Vincent Koziello cuts an unassuming character. “I don’t have a high opinion of myself,” he admitted after a breakout season last term. His roommates have likely had something to do with that. After all, the fresh-faced 21-year-old is one of the few major European talents still living with his parents.
Others have high opinions, though, and they’re getting higher and higher. But then, standing just 5ft 6in, the 21-year-old Nice midfielder has spent much his young life looking up to others.
He might have to get used to looking down, however. His Nice side sits top of the table in France, upsetting title-favourites Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco in the early stages of the current Ligue 1 campaign.
Koziello became the symbol of Claude Puel’s Hatem Ben Arfa-inspired young and exciting Nice side that secured a well-deserved fourth-place finish in France last season.
He started 32 of that side’s 38 Ligue 1 fixtures in a breakout year that led to the inevitable – if slightly cruel – tag of the ‘French Xavi’.
He’s a different type of player to the Barcelona legend, however, and certainly more tenacious. He too is a smart-passing midfielder, but picks his moments rather than orchestrating the side's play throughout.
While Xavi spent a career racking up unprecedented passing stats, Koziello’s total of 1,700 passes last season was almost 1,000 fewer than fellow central midfielders Nampalys Mendy and Jean Seri chalked up.
Koziello’s task was pulling the strings as the one who ‘gets and gives’ in Puel’s balanced, functional midfield three.
The inexperienced youngster flourished with the responsibility of converting defensive possession into attacking intent, which, with pressing so en vogue, has become with one of the most important roles in the modern game
And his baby-faced appearance should fool nobody. Koziello can mix it up. He picked up nine yellow cards last season, made 42 interceptions and won 84 of the 108 tackles into which he charged.
The loss of Puel to Southampton, Mendy to Leicester City and Ben Arfa to PSG was supposed to end Nice’s success story, but they’ve hardly missed a beat.
Ben Arfa and Puel were instantly replaced. The former by the experienced Swiss Lucien Favre who led Gladbach back into the UEFA Champions League, and the latter by an equally mercurial talent in Mario Balotelli.
"I was pretty confident [that Nice would cope without Ben Arfa and Puel],” Koziello told Goal . “The team is constantly growing and we’ve shown it at the beginning of the championship.”
And Koziello has played his role. But can they go all the way and spring what would be a major upset by ending PSG’s complete dominance of the French game?
“I think everything is possible in football but it is too early to tell,” he says, characteristically refusing to get ahead of himself.
Koziello assumes nothing. But his star is rising along with those opinions regarding one of Ligue 1’s most-wanted. Nice have unleashed him on the world. Mum and Dad may be doing the same before too long.