Football Features

The ex-Metz player combined XI is Champions League quality

By Steve Jennings

Published: 19:00, 27 July 2022

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 Metz.

Ex-Arsenal trio Robert Pires, Sylvain Wiltord and Emmanuel Adebayor all played for Metz. So too did former Manchester United striker Louis Saha, who has given his thoughts on why the Stade Saint-Symphorien has proven such fertile ground for developing young stars in recent years.

Speaking to Squawka (courtesy of bet365), Saha explained: “What I’m sure about is the structure. They have demands that you work hard. Whether you’re a striker, midfielder, whatever. You have to work really hard for your teammates. It gives you a desire to focus on the team.

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“It’s a really good place. Even if you have talent, you still have to work really hard. When you go anywhere, the base is there. You can readapt to any club. That’s why they’re seen as a great academy.”

In a more reflective mood, Saha suggested that the reason Metz haven’t been able to push on and challenge consistently in the upper slopes of French football is because they are unable to hold on to their star players, adding: “Unfortunately, they haven’t managed to find a way to challenge for the top places, because they always have to sell those big players. Maybe they sell them too soon, I don’t know.”

Had Les Grenats been able to keep hold of those prized assets, here’s how they could be lining up right now.

Goalkeeper: Ludovic Butelle

Age: 39
Current club: Red Star
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 Red Star 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: 30
Current club: Bayern Munich
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 remained a regular at right-back for Marseille, with whom he reached the Europa League final in 2017/18, before joining Bayern Munich in 2020.

Centre-back: Kalidou Koulibaly

Age: 31
Current club: Chelsea
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 31-year-old shone at Napoli for several years following his stint in Belgium and eventually earned a move to the Premier League with Chelsea this summer.

Centre-back: Moussa Niakhate

Age: 26
Current club: Nottingham Forest
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. Following four productive and highly-fruitful years in the Bundesliga he joined the Nottingham Forest transfer revolution this summer and will meet Koulibaly in the Premier League this season.

Left-back: Maxwel Cornet

Age: 25
Current club: Burnley
Metz appearances: 27

Maxwel Cornet was a standout star for Burnley last season, despite the Clarets’ relegation — though, chances are he’ll be plying his trade back in the Premier League this forthcoming campaign, such are the number of top-flight clubs reportedly weighing up a move for his signature.

Before the 29-capped Ivory Coast international was lighting up Turf Moor, he starred for Metz having progressed through their academy, before Lyon pounced for his signature in 2015. For six years he was a prominent fixture in the gastronomic capital of France. Hungry for success, he famously played a key part as the club reached the 2019/20 Champions League semi-final, scoring in their 3-1 win over Man City in the quarters.

Centre midfield: Miralem Pjanic

Age: 32
Current club: Barcelona
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 moved on to dictate the tempo for Juventus. His form in Turin prompted Barcelona to move for him in 2020, but life has been anything but stable at the Camp Nou, spending last term on loan at Besiktas, though there are suggestions he may play an important role for the club this upcoming campaign after impressing in pre-season.

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

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Centre midfield: Pape Matar Sarr

Age: 19
Current club: Tottenham
Metz appearances: 56

Pape Matar Sarr is considered one of the brightest midfield talents in Europe right now, having been plucked from Metz by Tottenham last summer after a breakthrough campaign in Ligue 1. He spent last season back out on loan at the Stade Saint-Symphorien and has since returned to Spurs ready to show the Premier League what he’s all about.

Right wingIsmaila Sarr

Age: 24
Current club: Watford
Metz appearances: 33

Ismaila Sarr became Watford’s record signing in the summer of 2019 and, after a difficult settling-in period, started to tear up English football. He has continued to impress at Vicarage Road and, like Cornet, could be back in the Premier League next term if top-flight clubs follow up on their interest this summer.

Left wing: Franck Ribery

Age: 39
Current club: Salernitana
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: 30
Current club: Bayern Munich
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 and Premier League winner with Liverpool, and will be hoping to win the former with his new club Bayern Munich.

Forward: Habib Diallo

Age: 27
Current club: Strasbourg
Metz appearances: 115

Habib Diallo netted an impressive 12 Ligue 1 goals for Strasbourg last season, which matches his best return in a Metz shirt. He was unstoppable as the club gained promotion in 2018/19, scoring a ridiculous 26 Ligue 2 goals, and that form has continued in the French top flight, first with Metz and now in Alsace.