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Anthony Le Tallec: From Liverpool to Ligue 2

Former Liverpool youngster Anthony Le Tallec was supposed to be the star of the future. It is a future which appears never to have arrived.

Over in Trinidad and Tobago in 2001, Anthony Le Tallec would make a name for himself which would change his life.

Along with cousin Florent Sinama-Pongolle, the pair led France to the under-17 World Cup hosted in the Caribbean country.

Liverpool's French manager had a keen interest in his young countrymen's success, and eagerly snapped up the pair of them for £6 million from Le Havre.

It was supposed to be the start of something special, but as Le Tallec's career path has shown this season, it has been far from that.

While his cousin was an out and out striker, Le Tallec was hailed as more of a playmaker, floating behind the forward and was tagged then - which seems laughable now - as the next Zinedine Zidane.

Pressure like that on a young player's shoulders is rarely a good thing, and so it would prove. Houllier agreed to let both players spent time in France with Le Havre to help them get regular football, but the wait only increased Liverpool fans' anticipation to see what they could do when they finally arrived.

Le Tallec's debut season at Liverpool was in 2003-04, and it went reasonably well, making more than 20 appearances, even scoring in a UEFA Cup tie early in the season.

That May, Houllier was sacked, in what would ultimately be a blow to Le Tallec's Liverpool career, with the man who showed such faith in the youngster departing the club.

Under Rafa Benitez it was all change, gone was the signing of French recruits like Djibril Cisse and the pair, it was time for a Spanish revolution.

The player told L'Equipe in 2010 that he blamed the Spaniard for his demise. "The arrival of Rafa Benitez broke my entire career strategy. Even though I was able to get experience, I lost about four years."

He was immediately loaned to St Etienne for the first half of the season, before returning in January. Soon his biggest appearance in a Liverpool shirt would arrive, his involvement in a Champions League quarter-final tie against Juventus in 2005 - starting the game, but it would be his last appearance in the side's now glorious run. He played just seven times in total in Benitez's first season.

More loan spells would follow - including a place in one of the most woeful Premier League sides to grace the division, Mick McCarthy's Sunderland of 05/06. He would finish top scorer with six goals, but playing in such a poor side did nothing for his development or confidence.

Benitez made it clear he was not part of his plans after that, loaning him in 2006-07 to French side Sochaux, and a year later to Le Mans. It would be Le Mans who eventually bought him in 2008 for just £1 million.

In his first season finally freed from Liverpool, Le Tallec would play 38 times, scoring six goals and providing four assists. It was not a return to set the world alight, and even by this time talk of winning his first international cap would remain a distant dream.

The next season Le Mans were relegated, but he was offered a rescue route, in 2010 he signed with Auxerre, for just over £2 million. The club at that point were in the Champions League qualifying rounds, but would not go further in the competition.

The first season yielded 27 appearances but just one goal. This season was another disappointing one. He made 12 starts only, and 12 substitute appearances. He scored three times and provided two assists, but would also receive two red cards.

It would be his team's fortunes that would be his worst blow. Auxerre were relegated to Ligue 2, the third time Le Tallec had been relegated in his career. This time there may not be an escape route.

Now age 27 he should be entering the peak of his career, instead he is preparing for a season in the lower tier, and his career prospects are arguably lower than they have ever been. If ever there was a sad tale of a talented youngster's demise, Le Tallec is it.

Whether it was the pressure, Houllier's sacking, or whether he was actually just destined never to be 'that good', we will never truly know, but he is still young enough to make something of his career. Let's hope for his sake he can turn his fortunes around.

Is Benitez to blame for Le Tallec's demise, or does the fault blame with the player himself for not reaching his potential?

image: © Ben Sutherland

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