Marseille's Gerson, Nice goalgetter Andy Delort, Monaco 'keeper Alexander Nübel, Lyon defender Malo Gusto and Rennes coach Bruno Genesio all enjoyed sensational firsts in the 2021/22 Ligue 1 season — ligue1.com focusses on their exceptional campaigns.
"Here in Europe, football is a bit different to Brazil. It's a bit more dynamic, a different culture, a different way of thinking," explained Gerson after signing a five-year deal last summer. "I have already had experience in Europe for three years, but now I have another opportunity. I hope it'll go well."
Indeed, the Brazilian arrived at Marseille with European experience, but his three-year spell at Roma - which included the 2018/19 season on loan at Fiorentina — was largely disappointing. His first campaign with OM certainly was not. His nine goals and seven assists dwarfed his best totals in Italy, and marked by far the best season of the 25-year-old's career to date.
WATCH: Gerson's double helps Marseille clinch Champions League football
"Gerson is a high-value player, and I think he can improve still further, but it's up to him," said OM boss Jorge Sampaoli, who has cleverly exploited the former Flamengo man's versatility. At times Gerson has played as a number 8, roving from box to box with Matteo Guendouzi, but has also played in wide positions, at wing-back, and further up the pitch when required.
He has also been able to come up with important goals for OM this season, notably the opener and the third in the final day win over Strasbourg that secured runners-up spot in the 2021/22 Ligue 1 Uber Eats table and earned UEFA Champions League group stage football for next season. When there will be surely more to come from Gerson.
Malo Gusto (Lyon)
Having made his Ligue 1 Uber Eats debut last season, the young right-back caught the eye of new head coach Peter Bosz in a pre-season friendly. Though initially seen as back-up to France international and team captain Léo Dubois, the 19-year-old made seven more top-flight appearances than his peer: firstly, due to Dubois' injury problems, and later in the season, on merit.
From the same amateur club as fellow OL youth academy graduate Amine Gouiri, Gusto has now passed his generation's great hope, Rayan Cherki, in the first-team picture. Bosz admitted he had to tell his teenage full-back to "calm down a bit" because he was concerned Gusto's lung-bursting efforts against Paris Saint-Germain early in the season would mean he wouldn't be able to finish the game.
Gusto has, however, proven he has the engine required to play the modern right-back role to a high level, and his four assists — with three coming in his final eight games of the 2021/22 campaign — indicate he can also thrive in Bosz's ultra-attacking strategy.
"His arrival helped me, because I've got playing time and improved with him," said Gusto, who earned a France U21 debut in the 2021/22 season. "His playing style suits me, so I keep working to help the team. He has especially helped my concentration in each minute of the game. He wants me to play with the heart and without over-thinking things. It's important to be generous in everything you do on the pitch."
Andy Delort (Nice)
Yes, it's perhaps a little strange to see the name of the Nice striker, who has played 233 top-flight games in France, among the 2021/22 firsts. But it was the 30-year-old's maiden campaign at the Côte d'Azur club, and what a season he made it.
He had scored 14 and then 15 Ligue 1 Uber Eats goals for Montpellier over the last two seasons. This season, he netted a career-high 16 top-flight strikes for Nice, as well as two for Montpellier before he made his move to the Allianz Riviera.
WATCH: Delort's final day hat-trick earns European place
What is incredible is that Nice coach Christophe Galtier admitted that a TV appearance with just days left in the summer 2021 transfer window led to the move. "I was on Amazon Prime and I was asked about Delort. I had never heard talk of Delort coming to Nice. Once I'd heard that, it was as if a door opened, and I'm of course going to ask the club to open the door a bit more because Andy is a player I've known for a long time."
That chance comment has made a huge difference to Nice this season. He scored a number of crucial goals, peaking with a hat-trick that turned a 2-0 defeat into a 3-2 win against Reims on the final day of the campaign and earned his club European football next season. In fact, Delort's 16 goals for Nice this season have earned his club 19 points — that's the most of any player in the division. If the question is, 'Where would Nice be without Andy Delort?' The answer is 'Twelfth'.
Alexander Nübel (Monaco)
The young German goalkeeper arrived last summer for the first of a two-season loan from Bayern Munich. Tipped to be the successor to Manuel Neuer, Nübel's performances were initially very far from that lofty billing. Come the end of the season, if the principality side came within a whisker of automatic UEFA Champions League group stage qualification, they also owe a huge debt of thanks to their goalkeeper.
"I didn't really change my way of working. I had to adapt to a new life, a new country and a new league. The first games weren't at the level I had hoped for," said Nübel in January to explain his teething problems at the Stade Louis II. "But I had to stay calm and get my head down and work. That's what I did. I improved week on week, and I feel a lot better now."
Eight of his 11 clean sheets came after the turn of the year as Monaco picked up 40 points, more than any other club. Nübel still has another season of his loan deal to go, but has previously said that if Neuer extends his contract at Bayern, then "I might have to go another way" than simply return to Germany. That could well be great news for Monaco.
Bruno Genesio (Rennes)
The former Lyon coach is, of course, a familiar face to French football fans, but there were question marks over him when he returned to Ligue 1 Uber Eats after a spell in China. The fact he picked up the 2021/22 Coach of the Year award, despite his team just missing out on UEFA Champions League qualification, gives you all the answers you need.
In addition to getting his side playing some of the most exciting football in France, and taking them into the UEFA Europa Conference League knockout stages, Genesio has provided statistical substance to the style: Rennes ended with a club record 66 points, 20 wins and 82 goals.
WATCH: Rennes end PSG's winning start to the season
He brought the very best out of Martin Terrier, whose tally of 21 league goals was bettered only by Kylian Mbappé and Wissam ben Yedder, while Benjamin Bourigeaud's 17 goal involvements — scoring nine, eight assists — made him the most productive midfielder in Europe's top five leagues.
"We went on a rollercoaster of emotions, right to the last minute, but I think this draw and fourth place is full deserved. I want to congratulate the players for the season they have had, for the spirit that runs through the squad," said Genesio after seeing subsitute Serhou Guirassy score an added-time leveller at Lille on the final day of the season to clinch fourth place and UEFA Europa League qualification.
"It's nicely symbolic that it's a player that comes off the bench to earn us qualification for the Europa League. That sums up the quality and the attitude of the squad." And the ability of their coach to get them playing for each other and their club.