William Saliba was the Man of the Match in just his second game for OGC Nice since joining on loan from Arsenal, helping les Aiglons to a 1-1 draw with FC Metz on Saturday.
An AS Saint-Étienne youth academy graduate, Saliba is back in France for the rest of the 2020/21 campaign after Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta told him he was "not ready" for the Gunners' first-team.
Saliba missed most of the last year with a torn hamstring and then fractured metatarsal, but he already looks set to make a mockery of that assessment after an impressive start with Nice. Ligue.com takes a closer look…
Born in Bondy, a commune in the north-eastern suburbs of Paris, in 2001, Saliba shares a hometown with Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappé and LOSC's France international midfielder Jonathan Ikoné. Indeed, the former's father Wilfried was Saliba's coach at local side AS Bondy before the young defender made his way into the fabled Saint-Étienne youth set-up at the age of 15.
His progress though les Verts' ranks was swift, and after making a Ligue 1 Uber Eats debut at 17 and finishing as a runner up in the Coupe de France a season later, Arsenal made their move, signing him to a long-term contract last summer before loaning him straight back to Sainté.
Although he was given Arsenal's number 4 jersey in the off-season - previously worn by Patrick Vieira and Cesc Fabregas among others - he was allowed to leave once again, this time for the Allianz Riviera, in the winter transfer window.
Style of play:
Although he stands at an imposing 1m92-tall, Saliba is svelte, swift, and composed. His pace and reading of the game allow him to intercept opposition attacks without having to go to ground very often at all, and he is also able to carry the ball out from the back and keep possession under pressure. In terms of style - if not quite yet execution - it's not too dissimilar to watching long-time Paris Saint-Germain captain Thiago Silva, now of Chelsea.
Saliba started this season with the Arsenal U23s playing under fellow former centre-back and another number 4 shirt-wearer Per Mertesacker, helping the young Gunners to four wins, two draws and two losses in the first half of the campaign.
Still only 19, Saliba swapped the English Professional Development League for the French top flight in January and has wasted little time in impressing. Nice may have lost 2-0 to Stade Brestois 29 on his debut last Wednesday, but Saliba combined a game-high 15 challenges won with a team-best 92 per cent pass completion, and followed up against Metz on Saturday with a last-ditch intervention to deny Thierry Ambrose and salvage a share of the points for the visitors.
Watch:Highlights of Nice's 1-1 draw with Metz
What they said:
"Wilfried Mbappé taught me everything and if I'm here today, it's thanks to him. Since his dad was my coach, I often went to Kylian's home. When you see where Kylian is today, it makes you want to achieve the same heights."
- Saliba on his formative years
"He can bring a lot to us, defensively, and in terms of our gameplan, and the way we play the ball out from the back. He can also be extremely valuable when it comes to set plays. We've lost Dante, and we're still waiting for leaders to come through. William is a player who shows a lot of personality."
- Nice coach Adrian Ursea on acquiring Saliba