This article also featured in the 2018 GFFN 100
A short walk from the centre of Montpellier lies Figuerolles, a less than affluent suburb, dusty and a little frayed around the edges with plain buildings and narrow streets. It is here that the Savanier family calls home. When most footballers would have extracted themselves from Figuerolles after a rise as dramatic as Nimes’ humble yet bullish midfield creator and general, Teji Savanier comes home from training every evening to his wife, children, parents and siblings in Figuerolles. For now, at least.
“Our tradition is to stay together.” Savanier told L’equipe in April, “It would make me sick to leave the neighborhood but life is difficult there. I play for my family, and if I have to shelter everyone or get them out of there, I'll do it." Having started his career with Nimes’ fierce Languedoc rivals Montpellier, Savanier moved up the Rhone to Arles-Avignon in 2011. Despite just an hour’s journey home, the midfielder only rented a flat in Avignon because his mother agreed to come too.
Having been a Ligue 2 regular since, firstly with Arles before joining Nimes in 2015, Savanier, now 26, enjoyed a break through campaign last term as Les Crocs were promoted back to Ligue 1 for the first time since 1993. Although eight assists and five goals, Teji boasts a thunderous shot, from central midfield in Ligue 2 remains impressive, Savanier’s true influence comes via his vision and proactive passing from deep paired with a ferocious, all-action style - a true leader, intimidated by no one.
An altercation with Kylian Mbappe as PSG visited Stade des Costieres in September halted Savanier’s superb start in Ligue 1. As a tumultuous encounter became stretched, Savanier’s penalty had drawn Nimes level at 2-2, he tripped Mbappe to prevent a dangerous counter. Expecting little more than the standard yellow card, Savanier found himself harshly sent off as Mbappe reacted to shove Savanier to the turf. Bewilderingly furious at his treatment, Mbappe stated, if he could, “he would do it again” and amidst the furore Savanier, who pointed out his tackle would be typical of the attention the teenager will now receive, was handed a ludicrous 5 game ban.
His attitude and influence are perhaps best encapsulated by his form since returning, Savanier’s desire to prove himself in the top flight has been untamable. Having been the game’s standout player in defeat at OL, he dominated midfield in a home draw with ASSE before orchestrating a 4-0 thrashing of Dijon - a delightful free kick underlining Savanier’s exacting ability from a dead ball. Upon his return, Nimes were winless in 7 games but with Savanier back Bernard Blaquart’s men won 4 of their next 7 and jumped from a point above the bottom three into the top eight.
While Savanier may be reluctant to move out of Figuerolles his game and his stature have evolved dramatically in 2018. Originally something of a box-to-box marauder in a 4-4-2, Blaquart has recently deployed Savanier in the centre of a midfield three, almost as a number 6, a role in which Savanier is thriving. Continue like this and the ‘second best player in Europe’ this December, according to WhoScored.com, will be soon whisked away from his family home in Figuerolles. His mum better start packing.
by Adam White