'A nice buy for Norwich' - French football expert on latest City recruit
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In Pierre Lees-Melou, Norwich City have signed a midfielder with plenty of consistency and personality ahead of their Premier League survival mission.
The 28-year-old is an experienced campaigner in France and made over 100 appearances for Nice before joining City earlier this week in a deal worth an initial £3.5m. Jeremy Smith, a French football writer and podcaster, believes Lees-Melou will offer plenty of positive attributes to Daniel Farke's side.
Lees-Melou, whilst primarily a central midfielder, is something of a jack of all trades and has operated in every position in the middle of the pitch during his time at the Allianz Riviera.
His four years in the south of France saw him play Champions League and Europa League football as well as emerging as a real leader on and off the pitch. Smith believes he will provide City with a real dependability next season.
"He is a classic number eight which is the shirt number he was wearing at Nice, a proper central midfielder who is a great link between defence and attack and can do a little bit of everything," Smith said.
"He's a reasonable tackler, has a nice range of passing, decent shot from outside the area as well. Can take set pieces, a good crosser. Not spectacular at anything but can do a little bit of it all and he is pretty versatile. He doesn’t just play central midfield but can fill in on both wings or sit in front of the defence. He's an all-rounder.
"Although he is right-footed he does kind of veer towards the left but filling all those spaces in midfield so often being given the captain’s armband as well and just a very important part of the team.
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"As I said a wise head, not on young shoulders, I think he is 28 now so he is arguably just past the peak of his career now but a really important settling influence for what was actually a relatively young Nice team in the end.
"Off the pitch, he is a real gem. He became a professional at 22, he was originally at Bordeaux but was let go. He comes across as really mature, a nice guy and appreciative of everything he has been able to achieve and a top team mate I think so overall a nice little buy there for Norwich."
City's recruitment team work tirelessly to uncover every inch of detail about targets and put together a character reference to ensure they are signing someone who adheres to their values and club culture.
Lees-Melou passed those checks with flying colours and was an opportunity that Stuart Webber, Farke and head of recruitment Kieran Scott felt they couldn't turn down. City are still searching for another defensive midfielder before the window closes.
France has been a popular market for Premier League clubs in the past whether that be Ngolo Kante or Yohan Cabaye, but this is City's first senior foray in a country they have been monitoring for a number of months.
Beyond Melvin Sitti, it isn't a market that City have shopped in under the regime. Alex Tettey signed from Rennes in 2012 and proved to be a fantastic addition after arriving from France.
Webber spoke openly about recruiting players who were 'oven ready' to make an impact on the Premier League stage, and Smith believes Lees-Melou will step up to the occasion but does hold some concerns about how quickly he will get to grips with English football.
"In terms of his adaptability, people talk about a difference in physicality, I don’t think it is that because Ligue 1 is physical but I think it is more the intensity, Ligue 1 is a lot more end to end and you get your natural breaks in play and I think often it is the midfielders who struggle the most to adapt to the Premier League.
"You could say with that experience he has maybe got more of an awareness of his body and how and when to take those little breathers and how to manage it all.
"That is my concern. But every stage or hurdle that he has faced he has overcome. I actually read an interview from him saying that the big shock for him was not going from Ligue 2 to Ligue 1 but was going from amateur football to professional football and that you really notice the difference there."
Lees-Melou was a regular under both Patrick Vieira and Adrian Ursea last season, making 29 appearances and scoring four times as Nice finished ninth in Ligue 1. Smith isn't expecting the midfielder to be a starter every week for Norwich but does believe his contributions will prove pivotal.
"I certainly wouldn’t expect him to be starting 38 games a season or anything like that but I think that he will definitely play a crucial role at times, whether it is coming off the bench, whether it is starting and rotating with McLean for example.
"I think his natural intelligence and personality might carry him through where again I could name some midfielders who have come to England and who have struggled physically but that has affected them, not mentally, but it has affected their personality and their heads have gone down and the fans have picked up on that and really got on their backs.
"I think Lees-Melou is the kind of player who it will be obvious that he is giving everything and I would like to think that the Norwich fans will really take to him."