By Langton Nyakwenda
From David Ginola, who joined Newcastle United from Paris Saint-Germain 25 years ago, to highly-rated Brazilian defender Gabriel who recently became Arsenal’s 25th signing from France in the Premiership era, Ligue 1 has been a consistent production line for the English Premier Soccer League.
Ginola, regarded as one of the finest playmakers to emerge from France, signed a £2.5 million deal with Newcastle in 1995, in what was one of the first notable exports to the EPL since the Premiership’s inception.
The 22-year-old Gabriel signed for Arsenal from Ligue 1 side Lille early this month in yet another exchange of players between the English and French top-flight.
A huge number of players, including Robert Pires, Didier Drogba, Eden Hazard, N’Golo Kante, Nicolas Pepe and Alexandre Lacazette all swapped Ligue 1 for the Premiership.
France national team striker Lacazette joined Arsenal from Olympic Lyon in 2017.
Despite their failure to win the league title since 2008, Lyon have exported a number of top players over the past decade.
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Samuel Umtiti (Barcelona), Dejan Lovren (Liverpool), Ferland Mendy (Real Madrid) and Karim Benzema (Real Madrid) all made big moves from Lyon.
Former Ghana international Michael Essien also made his breakthrough to Chelsea in 2005 from Lyon.
It’s an exciting trend that has left former Zimbabwe captain Benjani Mwaruwari, who also moved from Ligue 1 into the EPL in 2006, believing his compatriot Tino Kadewere was now well poised for a similar leap, following his recent switch to 2020 UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Lyon.
Kadewere (24) signed for Lyon in January after an impressive show for Le Havre, but was loaned back to the Ligue 2 side until July when he finally made his move to the French giants.
Kadewere is yet to make his Ligue 1 bow and only returned to full training on September 3 after he was given time to mourn his brother Prince, who passed away in August.
However, it looks like the former Harare City star will have to work his socks off to earn a starting place for Lyon, who have a star-studded strike force that is headlined by hotshot Dutch forward Memphis Depay.
Mousa Dembele, scorer of a brace against Manchester City in the Champions League semi-final, Cameroonian Karl Toko Ekambi, former Chelsea man Bertrand Traore and Ivorian star Maxwell Cornet are also at Lyon.
Mwaruwari acknowledges that Kadewere might find it difficult to claim a place in the starting line-up, but the former AJ Auxerre star striker is tipping Kadewere to finally succeed at Lyon and earn a bigger move to England.
“Tino (Kadewere) is doing very well, I have been watching him. But, I must warn that this season could be difficult for the boy, especially if Depay (Memphis) and the other top strikers at Lyon stay,” Mwaruwari told The Sunday Mail Sport from his United Kingdom base.
In a move that could open an opportunity for Kadewere, 26-year-old Depay has been strongly linked with a move to Barcelona who are now being coached by former Netherlands gaffer Ronald Koeman.
Reports say Depay has already agreed terms with Barca, but Lyon are now linked with a sensational reunion with 32-year-old striker Benzema. Lyon sporting director Juninho recently admitted that such a move was possible.
“The dream we have is that Benzema will retire with us. It is the dream of all Olympique de Lyon fans to make him come back for two seasons,” Juninho was quoted by various European media outlets last week.
Mwaruwari reckons that should not intimidate Kadewere.
“Those developments should not affect Tino. He should humble himself and accept to be the understudy for now, but at the same time he should keep working hard because anytime can be your time.
“Somebody out there is watching him and what I can assure him from my experience is that if one plays well in France there is a huge chance of ending up in the Premier League,” he said. Mwaruwari joined English side Portsmouth in January 2006 after a remarkable stint with AJ Auxerre where his stock rose after a commendable show in the 2002-2003 UEFA Champions League.
Despite being number two to former France national team striker Djibril Cisse, Mwaruwari would always prove his potency in front of goal whenever he got a chance.
His chance finally came when Cisse left.
“When Cisse was still at Auxerre it was initially difficult for me to get game time,” recalled Mwaruwari. “But as time moved on, Cisse left. I grabbed my chance, impressed and earned a move to the English Premiership”.
Cisse joined Liverpool from Auxerre in 2004 and won the UEFA Champions League with the Reds the following year.
“You see, there is a connection between the French Ligue 1 and the EPL, this link was strengthened by Arsene Wenger when he was still manager at Arsenal.
“Him (Wenger), being French, he had this liking for France-based players and that’s how he didn’t hesitate to recommend me to Harry Redknapp when Portsmouth came asking in 2006,” Mwaruwari said. The Sunday Mail