Having nurtured many young French talents including Paul Pogba, Riyad Mahrez, Benjamin Mendy and Dimitri Payet, Le Havre are famed in footballing circles for producing fine young footballers. The Normandy club take great pride in their academy, especially when those players make the club a tidy profit – such as the €10 million Le Havre received this year for 19-year-old Rafik Guitane from Stade Rennes.
The young starlet has greatly impressed with his performances for Le Havre in France’s second division, Ligue 2, where he contributed 2 goals and 2 assists in 18 games for Le club doyen during the 2017/18 season. Now the teenager will get his chance to shine in Ligue 1 at the same club a certain Ousmane Dembele made his name. We take a look at what makes the French U19 international special and why Rennes were willing to pay such a hefty fee for a teenager with so little experience.
A number 10 can have many different roles but what the best of them can always do is exploit space between the lines of an opposition’s defence and midfield. The term ‘free role’ is often given to an attacking midfielder who is charged with finding gaps in the opponent’s defensive structure, able to go where he wishes to make an impact on the game. But the word ‘free’ suggests that the player has no restrictions which is not the case, the opposition’s positioning will determine what area’s the ‘roaming playmaker’ can be effective in, as will the player’s attributes. Awareness is key to this role and is something Rafik Guitane has in abundance.
If the opposition’s defence is deep and compact than there is little space to play between the lines and a different approach is needed. This is where a playmaker’s passing range is tested most, unlocking a tight defence through deception and timing.
If a team can get the ball into dangerous areas without the need of a figurative number 10 to drop deep and create then that same player has licence to become a second striker. This is where the timing of late runs can catch defenders unaware and Guitane has the timing and finishing ability to take advantage of such opportunities.
Watching Rafik Guitane I cannot help but be reminded of Bernardo Silva. A diminutive figure, quick acceleration over the first few yards, top class first touch and vision are all traits and attributes Guitane shares with the Manchester City and Portugal playmaker. Similarities to Silva can be seen in the way Guitane dribbles, often bypassing opposition midfields, particularly in transition moments.
The ability to take the ball from your own defence and spring an attack is highly valued in today’s game where quick transitions are key and often deciding factors in top level games. Awareness, pace and dribbling ability are needed to be effective in a modern number 10 role.
Like Silva, Guitane is most comfortable in a #10 role where his skill-set can help produce rapid counter-attacks as well as unlock stubborn defences. But he is also suited to a wide-role where his excellent 1v1 dribbling ability combined with his creativity make him a nightmare for full-backs, that versatility may be key to a future move should bigger clubs than Stade Rennes come knocking.
It doesn’t take long watching Rafik Guitane to notice his qualities, he has superb ball control, excellent ability to dribble, awareness to both create and exploit space, pace to take advantage of it and can also finish well to boot. His attributes make him well suited to an attacking midfield role and to play with such maturity for a 19-year-old makes Guitane possibly one of the most exciting prospects in Ligue 1 this season.
The fee Rennes have paid for this 19-year-old of Algerian descent will not go unnoticed within French football, nor will the 4 goals in 12 appearances for the French U19 side Guitane has notched. He has talent in abundance and if he can establish himself in the Rennes first team within the next couple of seasons, expect to see the big boys of French and perhaps European football take a firm interest in the young playmaker. An exciting, flair-player by nature, Guitane will always impress an entertain onlookers whether or not he fulfils his undoubtedly large potential.