Tatarusanu: Nantes' charismatic giant
No sooner had Ciprian Tatarusanu completed his transfer to FC Nantes from Fiorentina last August than the big goalkeeper was thrown in at the deep end.
His first game came when Nantes hosted Olympique de Marseille at a packed Stade de la Beaujoire, and for Tatarusanu this debut proved particularly special.
"All the time you remember the first game of a new team," the goalkeeper, speaking in English, tells The Ligue 1 Show on beIN Sports.
The Romanian was quite simply exceptional, producing a season-record nine saves in the game. And although Nantes lost to a late Lucas Ocampos strike, the fervent home support ensured 'Tata' has kept a positive memory of the occasion.
"I read something about 'they have a good support there, they sing all the game'. They are very close to the team. The stadium is nice, the weather was perfect, only the result was not perfect," he said.
In the Romanian, the Nantes fans have a new hero, and Les Canaris' boss Claudio Ranieri possesses a strong, reliable and charismatic presence upon which he has built one of the strongest defences in the league.
"I met Tatarusanu the first time when I was manager in Greece and I played the first match against Romania," Ranieri says. "And I follow him in Fiorentina, he's a good goalkeeper, an experienced goalkeeper, very tall, he comes out with his hands very well."
'A fantastic professional'
The goalkeeping coach at Nantes is Paolo Orlandoni, and Ranieri's fellow Italian has been impressed by what he has seen from Tatarusanu, rating him among the best Ligue 1 Conforama shot-stoppers.
"For me he's a very good goalkeeper, very tall, with a big personality. For Ligue 1 we have three or four very good goalkeepers. I speak about (Alphonse) Aréola, (Benoît) Costil, (Steve) Mandanda and Tatarusanu," Orlandoni says.
There is praise for him from throughout the club. Ranieri calls him a "fantastic professional man, always he wants to improve, always asks, always he wants to watch video."
Meanwhile, midfielder Adrien Thomasson says the big goalkeeper is responsible for Nantes having one of the best defences in the league, while Brazilian defender Diego Carlos says: "Even on the training ground he gives us confidence and that's important. He's like a captain to us."
A fluent Italian speaker, 'Tata' admits his speedy integration was aided by the presence of Ranieri and his staff. Former Internazionale custodian Orlandoni helps Tatarusanu on a daily basis but insists his protégé has no trouble communicating with his defenders in French.
"Maybe in the start it's not easy. But now for Tata it is easy to speak with all," he says.
Thomasson adds: "He speaks French very well. That's proof he is already integrated here, and that he has the right mentality."
Ranieri believes that his goalkeeper provides confidence to the whole defence, and Diego Carlos admits that "because he's so big, he doesn't need to talk all the time. When I look up for the ball I see his arms above my head."
But how does Tatarusanu himself explain his rapid and successful integration at a new club in a new country?
"I don't know, I think because I'm a good 'keeper. I learned fast the important words that I need to speak with my defenders and my team."
After his eventful debut, Tatarusanu kept four consecutive clean sheets as Nantes surged up the standings. The eight-time French champions are now pushing hard for European qualification and their talismanic goalkeeper is confident.
Save for a couple of appearances in the now defunct Intertoto Cup, Nantes have not been in Europe since 2001-02, when as champions they made it to the second group stage of the UEFA Champions League, coming up against the likes of Manchester United and Bayern Munich.
"When I speak with Mister Claudio he told me that we try to play in Europa League. I don’t know for how many years Nantes don’t play in Europe, I don’t know but I think it would be something extraordinary to be in Europe. I think we have a good team. We can do it."