After graduating from youth academies or signing from foreign clubs, Ligue 1 Conforama's innumerable young talents are looking to make their marks and follow in the footsteps of the irrepressible Kylian Mbappé.
Over the course of the summer, Ligue 1 Conforama clubs once again opted to invest in young talent. First of all in the transfer window, where numerous youngsters were brought into France's top flight, doubtless at least partly inspired by the phenomenal World Cup performances of the world's most promising youngster, Paris Saint-Germain's Kylian Mbappé.
"When you see what Mbappé has done, it makes you want to follow in his footsteps," said AS Monaco's 17-year-old recruit Willem Geubbels, confirming Mbappé's status as a leading light for Ligue 1 Conforama's young stars.
Three 17-year-olds already in Ligue 1 Conforama
It hasn't taken long this season to see these youngsters kick into action, with five newbies scoring their first Ligue 1 Conforama goals in Week 1 and three players aged under 18 making their top-flight debuts: Rayan Ait Nouri (Angers), against PSG, Abdoulaye Dabo (FC Nantes), a starter against AS Monaco, and Lamine Diaby Fadiga (OGC Nice). "We mustn't forget that he is just 17, but still, he really did his part when he came on, and that's fantastic," said Nice boss Patrick Vieira after Diaby Fadiga's debut as a sub against Reims.
AS Monaco look to development
As Monaco were without a doubt the most active club in terms of recruiting young talent, bringing in no fewer than five players born after 2000, including Willem Geubbels - the first player born in the 21st century to play in Ligue 1 Conforama - from OL; Jonathan Panzo (17), Robert Navarro (16), and former Rennes youngsters Sofiane Diop (18), who played in the Trophée des Champions in China and in Weeks 1 and 2 of the league, and Wilson Isidor (18). These teenagers join the likes of Pietro Pellegri (17), who scored his first Ligue 1 Conforama goal against Bordeaux (Week 3), Jordi Mboula (19) and Moussa Sylla (18), who emerged at the end of last season. In this context, aged 22 and 21 respectively, new signings Aleksandr Golovin and Benjamin Henrichs look positively old, with their full international status and three seasons of senior-team football under their belts.
LOSC also opted to bank on young talent. A newly minted Turkey international, Zeki Celik (21), along with defender Hakim Ouro-Sama (20, Togo), Jonathan Ikoné (20), versatile midfielder Arton Zekaj (18, Serbia) and France U21 international Jonathan Bamba (22, three goals so far this season), represents the second wave of young recruits at the northern club after Edgar Ié, Fodé Ballo-Touré, Kouadio-Yves Badila, Thiago Maia and Boubakary Soumaré the previous season.
Bordeaux counting on the next generation
In the south-west, youngsters are also gaining a foothold. After goalkeeping duo Over Mandanda and Gaëtan Poussin, both 19, signed with the senior team and Jules Koundé (19) made his debut last season, Bordeaux signed Nigerian Samuel Kalu (21), Croatia U21 star Toma Basic (21) and Spanish full-back Sergi Palneci (22) from the Barça reserve team. And alongside these transfers, Bordeaux also blooded youth academy graduates Aurélien Tchouaméni (18), who now has two Ligue 1 Conforama starts in three weeks, and Zaydou Youssouf (19), both of whom found the net as Bordeaux won through the UEFA Europa League's qualifying rounds for a place in the group stage.
Keita, Loiodice cutting the mustard in Dijon!
Among the revelations of these early stages of the season, Jules Keita is certainly not out of place. The Guinean made a real impression against Nice, scoring twice and setting up another goal in the space of 25 minutes. As well as the lively forward, the Burgundy club have also handed Enzo Loiodice (17) his start in the centre of the park. After making his first senior appearance on the final day of last season, the midfielder saw his form early in season 2018-19 earn him a call-up to France's U19s.
So too reigning Ligue 1 Conforama champions Paris Saint-Germain have placed an accent on youth early in the campaign, with new coach Thomas Tuchel lining up youngsters Colin Dagba, Stanley N'Soki, Antoine Bernède, Moussa Diaby and Timothy Weah in the Trophée des Champions in China in early August before signing Thilo Kehrer (21), who earned a Germany call-up directly after making his first Ligue 1 Conforama start.
But that's not all: Stade Rennais signed Rafik Guitane (19), whose mesmerizing dribbling game impressed everyone with Le Havre in Domino's Ligue 2 last season; OM brought youth academy graduate Boubacar Kamara (18) into the senior squad; ASSE are counting on Makthar Gueye (20) to follow up on a stunning debut that saw him score with his first shot after just four minutes of senior football, against Strasbourg; Amiens SC have the very promising Gaoussou Traoré (18); Strasbourg have Tunisian young gun Moataz Zemzemi (19 ans); and OL, renowned for their conveyor belt of young stars, produced last season's revelation Houssem Aouar.
In short, Ligue 1 Conforama is chock full of young stars in the making, looking to make their mark in season 2018-19!