Football Features

The ex-Metz player combined XI is Champions League quality

By Steve Jennings

Published: 18:00, 19 June 2020

Metz aren’t the first club that springs to mind when you think of French football.

They have never won the top division, and in the 21st century, they’ve bounced between Ligue 1 and the second tier without much stability.

That said, a number of hugely talented players have passed through Stade Saint-Symphorien.

Ex-Arsenal trio Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord and Emmanuel Adebayor all played for Metz, as did former Manchester United striker Louis Saha.

But what about the still-active footballers who made their mark at Metz? Indeed, how could Les Grenats line up if their best players hadn’t left in recent years?

Shoutout to Squawka reader Jean-Baptiste Le Roué on Facebook for giving us the idea. The result is a rather impressive XI.

Goalkeeper: Ludovic Butelle

Age: 37
Current club: Angers
Metz appearances: 53

Butelle broke into the Metz team as a teenager. After showing maturity beyond his years, the Frenchman was soon on his way to Valencia. And although things didn’t really work out for the goalkeeper in Spain, he went on to enjoy a decent second half of his career in France, where he remains with Angers following a spell in Belgium with Club Brugge.

He’s approaching the end of his playing days now, but Metz would love to have a young Butelle back between the sticks.

Right-back: Bouna Sarr

Age: 28
Current club: Marseille
Metz appearances: 96

Another player simply too talented at a young age for Metz to retain, Sarr left Stade Saint-Symphorien for Marseille in 2015. He remains a regular at right-back for Marseille, with whom he reached the Europa League final in 2017/18.

Despite his consistency at club level, Sarr has failed to break into the France team.

Centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly

Age: 29
Current club: Napoli
Metz appearances: 46

Now one of the most highly-rated defenders in Europe, Kalidou Koulibaly started his career at Metz, coming through the academy and making close to 50 appearances before moving onto Genk in Belgium. The 29-year-old is consistently linked with the Premier League’s biggest clubs, though he seems happy at Napoli where he has developed into a leading centre-back over the last six years.

Genk signed Koulibaly from Metz for just over £1m in the summer of 2012 – he’s worth a little bit more than that now.

Centre-back: Moussa Niakhate

Age: 24
Current club: Mainz
Metz appearances: 35

Niakhate was only a Metz player for one season and, despite his best efforts, couldn’t help the club stay in Ligue 1 in 2017/18. Having left Ligue 2 side Valenciennes a year earlier, he wasn’t exactly going to be content dropping back down to the second tier, so he left Metz for German side, Mainz.

Now a regular starter for a Bundesliga team, it looks like the former France Under-21 international made the right decision.

Left-back: Gaetan Bong

Age: 32
Current club: Nottingham Forest
Metz appearances: 20

Gaetan Bong only made 20 appearances for Metz, including 11 in the top-flight, but went on to become a regular starter in Ligue 1 with Valenciennes. Short spells with Olympiacos and Wigan earned him a move to Brighton, with whom he achieved promotion to the Premier League.

He dropped back down to the Championship with Nottingham Forest in January.

Centre midfield: Miralem Pjanic

Age: 30
Current club: Juventus
Metz appearances: 38

Not many people will know Miralem Pjanic came through the Metz academy before going on to become one of the most talented midfielders in Europe. After excellent spells at Lyon and Roma, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international now dictates the tempo for Juventus.

Pjanic was yet another player who decided to leave Metz after they were relegated to Ligue 2.

Centre midfieldFlorent Mollet

Age: 28
Current club: Montpellier
Metz appearances: 54

A slightly more advanced midfielder who would slot back into the Metz team is Florent Mollet. He now plays for Montpellier, who currently sit six points and seven places above Metz in Ligue 1. The Frenchman scored eight goals for Metz – he has already matched that in just one season at Montpellier.

Perhaps Mollet would still be a Metz player had they not suffered relegation in 2017/18.

Right wingIsmaila Sarr

Age: 22
Current club: Watford
Metz appearances: 33

Ismaila Sarr became Watford’s record signing last summer and, after a difficult settling-in period, is now finally looking the part, recently downing then-unbeaten Liverpool with a superb individual display. But did you know he previously cost Stade Rennes upwards of £15m to lure him from Metz in 2017?

That’s because he showed a boatload of promise as a teenager at Metz, and he’s now attempting to turn that promise into genuine class in the Premier League.

Left wing: Franck Ribery

Age: 37
Current club: Fiorentina
Metz appearances: 22

The player who left Metz and made the biggest success of himself is undeniably Franck Ribery, who won nine Bundesliga titles and the Champions League with Bayern Munich, keeping up a consistent level of quality across his 12 years at one of the world’s biggest clubs.

Ribery spent just one year at Metz, scoring two goals before leaving for Galatasaray, then Marseille, before his big move to Bayern.

Forward: Sadio Mane

Age: 28
Current club: Liverpool
Metz appearances: 23

Sadio Mane was taken from the Generation Foot academy in his native Senegal to play for Metz as a teenager. He was an instant hit, swiftly earning a move to Red Bull Salzburg – and the rest is history. Mane is now a Champions League winner with Liverpool and a Premier League goal specialist, bagging a hatful of goals for the Merseysiders and Southampton.

Mane and Koulibaly were teammates together at Metz. One wonders if they might be reunited one day.

Forward: Habib Diallo

Age: 25
Current club: Metz
Metz appearances: 111

It’s only fair to recognise the present Metz squad, and it’s safe to say Habib Diallo deserves his place in this team. The striker has scored 12 goals in 26 Ligue 1 appearances this season and is currently being linked with a move to Leeds United.

Diallo scored six league goals in the first eight games of the 2019/20 campaign.