What will £21 million-rated Sofiane Boufal bring to Southampton?
Southampton have lacked creativity during their opening two matches and there has been a lot of pressure on Dusan Tadic to perform. There is no doubting the Serbian’s quality, but he needs assistance in the midfield and Claude Puel has recognised that. Despite not doing a great deal of transfer business this summer, Southampton are set to enter the market to sign Lille’s attacking midfielder Sofiane Boufal.
Sky Sports are reporting that Southampton have agreed a fee of £21m for Boufal and he is set to move to St Mary’s Stadium before next week’s transfer deadline. It will be a club record fee, which will make Southampton the tenth Premier League side to break their transfer record this summer. This highlights the amount of money available to English clubs. Although there are negatives, the increased television deal has allowed clubs to target a better calibre of player and that will only be positive for the league.
It is a huge statement of intent from Southampton to bring Boufal to the club, as there has been interest from Champions League clubs. However Southampton have moved to the front of the queue and it will be a coup if they complete the deal as expected. Claude Puel knows Boufal’s game inside out from his time as Nice manager, therefore it isn’t a surprise that he wants to bring the attacker to the club.
There is risk in bringing in an attacking midfielder from France, as there have been a lot of failures in recent years. Clinton Njie, Florian Thauvin and Remy Cabella have all disappointed after moving to England and failed to adjust to the increased physicality that exists in the Premier League. However Boufal shares a lot of similarities with Eden Hazard and Riyad Mahrez, both of whom have been voted PFA player of the year in England.
At Lille, Boufal has been the closest they have come to replacing Hazard and he has been compared with the Belgian in terms of his style of play. He has excellent close ball control and looks to beat players with his quick feet. Boufal has the ability to escape from tight spaces and create chances out of nothing. He scored some excellent goals last season and will add dynamism to the Southampton front-line.
The Moroccan international will need time to adjust to the Premier League and his upper body strength will be an initial concern. However he is coming to England at the same age as Mahrez did, who has since emerged as one of the best players in the league. The two players have a lot in common, as they both made their names in Ligue 2 and have opted to play for African nations ahead of their native France. Boufal will learn a lot from how Mahrez has adapted to the English game, but he will be arriving with a larger reputation.
It will be interesting to see how he fits into Claude Puel’s 4-3-1-2 formation. The new Southampton manager has been reluctant to field wingers since taking the job, but he will now have that option with Boufal coming into the squad. He can be utilised as a striker and used in the same way as Nathan Redmond, or he can be played in a number ten role. The problem with the latter is that Dusan Tadic is currently playing there and it would be a huge call to drop him. Puel is great at getting the best from young players and he is the right manager to ease Boufal into English football.
Sofiane Boufal may not be well known in England and his rise in France has been rapid, but he has the potential to be the signing of the summer. He is a future Champions League player and it is a great move by Southampton to bring him to the club. The Lille attacker will add creativity and goals to the Southampton front line. It is a great signing and Southampton should be applauded for having the ambition to bring him to the South Coast.
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