You can’t please everyone in this game. Particularly if you’re name is Georges-Kevin N’Koudou
Georges-Kevin N’Koudou has been likened to Manchester United’s Gallic wonder Anthony Martial. And hailed as a future Les Bleus mainstay. If there has been a better bargain signing in Europe this season, then please let us know below…
Despite a host of admirers, the new hero of Olympique Marseille still has his detractors. Just 21 and firmly established as a first-choice for OM coach Michel, N’Koudou’s emergence should be celebrated across the country. The PSG reject made good. But there’s still many, from both former club Nantes and even OM identities, whom have been happy to dampen – even outright criticise – the winger’s sudden rise.
OM president Vincent Labrune may still be angry with Marcelo Bielsa, but he does owe his former coach for insisting on the signing of N’Koudou last summer. The winger was raw, full of pace and trickery, but with no end product. But Bielsa recognised the potential and convinced Labrune to part with Ä1.5 million to take N’Koudou away from Nantes.
Today, N’Koudou has Europe’s biggest clubs following his progress. Manchester United, Tottenham, Liverpool and ambitious West Ham all have scouts virtually based at the Velodrome to follow the exciting wing talent. And why not? What wasn’t seen at Nantes is now in full view – and peers and coaches are falling over eachother to shower ‘GK’ with praise.
“For the fans, seeing a player like that, who is exciting, can go past the defender, he’s like (Franck) Ribery when he was at his best, always trying to do something! To go forward, to excite, this is what they love at the Velodrome,” says OM fullback Benjamin Mendy.
“He’s a really good player,” nods Michel. “He scores. He creates. He’s done it in the league and in Europe.
“We’re now seeing a very important talent grow. With greater playing opportunities, he’s gained more confidence.”
Those close to N’Koudou say that newly discovered self-belief is a direct result of getting him a move out of Nantes.
“He feels and is loved in Marseille. He tells us all the time. He’s emotional. The more you love him, the more he will do. He’s blossomed,” a confidant recently stated.
In a recent survey of OM fans, by Le Phoceen, an overwhelming 88% of Velodrome attendees admitted going to home games just to see N’Koudou in action.
“At Nantes, he never felt the confidence that currently he receives at OM,” says a family relative.
“He seemed unable to get a chance, not to be in line with the philosophy of coach (Michel) Der Zakarian’s game.”
But in the public arena, the criticism isn’t all one way. Nantes president Waldemar Kita made it clear earlier this season what he thought of N’Koudou and his minders.
“His entourage urged him to go. I did not want to sell to Labrune, but he was convinced about making a deal,” recalled Kita.
“Nevertheless, and I’m not afraid to say so, if OM in truth, had a real team, the type of the last few years, N’Koudou would have no place.
“I must say that our staff was not able to develop him and it’s annoying. But it was too early for him to go there.”
Matters came to a head when N’Koudou faced his former club earlier this season – and hit the winning goal. His celebrations infuriated Kita and several Nantes directors.
“No, I won’t apologise,” said N’Koudou in the aftermath. “I did not receive the confidence that I deserved to have. Today OM trust me and I try more things because before I was playing with the handbrake on.
“What hurt me is that the fans booed me, though I spent some good years with this club. I did not celebrate the goal out of revenge, but because I am happy to have scored.”
However, N’Koudou still has friends at Nantes, including coach Der Zakarian, who insists never wanted to lose the player.
“We wanted to keep him, unfortunately he did not have the same ambition as us. With his agent, financially, he wanted something other than what was proposed. He would not extend with us, today he is with Marseille. We were not going to keep an end of contract player so he could go for free next summer,” explained Der Zakarian.
For all the back-and-forth, what’s clear is the move to Marseille has benefited N’Koudou – and even Nantes. It’s been revealed the canny Kita insisted on a 10 per cent sell-on clause in the transfer deal. With OM now quoting prices beyond Ä20 million, Kita can be grateful that N’Koudou is fulfilling his potential at the Velodrome.
“Before (at Nantes), I was a player who liked to show off. I liked to dribble, but I was almost useless. To get further, I had to become more efficient. It is the fruit of my work, I hope it will continue.
“When I was at Nantes, I was told: ‘This is fine, this way, but it does nothing’. It’s like I was non-existent, as people retain only those that are there in the key moments.
“I worked hard on my game in the last thirty metres, the last act, the penultimate act.”
Former junior coach Michel Collat isn’t surprised seeing N’Koudou respond to Michel’s management. Collat was always convinced about the youngster’s talent – and attitude.
He says: “If all players were like him, coaching would be easier. For me he will soon make the France team. I firmly believe it. There is not much difference between him and Anthony Martial. They have somewhat the same pace, qualities and finishing ability.”
So could Martial and N’Koudou be clubmates next season? For GK, he’s happy to take it all in his stride.
“I keep my head on my shoulders. Football, it goes very fast. I can succeed today, tomorrow I can get hurt me or have a bad game.
“Personally, I am very happy. I am confident. I hope to continue like this.”
So it will be interesting to see if Louis Van Gaal goes after the Frenchman and adds a player who seems to have similar attributes to Anthony Martial.
Contributed by Chris Beattie from TribalFootball.com