Aug 15, 2017
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What makes Nice’s Jean Michaël Seri the perfect alternative to Naby Keïta at Liverpool?

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It is no secret that Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been looking to strengthen his hand in midfield over the summer. Having allowed Lucas Leiva to leave Anfield already this transfer window, the German is now faced with remedying a midfield that has suffered with a severe lack of depth.

Long-term injuries to Jordan Henderson and Marko Grujic left Klopp short-handed during the course of last season in the centre of the park, and with Adam Lallana now set for a spell on the sidelines, the former Dortmund chief has been under immense pressure to add another playmaker to his armoury.

For much of the transfer window, Klopp has looked to his homeland in search of a solution. The target: Guinea international midfielder Naby Keïta, who helped Bundesliga newcomers RB Leipzig to a second-place finish in their first-ever stint in the German top-flight.

However, having had a bid of £66 million rebuffed back in July, the Reds have become increasingly frustrated in their efforts to prise the creative midfielder away from the Saxony outfit.

According to The Guardian, the club are ready to concede defeat in their attempts to bring in Keïta and resume negotiations in 12 months time, when a clause will be triggered in the Guinean’s contract which would allow him to leave for the sum of €55 million.

Nonetheless, this does not offer Klopp a solution in the here and now, and so it has been back to the drawing board for the Anfield hierarchy as they rush to strengthen their hand before the end of the transfer window, and the source suggests that the club are already looking elsewhere for a playmaker of Keïta’s mould.

This hunt has taken them to the Mediterranean in a bid to sign classy OGC Nice midfielder Jean Michaël Seri, as per the aforementioned report.

The Ivory Coast international has been one of the stars of a revolution at the Riviera club ever since being brought to France by Claude Puel – a familiar face to English football fans through his short stint with Southampton – from Portuguese outfit Paços de Ferreira back in 2015.

Seri starred as Puel’s Nice finished fourth in the 2015/16 Ligue 1 season, before enjoying another influential season with Les Aiglons as new boss Lucien Favre led the club to a third-place finish last term.

The Reds will be well used to negotiating with the Ligue 1 club by now, having sold Mario Balotelli to the Allianz Riviera side during the summer transfer window 12 months ago, but are expected to face competition for Seri’s services, with the article claiming that Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona had scouts present at Nice’s 2-1 defeat at home to Troyes to run the rule over the midfielder.

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Arsenal and Merseyside rivals Everton are amongst the contingency from the Premier League also thought to be weighing up a move for the 25-year-old.

But what does Seri have to offer a Liverpool side in terms of creativity? On their way to their first ever Champions League qualification, a venture that has been two years in the making, the Nice side Seri has starred in has picked up some quite remarkable results.

A 3-0 triumph in 2015/16 over Lyon initially signalled their intent as they rallied to a Europa League qualification place, and it has just gotten better and better over 2016/17 with a 4-0 demolition of Monaco, who eventually won the league, and a 3-1 home win over big-spending Paris Saint Germain.

Seri has been an ever present throughout the last two campaigns, and pulls the strings in midfield alongside up and coming French U21 international midfield man Wylan Cyprien. The statistics, however, certainly earmark Seri as the main man.

His tally of nine Ligue 1 assists was the second-highest total in 2016/17, and he completed 90% of his passes throughout the season, with Thiago Motta and Marco Verratti of PSG the only players to have attempted more passes than him, on average.

He is a versatile midfield man who has played in a three, four, and five-man midfield system in different matches under the tenures of both Claude Puel and Lucien Favre. He is not only an asset in retaining possession, but also in bringing play forward, enhancing his growing reputation as one of Ligue 1’s finest playmakers.

His hunger to be a regular-starter has also been a huge contribution to his success. Having burst onto the scene back in his homeland with Abidjan club ASEC Mimosaa, Seri was then starved of first-team opportunities at Portuguese giants FC Porto, who signed him back in 2012 and immediately discarded him into the B-Team pile.

Thus, Seri was soon on the move lower down the Portuguese Superliga to Paços de Ferreira, where he enjoyed a two-year spell and was voted the club’s Player of the Year in 2014/15. Nice soon came calling and secured his signature for a cut-price €1m. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is rather fitting that his footballing idol is former Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez, and it is clear that the influence former skipper of the Catalan club has rubbed off on Seri.

He retains possession and slows the game down in a manner reminiscent of the World Cup winning midfield man, always looking to play the simple ball to create chances. Though he has often found himself in midfield roles more typically occupied by another Barcelona star, the more dynamic Andrés Iniesta.

That night in November 2015, the night that Claude Puel’s Nice took apart Lyon, a game which I was fortunate enough to witness, was not only a turning-point for the club, but of Seri’s rise to prominence in European football.

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Featuring on the left of a central-midfield three and flanked by two wing-backs, the Ivorian looked unplayable at times in a spellbinding team performance.

In truth, they picked apart a Lyon side that looked far superior on paper, featuring Mathieu Valbuena on the left-flank and Arsenal’s new big-money signing Alexandre Lacazette up-front. T

hanks to Seri’s influence in retaining the ball in midfield and linking play from the back four to the forward line of Hatem Ben Arfa (now of PSG), and Valere Germain (a 2016/17 Ligue 1 winner with Monaco), bar seeing a one-on-one come back off the right post, Lacazette rarely had a sniff at goal.

From then on, Nice truly put themselves on the French footballing map as European qualification contenders, and they have never really looked back. Their star talents, Seri included, beginning to be touted as the next big things in French football.

Granted, there has been some upheaval over the past two seasons. Both Ben Arfa and Germain were on the move over the summer of 2016, as was manager Claude Puel, who left for Southampton, with Swiss coach Lucien Favre taking the helm.

Attacking stars Ben Arfa and Germain were shrewdly replaced with Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda, whilst Jérémy Pied and Niklas Hult in the full-back positions were sent out in place of Arnaut Souquet and Dalbert Henrique.

Dalbert, who enjoyed a fine campaign with Nice last season, is already on the move, having sealed a move to Inter Milan earlier this summer.

In spite of all this upheaval, the club have continued going from strength to strength, but a blend of consistency has undoubtedly helped the club power forward with the extra quality that Favre has brought in. The role of one such constant, ‘Mika’, as Seri is affectionately known, is therefore not to be overlooked.

The versatility of Seri is one attribute that may just make him a fit for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. The Xavi comparisons almost seem akin to a player already at Anfield, the figure of Georginio Wijnaldum.

However, Seri, despite his admiration of Barcelona’s former captain, who was usually stationed in front of the back four, Seri has far more often found himself pushed further forward in a three-man midfield.

Certainly in Seri’s first season with Nice, the defensive role was occupied by then club captain Nampalys Mendy, now a Premier League player himself with Leicester City, which allowed Seri the freedom to operate in a more attacking role under Claude Puel.

Under Lucien Favre, he has more often featured in a flat four-man midfield, partnering Wylan Cyprien – another who has already been tipped for the top in future – or Vincent Koziello, another promising young midfielder in the club’s ranks.

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In fact, it is relatively unknown as to what Seri’s strongest position in the midfield actually is, the player having excelled in the deep-lying ‘Xavi’ role, impressed as a box-to-box midfield-man, and also having looked dangerous operating as a Number Ten behind the forward line.

Although not typically a tough-tackling midfielder who specialises in breaking-up play, he is nevertheless also improving in the defensive side of his game by winning more and more balls in midfield, and looks an increasing threat with his efforts from distance and his set-piece taking.

His ability to play in a midfield-three may be the attribute that has Klopp rubbing his hands the most.

With the German a known advocate of the 4-3-3 formation, such versatility renders Seri a perfect understudy for Lallana and Henderson amidst injury and suspension, and a good figure to have in the dressing room to fight for a place in the first-team and push other individuals in Klopp’s squad such as Marko Grujic.

Having secured a fee of €20m for Dalbert’s switch to the San Siro, Nice are under no real pressure financially to part with the Ivorian, but are understood to be unprepared to stand in his way when the right offer arrives.

After Barcelona sealed the signing of former Tottenham Hotspur man Paulinho, it is unlikely that Blaugrana boss Ernesto Valverde will mount a bid for Seri, despite the player’s admiration of the club thanks to his hero, Xavi.

Such circumstances may just open the door for Liverpool to make their move for the midfielder, with initial talks already thought to be underway.

The reckoning at the Guardian is that Arsenal have been in contact with the player’s representatives, but must offload players to balance the books before any official bid is forthcoming. With Liverpool not bound to such an obligation, their chance may now have presented itself.

The Reds may need to be prepared to bide their time if they are to bring the Ivorian to Anfield, however, with Nice keen to have him at their disposal for their Champions League qualifying clash with Serie A giants Napoli. But if they are to land their man, they need not worry with regards to his capabilities.

Seri has made his mark as an up and coming talent and now looks ready for a big-money move to prove himself at the next level. The onus is now on Liverpool as to whether they will hand him the opportunity. He would certainly be a welcome addition in my side.

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Scott is a Port Vale fan who writes regularly for The Boot Room as a freelancer. He is a fan of several sports but most of his experience in journalism comes from football and volleyball. He has produced several works on major Championships for both the FIVB and CEV in the volleyball world out in Switzerland, and is currently studying for a BA Hons in Modern Languages at the University of Oxford.

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