While Monaco made headlines by selling the likes of Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Kylian Mbappe for mammoth fees in the summer, they allowed one youngster to leave rather more discreetly.
Allan Saint-Maximin made the jump from Stade Louis II along the Riviera to Nice for a reported fee of €10 million – the highest in the buyers’ history – yet the transfer of the France Under-21 international caused little stir.
The 20-year-old managed only one league appearance with Monaco during his stay, but after years of hype he is starting to realise his potential under Lucien Favre.
When Saint-Maximin broke through at Saint-Etienne, he became the club’s youngest Ligue 1 player, featuring for the club before he had even reached the age of 17. He impressed to such an extent that he was snapped up by Monaco the following summer for €4.5m.
Two loan spells followed, though both proved luckless. He was meant to spend a year in the Bundesliga with Hannover but a traffic accident halted that prematurely, while last term was spent with a poor Bastia side in which he struggled to cope with the responsibility of being his team’s chief creative force.
In Corsica, where he stood accused of holding onto the ball too long and being too keen to dribble, there were flashes of brilliance that led Nice to make a summer swoop, including an incredible solo goal against Caen in January.
Game time with a strong club was the prize that the youngster was chasing, but also the stability that he had been without since leaving Saint-Etienne, a club the Paris-born youngster had joined when he was 11 at the expense of PSG.
He described himself as a “homing pigeon” upon sealing his contract in Nice, due to the wandering nature of his career to that point.
“All the experiences I’ve had have enriched me,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve matured with the arrival of my two little girls. For me, this is a new start.”
Undoubtedly the highlight of his season to date was a strike in the Europa League against Vitesse. Having gathered the ball inside of his own half, he scampered the remaining length of the field before drilling a low shot into the corner to help the Ligue 1 side to a 3-0 victory.
It was a goal that highlighted all the positive attributes in his game. “He’s got an impressive ability to always go forward with rhythm and speed, all the while juggling the ratio of how risky it is to dribble,” Dominique Fernandez, a former scout for Saint-Etienne explained.
Dribbling is certainly the player’s trademark. In Europe’s top five leagues last season, only Neymar and Eden Hazard would attempt more runs with the ball than the youngster.
Allan Saint-Maximin - the starlet shining in Ligue 1
Allan Saint-Maximin - the starlet shining in Ligue 1 Posted by Goal.com on Tuesday, October 24, 2017
One of the reasons he can afford to be so direct, though, is because of his electrifying speed. It is an asset that he has not had to work on, having been a regional schools champion at both cross country and decathlon.
Although primarily used as a winger because of his pace, Saint-Maximin has shown a capability to operate across the forward line, a talent facilitated by the fact that he is equally capable with both feet.
“Where I feel the best is at left midfield,” he admitted. “But it doesn’t matter where I want to play, it’s up to the coach. I love football, so it doesn’t really matter – I just want to play… except in goal!”
There are, however, areas where this raw talent can still develop.
“For a player with his talent, it’s not always easy to adapt to the needs of his team,” Bertrand Rebours, who coached him as a kid at AC Boulogne-Billancourt, told So Foot back in 2014. “He will have to learn to use his team-mates, especially against very intelligent defenders.”
Words of warning from three years ago still apply today, although since moving to Nice there is evidence that they do so to less of an extent.
Meanwhile, for a player “who thinks a lot about his stats”, according to Guillaume Sabatier, who coached him at Boulogne, his numbers do not yet reflect the influence he could have on games.
Three goals and six assists is a relatively meagre number for a player of his talents through 54 Ligue 1 appearances. Indeed, he is still waiting upon his first league goal for Nice.
Saint-Maximin is, therefore, a player whose talents are yet to be fully refined, but if he can find the right balance between using his individual ability and those of his team-mates, he has the raw materials to become one of the best forwards in Europe.
Then, maybe, he will be mentioned in the same breath as a Bakayoko, a Mendy or an Mbappe.