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THE LOWDOWN: Sofiane Boufal

French football expert Robin Bairner gives his view on Saints’ new man

LOSC Lille (@losclive)

Unless you have had your head in the sand the last week, you will have heard that Southampton have broken their transfer record to sign Sofiane Boufal from Lille!


The Moroccan has penned a five-year-contract at St Mary’s after the Saints splashed out £16m on the forward, surpassing the £15m spent on flop Dani Osvaldo.

Plenty of Southampton fans may not know much about the new number 19, so we called upon the help of freelance writer and French football expert Robin Bairner to give us the lowdown on Boufal...


St Mary’s Musings: For those who have not seen anything of Boufal, what type of player is he? Is the comparisons with Mahrez and Hazard just lazy or are they fair?

Robin Bairner: The comparisons are certainly fair. He's the type of player who likes to get the ball and dribble at opponents and is someone who's always trying to make something happen for his side. He goes to the Premier League a more developed player than Mahrez was when he went to Leicester from Le Havre and has just as much potential. Hazard's case was a little different, as he was always billed to be a star.

While the move to England has worked out for both of those two, though, it's important to remember that there are similar players who have crossed the Channel and flopped - Florian Thauvin, for example.

SMM: Claude Puel has implemented a diamond formation at Saints, so can you see him being a good fit for the role behind the two strikers?

RB: He's someone who loves to be at the heart of things and I'm sure that Puel will try to use him in the same way he used Hatem Ben Arfa at Nice last season, which proved to be spectacularly effective.

Should there be a shuffle of formation, he can be very effectively used in wide areas, where I think he's arguably more effective because he's got more space to work with. The player himself will be pleased with the prospect of playing as a No.10 and could even be used alongside a striker.

SMM: What are his real strengths and his areas he could improve?

RB: His strengths are based around his technical attributes, which could make him just as exciting a player to watch as Mahrez. He's quick and loves to dribble the ball. While this is the strong point of his game, it can simultaneously be his weakness. He's been criticised in the past for being too egocentric and unwilling to pass the ball, and while some of that has gone out of his game recently, it's still evident.

It could be badly exposed if he tries it in England too much. Equally, his attitude is questionable, and that might be the real barrier to success for him with Saints.

SMM: The reported fee is £16m rising to £21m; which club has got the better end of the deal?

RB: It's difficult to say. If he performs in England to the standard that he did in France, Saints have got themselves a real bargain given some of the transfer fees being bandied around currently. Lille needed the money but equally they are struggling in Ligue 1 right now and could use their best player - which was undoubtedly Boufal.

SMM: There have been things said about his temperament; should that be a real concern?

RB: Yes, I think this is one of his main weaknesses. He's capable of losing his head both on and off the field, and having spoken to some Lille players you get the impression he's not always the most popular in the dressing room. He needs to put his ego to one side in order to exploit his full potential.

SMM: With Saints in Europe this year, is it possible we may see his best performances in the Europa League this season, like Memphis Depay at Man Utd last season?


RB: He's a player capable of performing to a high standard at any time, and with his talents he could excel against any opposition. Equally, though, he's capable of totally disappearing at times. Hopefully he really catches light in the Premier League as he would be a great addition playing at his best.