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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Magan

Valere Germain and the A-League Men's new Ligue 1 imports: A Marseille fan's perspective

Valère Germain is one of the headline foreign signings set to grace the A-League Men throughout the 2023/24 season. Front Page Football details the new Macarthur forward's career in his homeland, with a brief look at the other former Ligue 1 talents who moved down under this off-season.

A personal story

In May 2018, regional media in South-East France talked about an Olympique de Marseille supporter who flew across the globe to watch his favourite team play in the Europa League Final against Atletico Madrid.

This supporter was me, living in Sydney at the time. I had bought tickets to the Final and booked my flights as Marseille were about to face an “easy" team (Red Bull Salzburg) in their Semi-Final. Two legs later, I could finally inform my family that I would travel back to France for four days, and the fanfare surrounding my round trip for OM began. When we stepped into the Groupama Stadium in Lyon that Saturday night, Marseille fans had little hope we would win a second European trophy 25 years after our first. Diego Simeone’s Atletico was too strong, experienced, and intelligent. You always have hope, though.

Three minutes and twenty seconds into the Final, Dimitri Payet finds Valère Germain in the box behind the Atleti defence. The travelling Spanish fans were so loud pre-game, with their flares thrown towards my dad and me when we got off the train and their chants booming as the players entered. But at that moment, they were silent.

Valère Germain resists the challenge of Lucas Hernandez in the early stages of the Europa League Final in 2018. (Shutterstock)

Facing only the goalkeeper, it was up to Germain's right boot to give Marseille an early lead. He unfortunately skied the attempt, leaving us all disappointed, knowing we would have few clear-cut chances in a Europa League Final. The rest is history. Payet picks up an injury, costing him minutes at the World Cup. Madrid is too strong, and Antoine Griezmann’s brace helps the Spanish giants lift the trophy.

Ask any Marseille fan; this moment is probably the first thing that comes to mind when the name Valère Germain is mentioned. After four seasons and 155 games in the blue and white jersey, and 26 goals and 12 assists, his legacy is this missed chance on the biggest stage. Unfair? Probably.

Had he scored in the fourth minute, Marseille could have lost 3-1 or maybe even 6-1, such was the difference between the two sides. But crucially, had he not scored a brace against Braga in the Round of 32, OM may have been out of the competition already.

The fact is, Germain is remembered in Marseille as a player who “almost” made it. The good enough forward who fights hard and is “bound to have a good run” yet never gets it. Why? The reason is simple. OM fans have huge expectations.

High expectations

When he arrived in Marseille, Germain was almost considered royalty. Born in the city, he is the son of Bruno Germain, a hard-working midfielder who donned the blue and white from 1989 to 1991, and then again in 1994/95. Bruno Germain is a name everyone knew at the Stade Vélodrome.

During his time, OM won everything. He was also in the starting XI in Bari when Marseille reached the European Cup Final for the first time in 1991. They lost against Siniša Mihajlović, Dejan Savićević, and Robert Prosinečki’s Red Star Belgrade months before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Germain signing for the club where his dad was a legend was a gamble. But he already had a few successful seasons in Ligue 1 and 2. A Monaco Academy product, he got his opportunity to impress when the principality club was relegated to the second division in the summer of 2011.

With a young Lucas Ocampos, Yannick Carrasco, and future Melbourne Victory midfielder Jakob Poulsen, Germain played 69 games across two seasons in the second tier, scoring 22 goals and registering nine assists. Ligue 2 champions in 2013, Monaco and the now Macarthur striker were back in the top flight of French football.

Valère Germain and Radamel Falcao combined for 31 goals and eight assists during the 2016/17 season. (Shutterstock)

The rest of the Monaco story has been told and written many times since he joined the Bulls. Initially in the rotation following their promotion, Germain was loaned to Nice, where he excelled alongside Hatem Ben Arfa before returning to the principality for a near-perfect 2016/17 season.

Germain was the third most-used player in a squad of stars that saw Monaco take the Ligue 1 trophy ahead of Paris Saint-Germain. He was one of the first names on the team sheet alongside stars such as Radamel Falcao, Kylian Mbappé, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho, Bernardo Silva, and Joao Moutinho.

He arrived in Marseille the following summer as a freshly crowned Ligue 1 champion. Germain was signed with the expectation he would play in his best position as a second fiddle alongside Batéfimbi Gomis, whose loan from Swansea was expected to be made permanent. But Gomis was surprisingly sold to Galatasaray instead. Germain now had to play as the lone striker alongside skilled midfielders and wingers such as Payet, Florian Thauvin, and Ocampos.

The Europa League Final was lost later that year. Germain spent another three seasons in Marseille, slowly sliding down in the rotation. His partnerships with Kostas Mitroglou and Mario Balotelli did not spark the same results he achieved at Monaco or Nice. Germain joined Montpellier, playing two seasons in a similar role and using his experience to help Stephy Mavididi and Elye Wahi blossom.

Style of play

Valère Germain has always been best when an out-and-out striker plays alongside him. His hard work, acute positional sense, high football IQ, and selfless play were best utilised in a front two. Germain did the unheralded job next to Ben Arfa, Falcao, and later Balotelli, initiating the high press and recovering the ball in the opposition's half.

He often managed to be forgotten when his team would attack, with opposing defences possibly fearing his bigger-name teammates more. But he was often in the right place and time to use his poaching abilities to finish chances. Although not seen as a tall striker, his roughly 180-centimetre height and above-average aerial capability hurt many French sides.

His ability to receive the ball with his back to goal cannot be underestimated either. Throughout his last few years in Ligue 1, Germain had to adapt to a fast-passing attacking side in Marseille before switching to counter-attacking football in Montpellier. He had to learn to make a difference with minimal touches in both roles. He managed to showcase good positional play while understanding his teammates' runs.

Germain during Macarthur's Australia Cup defeat to Campbelltown City. (Ken Carter)

In his first official game with Macarthur, an Australia Cup loss to Campbelltown City, we saw glimpses of the French forward and his ability. The press, run, and pass in the 9th minute should have assisted Ulises Dávila had the captain hit the target. His runs from the right wing into the box, when a cross would or should have come from the left, often saw him unmarked.

Germain would be better utilised closer to the striker than on the right wing. Or that was not the plan, and the hesitance of Matthew Millar to push further forward forced Germain to provide width instead of operating centrally as a number ten. Either way, the Frenchman knows what sacrificing for the team means. Besides his status as a former Ligue 1 player, he will undoubtedly work with Mile Sterjovski to help the Bulls’ new manager get the best out of his squad.

The former Socceroos' European – and French – experience is also a bonus when working with players like Germain. In Lille, Sterjovski played with the likes of Bruno, Benoît Cheyrou, and Mathieu Bodmer and witnessed how this particular breed of French players, known more for their tactical understanding of the game, technique, and passing ability, can be put in the best conditions on and off the pitch.

The other Ligue 1 talents

Valère Germain is not the only Ligue 1 product to fly across the globe this winter. Hamza Sakhi, Samuel Souprayen, Zinédine Machach, and Jason Berthomier arrived in the A-League Men too, with the first two signing for Melbourne City, Machach joining Melbourne Victory, and Berthomier signing for the Newcastle Jets.

The most surprising signing of the four is possibly Sakhi, joining on loan from Auxerre. The French-Moroccan’s past season in Ligue 1 was not a walk in the park, with promoted Auxerre relegated after one campaign. But his end-product in Ligue 2 before that was considerable.

Across two seasons, Sakhi delivered ten goals and 15 assists to help Auxerre back up to Ligue 1, including a stunning Robin van Persie-like header in the promotion play-off Final, which sent his team to a penalty shootout where they ultimately beat Saint-Étienne to confirm their ticket to the first tier.

Sakhi was at his best under manager Jean-Marc Furlan over these two seasons, a coach known for his love of possession-based and attacking football. His skillset thus seems a perfect match for Melbourne City. Against Wellington in the Australia Cup Round of 16, his Furlan-esque positioning between the lines and in the half-spaces should have been taken advantage of. But he was more influential in City's 2-1 Quarter-Final win over the MetroStars, completing 61 of his 68 passes, with four considered key passes.

As his understanding of his new teammates grows, City fans will see an intelligent, hard-working midfielder who doesn’t need more than a couple of touches to create danger in the opponent's box.


Jason Berthomier was an instrumental player for Clermont Foot. (Shutterstock)

Samuel Souprayen and Jason Berthomier can be profiled more as experienced players coming to Australia at the tail end of their career, with the former spending the last two years in Bulgaria despite a promising career in France - where he played with Sakhi at Auxerre - and in Italy. They both bring maturity, professionalism, and an understanding of how to perform at the highest level for several seasons to Australia.

Berthomier, like Germain and Sakhi, comes with a history of helping his team earn promotion to Ligue 1. With Clermont Foot in 2020/21, he recorded an impressive five goals and ten assists while also being a part of the squad that stayed in Ligue 1 the following season. His past two years were below his usual level. But the experienced midfielder brings excellent technical qualities and superb set-piece ability to the Jets.

Zinédine Machach arrives in Australia with the reputation of a prospect that has failed to deliver. Despite being 27, Melbourne Victory is already the tenth club of his career. A surprise signing for Olympique de Marseille when he was 20, after a promising few months at Toulouse, Machach quickly showcased the extent of his talent through his technique and ability to provoke defenders. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistencies in his performances meant he became a bit of a journeyman, struggling to find the right place to secure meaningful minutes, let alone rekindle his early promise.

The list of former Ligue 1 players in the A-League Men grows yearly, and their success in Australian football is not always guaranteed. The signings of Valère Germain and Hamza Sakhi seem like a coup, though, given the abilities and mentality of the duo.

Having both featured in the Australia Cup, they will wear their new colours on the continental scene before debuting in the A-League Men. Macarthur faces Myanmar National League champions Shan United on September 21 in the AFC Cup, while Melbourne City takes on J-League 2 side Ventforet Kofu in the AFC Champions League the day before.

Click here to read more of FPF's A-Leagues coverage!


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