Hexagoal Ligue 1 Trophy

Rising star: William Saliba

Publish on 02/05/2019 at 00:00 - S. WILLIS


William Saliba has impressed at the heart of the AS Saint-Etienne defence despite his tender 18 years, and has become central to ASSE's hopes of playing European football next season.

For Saliba, last weekend was special for more than one reason.

No sooner had he helped AS Saint-Etienne beat Toulouse FC 2-0 in Ligue 1 Conforama than he was celebrating the club's Youth Cup triumph with his junior colleagues on the Stade Geoffroy Guichard pitch.

Meteoric rise

Saliba started this season with the youth team, but such is his strength, maturity and talent he was drafted into the senior setup in September, at the time just 17, and immediately impressed.

"Things have gone quickly," Saliba explained to the Ligue 1 Show on beIN SPORTS. "I was with the U19s last year and now I'm with the pros. I've really improved because I'm training with top players, we've got a good technical team and above all a great coach."

First-team coach Jean-Louis Gasset hasn't hesitated in giving Saliba his chance. The teenager has already featured in 13 league matches term, with Saint-Etienne conceding just one goal in the last seven games that the powerful centre-back has started.

Learning from the best

Saliba's calm presence has surprised many, but Gasset believes his fellow defensive players deserve credit for helping him to bed in.

"He's got Loïc Perrin to show him the way," he said. "He has [Mathieu] Debuchy to his right, [Timothée] Kolodziejcak to his left. He's got [Yann] M'Vila and [Youssef] Aït Bennasser in front of him. These experienced guys give him confidence." 

Saliba is drawing comparisons with Raphaël Varane - who also took his first steps in Ligue 1 Conforama, with RC Lens, at the age of 17 - and Sainté have been quick to tie the gem down to a long-term contract, the Paris-born youngster signing on until 2023 last week.

'I want to do big things here'

"It's a natural choice," said Saliba. "I feel good here, and I really want to stay and do big things here."

Currently fourth, just three points behind Olympique Lyonnais, Les Verts have a chance of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, and their wonderkid is already looking forward to his first European venture.

"It's fantastic, it's an exciting finish to the season," he said. "We'll treat our last four games like four finals. Of course, we'd love to get into the Champions League, but any European qualification would be very good."