In January, French football expert Taz Phalora gave us his views on loan-signing Terence Kongolo. This time he returns to tell us everything we need to know about another loan-signing from Ligue 1, Isaac Mbenza.
If you'd like to keep up to date with Taz's Ligue 1 news, you can follow him on Twitter @TazPhalora and catch his articles on Match Write Up, enjoy!
The name Isaac Mbenza had sounded very unfamiliar to the ears of Huddersfield Town fans before seeing his name linked to the club. However, as the clock ticks over the 5pm deadline of the transfer window, Huddersfield confirmed his transfer. Mbenza joins The Terriers on loan for the season with the option to make his move permanent in Yorkshire, should all parties agree.
The former Montpellier winger made a lot of the headlines in France last season for his tenacious yet exciting ability. Finishing second as the club’s highest goal scorer behind Giovanni Sio – there had appeared to be a raw but very intelligent footballer growing at the club.
Incredibly, Mbenza was the only outfield player to have started every single Ligue 1 match last season for Montpellier. That is some achievement given the style of play used by manager Michel Der Zakarian, who emphasises on the defensive solitude and togetherness to overcome different challenges in Ligue 1.
An example of this was avoiding defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon,
Monaco and Marseille last season.
The difference which sets Mbenza apart from many players in Ligue 1 is the fact he’s more than happy to help the side defensively. Not many wingers in football would declare to do “the dirty work” but it’s with this sort of attitude which meant Montpellier had one of the best defensive records in Ligue 1.
In an interview accorded to dhnet.be – Mbenza claimed to have “taken a lot
pleasure to defend.” The first trait you would notice when watching Isaac Mbenza in action is the fact he is full of running and great pace. Capable of playing on the right or left side of attack, the Belgian under 21 international possesses enough skill to beat an opposition player before going for goal or finding a team mate.
He ended the 17-18 season with eight goals and two assists. On paper, this may not look
appealing but he was one of a few players at Montpellier who wasn't afraid to run with the ball and prepare to shoot from distance. His excellent goal against Bordeaux was the perfect display of his talents.
Defenders backing off and curling his shot right into the corner of the net. Another sample of his spectacular goals came in the away against Angers. Beating the offside trap, he fires the ball first time into the net, not with his foot but his heel. A player who is very unorthodox at times but capable of being effective at the right times.
It isn’t just in-front of goal where he can be dangerous. Often you will see him running down the wing but he also has the ability to pick out a pass or cross into a dangerous area. His modest two assists would have been more had Montpellier been blessed with better forwards.
Adapting to the Premier League
It is a well-known fact that a lot of Premier League clubs scout the French leagues and market to discover the next gem. However, in reality it is very rarely the case. Players such as Eden Hazard, Laurent Koscielny and Hugo Lloris have taken the Premier League like a duck to water. On the other hand, many different players have come and gone without leaving half a trace in England, and that’s the harsh reality.
Isaac Mbenza seems to have a different mentality to others. Having left the Valenciennes youth academy at a young age to Standard Liege, his Premier League dream would seem very far off at this stage but he has continued to work extremely hard.
The reward became apparent with signing for Montpellier and only just after his first full season of top flight football, he has accomplished a dream so many footballers in France and Belgium could only dream of having.
It remains to be seen whether Mbenza will make the most of his stay in England but will be
welcomed with open arms especially as his former team mate from Montpellier Steve Mounie, Adama Diakhaby and Laurent Depoitre – all French speakers will help with his adaptation.
One thing is for certain and that he will get fans of their seats and produce moments of magic for Huddersfield Town.