Marseille may go into Wednesday’s Europa League final against Atletico Madrid as second favourites but, for midfielder Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa, overcoming the doubters has become standard.
It was less than three years ago that he was allowed to depart Reims, where the feeling was that he did not have the tactical appreciation to make it in the professional game.
The Champagne club have been relegated and promoted again since then, but for the 22-year-old, his career has been on a steady upward trajectory.
A trial with Valenciennes might have taken him to the second tier of French football, but instead Marseille moved to sign a player that they had been tentatively monitoring, largely due to his impressive physical build.
“I’ve been coaching for eight years and he has the most impressive athletic profile I’ve ever seen,” erstwhile Valenciennes boss David Le Frapper said in 2015. “The power he has is incredible. And he’s got a phenomenal margin of progress, he just needs to be guided because he wants to learn.
“He came to see the staff to make a video that would allow him to improve his placement, how to organise himself when the ball is here or there.
“He’s a breath of fresh air. He had tears in his eyes when he said goodbye.”
An introverted character, he needed the reassurance he never had at Reims. Le Frapper, though, made an instant connection and actively had to encourage the player to sign for OM when he was keen to work under him at Valenciennes.
“When he arrived at Valenciennes, he wore jumpers that even my grandfather wouldn’t have worn,” he remembered. “But he’s a great kid.”
What Reims could not see, Marseille were happy to gamble upon, having noticed the player at first during a tournament in Yaounde in 2013.
Meet Ligue 1 rising star Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa
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Still, there was more than an element of surprise about just how quickly the youngster made his impression at Stade Velodrome.
Even Jean-Philippe Durand, the scout who discovered him, is said to have told Vincent Labrune when he learned of the player’s availability: “There’s this little one, I’m not sure he’s ready to go pro today, but we can’t let him go.”
Within a couple of months, Zambo Anguissa was among the first-team squad.
Having failed to feature at all for Reims, he was thrown in at the deep end with one of France’s biggest clubs, asked to play a Europa League match in Groningen. Marseille won 3-0 and Zambo Anguissa supplied an assist.
He featured intermittently thereafter that season but became a regular the year after and during the current campaign he has amassed 54 appearances out of a possible 60 – a formidable feat of physicality. Only midfield partner Luiz Gustavo has played more games.
“Frank is one of the players I’ve seen the most progress in since I arrived,” said Dimitri Payet, who returned to the club little over a year ago.
The foundation of his game is his raw power but it is being slowly refined as he matures. As a box-to-box midfielder, he knows that he has to add some finesse to his play as he has yet to net for his club, something that head coach Rudi Garcia is irritated by.
“He’s always on my back, pushing me to work on my use of the ball and shooting, making me repeat technical moves,” he said after scoring in the Confederations Cup against Australia last June, his first professional strike and one of two he has netted for his nation.
“Garcia watched the game and he saw the goal. He’s been winding me up about it!”
The coach’s drive to improve him, however, is something that he greatly appreciates.
“It feels good to have someone who believes in you,” he said.
If he can help Marseille to the Europa League, there will be few left who doubt him.