Get to know Casimir Ninga, the 11-minute hat-trick hero for Angers SCO against AS Saint-Etienne in Week 6.
Angers SCO have become used to losing key players every summer, and ahead of this season one of the biggest concerns for coach Stéphane Moulin was finding a replacement for Flavien Tait after the winger who scored or set up 12 goals last season was sold to Stade Rennais FC.
Several attacking reinforcements were brought into the Stade Raymond Kopa and among them was Ninga, the 26-year-old Chad international forward arriving from SM Caen after netting six league goals last season. That form was not enough to prevent the Normandy side from being relegated from Ligue 1 Conforama, but Ninga did attract interest from elsewhere.
He started the season with Caen in Ligue 2, but after initially being linked with a switch to FC Nantes, Ninga eventually landed an hour up the Loire River from there in Angers. The SCO paid a reported €3 million to sign him on a three-year deal, and after three cameo appearances from the bench he really announced his arrival with a stunning hat-trick in the space of 11 minutes to secure his side a 4-1 win over AS Saint-Etienne in Week 6.
Watch: Ninga's stunning three-goal cameo against Saint-Etienne
It was a second career hat-trick in the top flight for Ninga, who moved to France in 2015. But who is Casimir Ninga? Read on...
Born on May 17, 1993, Ninga was the sixth of 12 children in his family. He started his footballing career as a teenager at Renaissance FC in N'Djamena, Chad's capital city.
However, Ninga initially made his name following a move to Gabon in 2013, winning back-to-back league titles with local club Mangasport and finishing as leading scorer. He also starred in the Chad side that won the CEMAC Cup for Central African nations in 2014, and a year later came his big transfer to Europe as Montpellier Hérault SC signed the then-22-year-old for a modest fee of €75,000 following a successful trial.
He was an instant hit, scoring six goals in his first nine games for Montpellier, although he tailed away and added only one more goal in that campaign. He burst back into life early in the following season and netted his first hat-trick in France in a 3-3 draw with Dijon in October 2016. Two weeks later came a brace in a win over Caen, but shortly after that he suffered a hammer blow, rupturing cruciate ligaments in training and not returning for 10 months.
Ninga found goals hard to come by in his last season at the Stade de la Mosson and departed for Normandy in 2018, doing enough in his one year there to earn his move to Angers at the start of this campaign. While Chad are ranked a lowly 177th in FIFA's world rankings, Ninga continues to fly the footballing flag for his country as a rare Chadian playing at the top level in Europe.
Style of play:
Ninga can play anywhere across the front line but he is primarily used on the left flank, from where he is able to appear in the box and score goals. As for his ability as a genuine winger, Stéphane Moulin last season described him as "more of a player who pushes the ball forward" than a proper dribbler. Perhaps that was a way of playing down his own interest in Ninga.
Ninga began the season playing in Ligue 2 with Caen and made one appearance for them, in a 2-1 defeat at home to FC Lorient, before completing a transfer to Angers barely two days ahead of their opening match of the new campaign. His debut came in a 6-0 hammering at Olympique Lyonnais in Week 2 and two more substitute appearances followed in home wins over FC Metz and Dijon FCO.
Ninga admitted Moulin had not been happy with his performance in the latter game, and so he was condemned to the bench once more against Saint-Etienne in Week 6. However, he appeared midway through the second half in place of Pierrick Capelle with the scores level and duly won the game for his side by becoming the first substitute to score a hat-trick in a Ligue 1 game since Ireneusz Jelen for Auxerre in October 2007.
What you didn't know:
Chad's capital N'Djamena is just across the Chari River from Cameroon and Ninga idolised Cameroonian star Samuel Eto'o growing up. That is despite reportedly being nicknamed 'Ronnie' as a youngster by his friends, in reference to Eto'o's Barcelona teammate Ronaldinho.
"Any time he was on television, with Barça or with the Indomitable Lions, I couldn't wait to see him play," Ninga told France Football magazine. "My first memories of him were when he was with Barça. Unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity to meet him."
His very first goal in French football takes some beating. Ninga was making just his second appearance for Montpellier, and his home debut, when he made an untracked run towards the edge of the six-yard box and took off to connect with Vitorino Hilton's cross, acrobatically volleying home to seal a 2-0 win for his side.
What he said:
"The coach told me I wasn't going to start because I hadn't been feeling good. I still had a bit of a sore hamstring. But it is a mental thing. I always prepare my game in my head."
- On the preparations for his stunning hat-trick against Saint-Etienne.
"The coach told me I hadn't done enough, that he expected more from me. It is true that sometimes I don't play well when I come on."
- On his performance from the bench against Dijon in Angers' previous game.
What they said:
"He signed late, didn't have a great pre-season, and then a break away with his national tea, prevented him from staying here and working. I am really pleased for him. It also points at a positive evolution for our club because, before, we were not really able to attract that type of forward, with experience in Ligue 1 and having already scored hat-tricks."
- Angers coach Stéphane Moulin on Ninga's hat-trick cameo and the start to his career at the club.
"It is an absolute pleasure to coach him. I would put him in the category of player who makes a coach want to go out there and actually coach. He is always smiling - when he is not in the starting line-up he is not very happy, but he is ready to come on at any point. He is the perfect teammate."
- Rolland Courbis, who was Ninga's first coach in Ligue 1 at Montpellier.