Tuesday, September 11, 2012

M’Baye Niang: Driving Force

He’s only been with the club for two weeks today, and already, he’s made a name for himself. Not so much on the pitch, for which he has been given all of 2 ½ minutes so far, but for his off the pitch exploits. As you must have heard by now, Niang was stopped by the police for being an underage driver on Sunday in Milano. While it was initially reported that he told the police he was Bakaye Traoré, who is staying at the same hotel as Niang, he said on Twitter yesterday that he only said he was driving Traoré’s car. He also apologized to all of the fans, to Galliani, Allegri, and his “magnificient club.” At least he knows how to apologize. But I also hear he knows a thing or two about scoring, which is why he is the youngest player in the squad this year. At only 17 years old, M’Baye Niang is looking to become Milan’s driving force.

Niang's finest hour? Or Galliani's finest hour?

The young phenom was born in France to Senagalese parents. From 7 years old on, he played football at a local club, and at the age of 13, he signed on with the youth team at Caen after scoring a hattrick in his trial for the team. He began playing with the reserve team for the 2010-11 season. At 16 years old, he made his debut with their senior team, the youngest player ever to play in Ligue 1. That was in April of 2011. Between the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 seasons, he made 30 appearances for Caen, scoring 5 goals. But with Caen being relegated at the end of the season, they needed to cash in on the youngster.

Niang had been scouted heavily since his time with the reserve team in 2010-11. It was reported that at that point Juventus, Manchester City, and Tottenham were all interested in him. This past season, after playing with the first team, he reportedly went on trial with Arsenal, Everton, and Tottenham. He also visited Milanello at least once earlier in the summer. He chose Milan, and Milan were also able to convince his parents. There had been a dispute by his father regarding his contract with Caen, so convincing his parents was no easy task. On August 28th, he officially signed with Milan on a three year contract.

Niang signing autographs for the Milan faithful at Milanello

At the International level, he has represented France at the U-16 and U-17 levels since 2009. With his parents being from Senegal, there was some speculation that he might play for them instead.  In fact, media reports said that he had pledged to play for the Senagalese U-23 team last year. But he came out and denied having said that and pledged to play for France instead. This resulted in him bypassing the U-18, U-19, and U-20 teams and being called up to the U-21 team, which he has now represented twice.

So the French clearly see him as a big talent. Caen’s youth coach has referred to him as a “huge talent,” and said “We’ve never seen a player like him at the club before.” From the ultimate source of all knowledge of football players’ abilities, YouTube video clips, I was not as easily impressed. But it’s not as though there is an extensive library, the kid is 17 years old. Others who have seen him compare him to Balotelli in talent, saying he is tall, strong, fast, and very fun to watch. And after Sunday’s driving incident, he has also gained a bit of Balotelli’s image off the pitch, too.

Nike France believe in Niang, they're his sponsor

That incident will likely see him fined or otherwise punished by Milan. But I like to believe that he plans to do more emulating of Balotelli on the pitch. His interviews thus far and his behavior record indicate that he is actually a pretty good kid, at least not while driving illegally. And if everything the French saw in him comes to fruition, we have made a great signing for the future. My money says he’ll learn from this one mistake, and go back to focusing on the football side of things to prove himself. Certainly, Milan must think so, too if they brought him straight to the first team instead of the Primavera. I believe he’ll be a driving force up front for Milan, hopefully for many years to come. Welcome to Milan, Niang!

This post inspired by the music of Filter

Our next match is
Milan vs. Atalanta
Saturday, September 15th • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)