The French Connection: Lebo Mothiba - Strasbourg's smiling assassin

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At 22 years old, the South Africa international is beginning to make a name for himself in Ligue 1 - the league of talents

Lebo Mothiba has made only 13 appearances for Strasbourg, but the South African forward has already made quite an impression in Alsace.

Signed for a reported €4 million in the summer from Lille, he has provided an excellent return on investment to date, having scored seven times and provided another assist in only 871 Ligue 1 minutes.

And while his return on the pitch has been impressive, he has also succeeded in charming head coach Thierry Laurey.

“If I had a daughter who was getting married, I’d like him to be my son-in-law,” Laurey admitted.

Mothiba arrived at Stade de la Meinau on August 30, moved out of Lille due to the arrivals of Rafael Leao and Loic Remy, despite netting five times in 14 outings for LOSC last season as he played a major role in their survival bid.

Financial pressure had forced Lille to take a tough decision in offloading the 22-year-old forward, though they retain a buy-back clause in his deal. 

“The situation was hard for everyone, but the move was imposed on us,” Lille boss Christophe Galtier admitted. 

Lebo Mothiba, Strasbourg

Nevertheless, the former Saint-Etienne boss played a major role in Mothiba’s move to Strasbourg, sending a text to Laurey to advise him of the player’s talents.

The deal has so far proven a roaring success. Mothiba has won over one of the most passionate fanbases in France with his goalscoring exploits, while on the training ground, his effort and application have seen him soar in the estimation of his coach.

“He’s always ready to go, it’s amazing to be as professional as him at his age,” he said. “You don’t see many guys like that.”

Mothiba moved from his birthplace of South Africa to join Lille in 2014 and credits his origins for his incessantly positive outlook.

“It’s to do with my childhood and the way my family brought me up. I must respect my elders and treat everyone equally. That’s why I smile, laugh and enjoy everything I do,” he told the ‘Talents d’Afrique’ programme on Canal+. 

Jean-Michel Vandamme, who was the sporting director of LOSC when he was signed, has revealed the secret to getting the best out of the player.

“Lebo needs a family structure to be at his best,” he told 20Minutes. “Even if you’re not good with him, he’ll adapt, but if you’re demanding and friendly, he will excel.”

In Strasbourg, he has found an atmosphere to foster his attributes effectively, with Laurey paying close attention to his new signing without mollycoddling him. “We want everyone to exist individually within the collective,” he explained.

French Connection GFX Mothiba

Nevertheless, the attacker’s attitude has made him something approaching the apple of the coach’s eye.

“If he calls me at 3am in the morning because his car has broken down, I’ll go and pick him up without hesitation,” Laurey said.

And with a goal return like Mothiba has given him, little wonder he is so keen to do him such kindness.

Meanwhile, Galtier, who knows a thing or two about nurturing young forwards, having brought out the best in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, admitted: “I’m very happy that he’s succeeding and helping Strasbourg. And I’m not surprised. He’s very efficient, very well educated and has a significant margin to improve. I’m sure he’ll be a top scorer in a big league in the future.”

Only five players have scored more Ligue 1 goals that Mothiba so far this season, and among them are Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Edinson Cavani. That future that Galtier has spoken of, could well be now.

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