downsides are of course well known and in recent years he seems mainly effective at home, but if Warnock can get the best out of him and ekes 8-10 goals out of him in the second half of the season, that could be the difference between survival and relegation. (And from a neutral point of view, Warnock vs Balotelli if it all goes wrong could be one of the highlights of the season.)”
You can follow Jeremy on Twitter.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.