Top 10 Frenchmen Under 21 (cont.)
6. Antoine Griezmann (Winger, Real Sociedad, 19)
Along with Fofana, Griezmann is the only Under-19 European winner to have secured a regular place in his club side, and he had to move abroad to do that. Signed by Real Sociedad in 2005, the left-winger worked his way through the youth teams and after an outstanding pre-season last summer, was thrown into the first team last season.
His impact was immediate: the Segunda defenders could not deal with his pace and crosses, and he was a key part of the Sociedad side that topped the division and will play in La Liga this season. His progress was almost missed by French scouts, who only gave him his first call-up to the Under-19 side earlier this year. He did enough to keep his place and scored two goals on the way to France's victory.
Just before the tournament, Sociedad made perhaps its smartest move: rejecting interest from Lyon, Auxerre and Saint-Etienne, and agreeing to a five-year contract with Griezmann with a buy-out clause of €30m. The big names in Spanish football will soon find out if that price is right.
7. Emmanuel Riviere (Striker, Saint-Etienne, 20)
The striker was the hero for Saint-Etienne last season after a run of five goals in seven games which lifted Les Verts out of relegation trouble. His winning goal against Boulogne last May secured safety for France's fallen giants, and he is set for a first-team regular spot this season. Spotted by Saint-Etienne playing at a tournament in Martinique aged 14, Riviere turned down Lyon and Paris Saint-Germain because Les Verts was the most popular team on the island. "It has a fantastic record at bringing through young players, and I was promised the chance to show my potential here," he explained.
Frederic Piquionne, the France international and another Martiniquias, took the youngster under his wing in his early days at Saint-Etienne, and Riviere now dreams of emulating his mentor. "Frederic taught me so much and to play for France and in England would be a true dream for me," he said. Unsurprisingly, Arsenal is his favourite English club, but don't expect a move anytime soon: last month Saint-Etienne extended his contract until 2014. "I love this club and can work calmly with a coach, Christophe Galtier, who has shown great faith in me."
8. Henri Saivet (Attacking midfielder, Bordeaux, 19)
Last season, Bordeaux coach Blanc rejected four offers to take Saivet on loan, but he only picked him to start two first-team matches, one of which was the Champions League tie against Maccabi Haifa (he made five other substitute appearances).
This time around, with Bordeaux lacking in funds due to their failure to make the Champions League and having lost Marouane Chamakh to Arsenal, the club has again turned down Valenciennes and Lorient's requests to borrow the rapid forward who has been compared to Henry. Instead, Saivet is set to figure under new coach Jean Tigana, who said: "He has impressed me for some time, he has explosive pace and a bright future in the game."
Born in Senegal, Saivet is a France Under-19 international and could qualify for either nation. At the moment, though, he is only focusing on getting a chance in the Bordeaux team. "I played at right-midfield against Haifa, and I felt comfortable there, I can play anywhere at all," he said. "I just want to stay fit and have a run in the team to show what I can do."
9. Chris Mavinga (Defender, Liverpool, 19)
Mavinga met recently with Liverpool's new coach, Roy Hodgson, to discuss his future at the club and potential opportunities for the coming season after impressing in France's Under-19s European win. The defender may benefit from a loan spell to give him playing time after a season in the Reds reserves where he played at center back and left back.
Rafa Benitez beat Arsenal to his signature last summer from Paris Saint-Germain 14 months ago, and though the teenager was hoping to work alongside Sami Hyypia at Anfield, he has credited Jamie Carragher for helping him settle. He's still waiting for a first-team appearance for the Reds, and though he has spoken about one day returning to PSG, he is desperate to make the breakthrough at Liverpool.
10. Gilles Sunu (Striker, Arsenal, 19)
Every coach likes a player who listens, and it seems that Sunu has been doing just that. After a loan spell at Championship club Derby County last season, in which he scored once in six starts, coach Nigel Clough demanded more of an end-product. "Sunu's pace frightens people, but he has to learn to use it more," he said. "He has to put in a cross or a shot when he gets the chance."
That's exactly what happened this summer, when Sunu coolly chipped home a cross from Tafer to equalize for France Under-19s in its European final win over Spain. Sunu has an excellent scoring record at youth level: last year, he followed up a hat-trick against Wolves in the FA Youth Cup fourth round with goals against Manchester City (semifinal) and Liverpool (final) as Arsenal lifted the trophy. Columnist Steve Claridge, writing in The Guardian, praised Sunu's "dazzling display" and added: "If you provide the service to Sunu, he will provide the finish."
He did make two appearances for Arsenal's first team last season, including one in the Champions League against Olympiakos, but with opportunities limited among Arsenal's strike-force this season, he would make a canny loan signing for someone this season.
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