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Olivier Ntcham offered new lifeline at Swansea City
Thursday, 2nd Sep 2021 08:06 by Keith Haynes

The links are always there for all to see, if they are looked for. At age 16 Olivier Ntcham found himself signed by Manchester City, and that set him on a path to becoming the player he found himself to be at Glasgow Celtic. A revered and much admired young player in France, It was the then sporting director at Manchester City who initiated the Ntcham deal in 2012. And it was the same sporting director who sealed things for him to sign for Swansea City yesterday. That person is Mark Allen.

In 2012 Manchester City thought £975,000 for a 16 year old was fair compensation to his club Le Havre. And so it turned out to be. Joining the elite squad in Manchester, and progressing really well it was thought he needed to develop in a quality league. Having earned himself a five year contract at the club, the future seemed rather rosey. So yes, he signed his big City deal, and was loaned out to Genoa. That’s when Europe realised what a talent he was. The Guardian wrote “Despite still being a teenager he already appears a powerhouse, a quality that is balanced by mobility, the ability to play the simple or clever ball, and a natural instinct to ghost into the penalty area at the right time to score.” It wasn’t just the broadsheets, though. Genoa president Enrico Preziosi claimed in the same newspaper : “I’ve been in the world of football 26 years and I’ve never seen a similar player at his age. He has an unlimited potential, and is really a fantastic talent.”

High praise indeed. Earning plaudits and many admirers Ntcham returned to Manchester City in 2017 and was immediately snapped up by Brendan Rodgers for 4.5 million at Celtic. It has to be said this was where his career took off, excelling in champions league games, and scoring a memorable winner against Lazio. In just a few years the Celtic fans absolutely adored him. His freestyle natural ability and unbelievable positioning, coupled with an astute attacking awareness saw him hit the headlines for all the right reasons in Scotland. The first class Celtic website ‘67:Hail Hail’ reported “At times, his vision is frightening. He is an important cog in a successful Celtic midfield, working well in tandem with Callum McGregor and Scott Brown. It is a trio that absolutely works at times, with Ntcham’s reading of the game getting the best out our wingers in Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, or Patrick Roberts. And when it counted, the French midfielder would make himself known.

The man once hailed as better than Paul Pogba at Genoa was proving his worth.

Ntcham could be brutal, exciting and seriously uncompromising. He was the total midfield general. In big games he excelled time and time again, but it was the lesser games, the so called run of the mill encounters where he looked lazy and uncommitted. This really annoyed large parts of the Celtic support. His contract was until 2022, he was young still and was a part of one of the most successful eras in recent Celtic domestic history.

But it all collapsed. Something went drastically wrong.

Sadly it all started to fall apart on the pitch, he seemed unfit, defintily without commitment, and wearing the Celtic shirt no longer seemed to enthuse him. His 87 League appearances saw a respectable goal tally of 13 goals. In Europe he played for Celtic 43 times scoring 5 times. But of course his game wasn’t about goals, it was about playing with a fire in his belly, and with an unnerving courage in the tackle. However, as that dissipated his game became leggy, slow and without conviction. His relationship with Neil Lennon soured and he found himself out on loan at Marseille earlier on this year. The then manager André Villas-Boas was furious at his signing. He informed the Marseille board that he didn't want the player, offered his resignation the following day in response to Ntcham joining, and was suspended as manager a few hours later for publicly criticising the club's board. Boas never returned it the club. Under the new managers eye, Jorge Sampaoli ( he had a watching brief at the time ) in February 2021 Ntcham made his debut for Marseille as a substitute for Valentin Rongier in a 2–0 away win over AJ Auxerre in the Coupe de France.

Again, it didn’t work out for him in France, Sampaoli just didn’t rate him, nor did he want to risk him in the side with such poor fitness and application. As a result of this latest disappointment Celtic released him from his contract a year early. Without a club this summer he was rumoured to be going to AC Milan, then AEK in Greece, but nothing materialised. A report from the highly regarded French publication “Foot Mercato” looked at his current situation as he left Marseille, it was unpleasant reading. But it did give an insight into why he was struggling so much. They point to a lack of fitness, or match practice as the biggest issue, as he was already out off favour with Celtic and his struggles with covid, then injury meant he was struggling to complete 90 minutes. “The other problem is that he’s not really doing much on the pitch when he does play, so it’s leading to a situation where the coach feels he trusts other players more than Ntcham, and the cycle will continue”

It put many clubs off. He was unfit and unhappy, and nobody wanted him. He was a free agent and looking for a new home. Then Mark Allen stepped in, the swans and Ntcham had discussions for nearly two weeks in early August, the player was undecided as it seems were the swans. Then another meeting, and another opportunity for the player and the club to talk. Swans ‘boss’ Russell Martin approved of Olivier Ntcham, his pedigree was without question. Mark Allen set about securing the Frenchman, and as a free agent there was no hurry. As is usual with Olivier the terms took a while to agree, the medical dragged on for hours and hours on Monday, but last evening he was announced as a Swansea City player.

Is it a gamble for the club ? We genuinely believe it’s a massive gamble, his fitness is not at the levels you would want, and there’s still the question over his overall attitude. The real issue is ‘ Does he have the heart to succeed in west Wales, does he really want to resurrect his career as a Swansea City player ? These are the unknowns, but as we know as supporters of the swans we also have a few ‘non negotiables’ ourselves. They are simple, forget what went before, wear our clubs shirt with pride, give 100% for every minute you represent yourself and the club in that shirt, and you won’t go far wrong.

We are not Celtic or Marseille, and really don’t want to be a Manchester City, but we are a very proud football club. We are by far the most exciting to watch when the ball rolls for us, and clearly the most successful club in Wales this century. If you want all that and want to be a huge success then you are at the right place for this time in your career. Please don’t let us down, and maybe on this occasion, don’t let yourself down either.

Welcome to Swansea, Olivier Ntcham.

Photographs licensed from Reuters

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