Since Jean Michael Seri moved to France in the summer of 2015, the Ivory Coast international has become known as one of the most dynamic midfielders in the league.
As Nice push for the Ligue 1 title, it is upon this diminutive figure that they are set to lay a great deal of responsibility. Missing key men Alassane Plea and Wylan Cyprien to serious knee trouble, the 25-year-old suddenly finds himself in the position of being his side’s fulcrum.
He has grown to become known as Nice’s N’Golo Kante, who departed Ligue 1 for England just as Seri was arriving from Pacos de Ferreira. And like Kante, Serri may well be one of league’s best kept secrets.
They are very different players, however. Seri he is full of energy and built in a similar manner to the France international - Seri is actually a shade shorter – but he is a considerably more attack-minded player with a much greater range of passing.
Lucien Favre might demand a good deal of his players defensively but it has not taken the edge off his game going forward.
Indeed, with nine assists to his credit this season, only a select handful of players in Europe’s top leagues, including Neymar, Christian Eriksen and Kevin De Bruyne, can boast of being more creative.
Seri has created more chances this season than Lionel Messi more decisive passes than the Argentinian, too.
“It’s a strange ranking because you’re reliant on others,” he told L’Equipe, admitting, “I look to see where I am in Europe.”
It has been quite a journey since playing as a youngster in Ivory Coast, where he started out at the Cyril Domoraud Centre in 1999 aged only eight.
“Training footballers in Africa is special,” he told Le Point. “Up to a certain level, we play barefoot. As a result, we’re more in contact with the ball and we acquire a good technical basis for control. When we put on boots, it means that we’ve achieved a certain level.”
There is no doubt that Seri looks a player solid with the ball in his possession, but given the players he models himself upon, that should come as little surprise.
“I was inspired by Marcelo Gallardo when he played with Monaco in the early 2000s. That’s my nickname in the Ivory Coast,” he said.
It was Claude Puel, now Southampton boss, who was moved to sign Seri for just €2 million, and he spoke about the player’s ability to make “hidden passes” – something that was inspired by a modern-day great.Getty/Playing Surface
“Xavi did it all the time for Barcelona and I tried to copy him. It’s a trick I’ve worked hard at and tried to master,” Seri confessed.
Such has been the quality with which he has played, there has been speculation linking him to Marseille, Dortmund and even a potential reunion with Puel at Southampton. But that does not mean he will move – and especially not to somewhere with an inclement climate.
“I have ingrown toenails and when it’s cold I need special treatment,” he admitted. “I don’t see myself playing in a country where it’s cold. I hurt everywhere and I struggle to train.
“I feel good here, and so does my family. I don’t see why I’d go elsewhere. The club is improving and there are many positives, so why go?”
His resolve – and no doubt that of Nice, too – will no doubt be tested when these big guns come calling in the summer. A valuation of €40m no longer looks so great.