James Lea Siliki has made no secret of his ultimate dream: to play for Manchester United.
For now, though, the ambitious 21-year-old midfielder will have to make do with Rennes, a town situated some 350 kilometres west of his birthplace in the north of Paris.
His journey to becoming a Ligue 1 regular has not been a straightforward one, with the Franco-Cameroonian having started in PSG’s academy before moving to Guingamp then ultimately Rennes, where he got his big breakthrough.
After debuting last term, he has become an increasingly integral part of the team under head coach Sabri Lamouchi, who has the Breton club pushing for a Europa League place after a poor start to the season.
Lea Siliki is always someone who has looked to the long term.
“After weighing up the pros and cons, I knew it was the right move coming here, especially in terms of the infrastructure,” he said in 2016, when Ousmane Dembele was exploding in the first team.
“I was probably more likely to go higher, faster in Guingamp, but having more competition is not so bad. I needed this challenge, even if moving to Guingamp allowed me to become a man.”
His first top-flight start was against his former club and lasted only 45 minutes, but since then the midfielder, who likes to inject pace into the game with direct forward passes, has increasingly grown in stature.
Since moving into his favoured position in the centre of the midfield under Lamouchi after previously being used on the flank, he has looked particularly at home.
“In the heart of the game, he’s a very good player who improves the team,” Laurent Huard, former reserve team boss with the Bretons, told Goal.
“He’s a mix of Blaise Matuidi and Geoffrey Kondogbia. He’s maybe not as good as Matuidi at winning the ball and is not as powerful as Kondogbia, but he has something in addition – he can be a goal scorer.”
Lea Siliki has played 29 times in total this season in the league, including 16 from the start, and he has a couple of goals to his name. The first was a fizzing shot from range against Lille – a late winner – and the second came in a shock 2-0 win at Lyon – perhaps Rennes’ best result of the season – thanks to a well-timed run into the box.
But he reserved perhaps his best overall performance to date for last weekend’s derby against Nantes, in which he was the catalyst for a late equaliser. His shot was deflected into the net off home defender Nicolas Pallois, who was harshly credited with an own goal when the strike deserved to go to the midfielder.
“It was a great moment,” he said after a game from which he emerged battered and bruised due to his bravery on the ball. “I was lucky to score near to where the Rennes fans were and where all of my family were. My brother and cousins made the trip from Paris.”
Lea Siliki is a football lover who analyses every aspect of his own performance and studies those around him.
“Since I was small in my bedroom, I’ve dreamed of playing big matches and being a professional footballer. It’s been an obsession since I was old enough to understand,” he told Ouest France.
“I dream of Manchester United, their stadium, their colours. I grew up with the Sir Alex Ferguson years, with Boxing Day games on Canal+, the 95th-minute wins. I grew up with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole together in attack, Mikael Silvestre, Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs, who remains an icon.
“I like watching videos of experienced players, analyse what they do well, tactically, physically, their movements, their physical investment. Kevin De Bruyne, for example, he’s complete.”
His journey to the top might only have just started, but keep improving and he may just make it to Old Trafford one day.