French football is always on the look-out for its next emerging superstar. Too often players are labelled the “next Zidane” after one or two stand out performances. This week Saint-Etienne gave a first start to 17-year-old Allan Saint-Maximin and the winger looks like he could be France’s answer to Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling.
As a 16-year-old, last season Saint-Maximin played 33 minutes, before the end of 2013. He never featured again for the rest of the season, but the hype surrounding the young winger continued to grow with impressive showings in Saint-Etienne’s second team. In France fifth division, Saint-Maximin scored five times in 14 starts. His performances gave Coach Christophe Galtier the confidence to include the youngster in his first-team squad.
With Saint-Etienne trying to balance a squad beset with injuries and playing in both the league and Europa League, the team has gone through some changes in the last few weeks. The prospect of playing four games in two weeks led to Saint-Maximin finally making his first start for the club against Bordeaux last week, the youngster didn’t disappoint.
He was one of the youngest players on the pitch, but as Les Verts struggled without some of their first team regulars, Saint-Maximin was the brightest point of a somewhat disappointing home performance. His ability to constantly attack the Bordeaux defence gave the away side a headache. He saw more of the ball than Ricky van Wolfswinkel up front, and apart from the striker getting his first goal for the club; Saint-Maximin did consistently more with the ball at his feet.
Then on Sunday, in traditionally one of France’s biggest games, Saint-Maximin got his second consecutive start against league leaders Marseille. Both these sides are the most decorated in France, it may not be a geographical derby, but the passion and hatred is real.
Marseille now have a new player to fear. The home side may have won 2-1, but the showing by Saint-Maximin was enough to give a glimpse in to what a bright future this kid has in front of him. He collected the ball out on the right wing, dazzled the Marseille defence with about six step-overs before finding that half-yard of space to play in the decisive cross. It made its way to the back post and Jonathan Brison drilled home the finish.
What Saint-Maximin has shown so far is his electric pace, both with and without the ball, confidence to take on any opponent and the intelligence to know when to try and find the right pass. There are definite similarities between him and Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, and Saint-Etienne and France will be hoping that his progression is as rapid as the young forward.