The youngster did not wait long to make his mark in Marseille this season, meaning that his rocketing career may go another step further very soon…
Being named best player of the French second tier doesn’t usually lead to further glory. Only Giroud’s award in 2010 and Laurent Blanc’s in 1987 have been followed with some international recognition since the prize was created.
Giannelli Imbula really hopes to add his name to that list of very notable exceptions.
Despite being born in Belgium, Imbula grew up in Paris and signed his first licenses with local clubs such as US Argenteuil, Racing Club de France and even Paris Saint-Germain where he was set free after only one season with the U13.
Finally Giannelli had to go west to complete his training, as he moved to Brittany and Guingamp in 2007, aged 15.
Two years later, he made his debut in the French Ligue 2, becoming the youngest ever player to begin a professional game for the club.
The relative peace surrounding the small city of Guingamp allowed him to progress almost unnoticed and progress even faster than his club, as they achieved a double promotion within 3 years to gain access to the top tier in France.
For 24 months, he terrorised the opposition midfielders in Ligue 2 with his strength and his ball control allowing him to dash through the opposing lines and feed his forwards. The opposing gaffers whose sides had succumbed to his power had then to confess that the kid is “exceptional” or even “extraterrestrial”.
His progression through the red and black ranks was finally rewarded in June 2013 with both a promotion for his club and an individual award as “Best Ligue 2 player”. Despite the glittering club names often quoted with him in the transfer columns last summer (Paris, Monaco, Chelsea or Barcelona), he took a very wise decision when he declared that he would play wherever his club’s chairman would send him. Guingamp’s board arranged a deal with Marseille at the beginning of the summer, only days after he made his debut in France shirt for the U20 side.
The fairytale did not stop there as he enjoyed a brilliant period with his new club where his performances did not go unnoticed.
Despite the pressure due to his €7.5mil transfer (more than what Marseille paid Guingamp in 2003 for Didier Drogba), he imposed himself as an essential element in the good start of the season for Marseille.
He quickly earned a starting position on the team sheet and did not disappoint his coach, raising his level to maintain the efficiency he had the year before in a lower division. He even made his Champions League debut in October at home against Arsenal.
When Marseille’s form dipped in autumn, Giannelli’s performances faded as well until Elie Baup was given his notice and Jose Anigo took the reins of the team.
He immediately obtained the confidence of the new coach and the youngster did his best to repay him before the Christmas break.
Now aged 21, Giannelli is still ranked amongst the biggest hopes of French football and would surely be tempted to continue his fast progression with a move to a more exposed league where fast and though defensive midfielders like him are often praised – he deserves it.