This article also featured on The Football Chronicle.
It’s difficult to underestimate the impact Teji Savanier has had on Nimes’ glorious Ligue 1 return. A promoted side who finished a distant second to Reims in the previous Ligue 2 season without a consistent top-flight goalscorer or an assured back-line finished comfortably inside Ligue 1’s top-half in the last term.
While manager Bernard Blaquart’s gung-ho attitude, complemented by the flair and pace of wingers Denis Bounaga and Sada Thioub, enthralled French football, it was Savanier who was cast as the orchestrator extraordinaire. At 27, it was the stocky midfielder’s first full top-flight season, but he finished as the league leader in assists, clear of even the top Parisien performers, and, for many, the only choice for Player of the Season.
A devilish dead ball ability, supreme technical quality, a visionary range of passing and a thunderous shot meant Savanier stood out in nearly every Nimes outing. The 5-0 defeat away at Lille on his solitary off-day all year underlines his ubiquitous influence on Les Crocs.
Such a campaign may seem to leave him with little to prove, but a move to Montpellier says otherwise. Having begun his career at La Mosson, Savanier has spent the intervening period touring the Longaudoc region reluctant to move away from his immediate family – with whom he and his wife still share a house in a dusty Montpellier suburb.
As a result, despite a ferocious rivalry re-emerging between his current and future employers and interest from bigger clubs such as Galatasaray, a return to Montpellier was Savanier’s only choice. A previous transfer to Arles, only slightly further afield, was facilitated by his mother agreeing to join him.
No longer is Savanier the clear leader and standout performer in the smallest of Ligue 1 ponds. The 2012 champions will expect to charge for Europe, lesser away sides will frustrate and suffocate, Florent Mollet and Ellyes Skhiri will provide fierce competition and Michael Der Zakaraian’s pragmatism will provide fewer opportunities and less space to pick passes and dictate as before. After just one, admittedly astonishing, top of flight season, given his career path so far, Savanier’s challenges will reset and many more will arise upon his arrival at La Mosson.
It’s difficult to underestimate the impact Savanier could have on Montpellier – his recent injury doesn’t help that statement. But for now, that ‘could’ is key.
by Adam White