On both sides of the English Channel, unfancied clubs are currently exceeding expectations. Leicester City’s 3-0 win over Swansea City on Saturday put Claudio Ranieri’s side two points clear at the top of the English Premier League.
Hours later, Stade Malherbe Caen lost 2-1 at home to Lille OSC, but due to Ligue 1’s unpredictable nature, they remain in third place – just a point behind newly-promoted Angers SCO. Traditionally, none of these teams should be enjoying this lofty status, but for as long as it lasts, they are going to enjoy it.
Leicester’s success has come off the back of goals from Jamie Vardy – scoring in 11 straight Premier League games – plus the energy and drive of N’Golo Kante, and the wizardry of Riyad Mahrez. Losing Kante in the summer, Caen were meant to struggle, predicted to finish closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League places.
That may still happen, currently they are 16 points behind Paris Saint-Germain in first, but only 11 points ahead of Sporting Club Bastia in 18th. A bad run of form, or if some bigger teams finding their feet and Caen could be sucked down. However, similar to the Foxes, they are not thinking about that, happy to enjoy their football and try and reach the safety zone of 40 points as quickly as possible.
Behind the mastery of Claudio Ranieri’s friendly old uncle routine is a scouting team with roots deep embedded within the French system. Anthony Knockaert was first, Mahrez followed and Kante is the latest in the line of Gallic success stories, but more impressively, there’s a list of players that got away too.
Diafra Sakho, Sofiane Boufal, Jonathan Kodjia and others were all monitored before moving elsewhere. Another name that has been on Leicester’s list, Caen’s lone-forward Andy Delort, was mentioned again this week. With six goals and two assists, the Sète-born forward is enjoying an excellent season at the Normandie club.
As speculation over Vardy’s future grows, it could be that Leicester return to France to sign his replacement.
Delort’s performances have led to suggestions that he should be part of Didier Deschamps’ squad for this summer’s European Championships. As Alexandre Lacazette struggles and Karim Benzema’s future is up in the air, it’s not as far-fetched as it would have been four months ago.
With success, comes the speculation. Vardy’s position as England’s top goalscorer has led to links with every big name club in the country. Delort’s early season form has seen the likes of Lyon, Marseille and Leicester linked with a January move.
If the Midlands side were to be convinced to sell their star man, moving for a player that is no stranger to their scouts makes perfect sense. However, there is absolutely no reason, just yet, for either club to let the money guide their fate this season.
The prospect of joining the Champions League group stage outweighs any monetary value either player would be worth this winter. Caen are a side built on veterans, low-priced options and free transfers. Selling Delort for the reported €20 million fee would fund their transfer kitty for four or five windows, but it would all but end the small chance they have of solidifying their place on the podium.
Just like if Leicester sold Vardy, there is no guarantee that Delort would thrive at the King Power Stadium, or that Caen would be able to find another low-risk, high reward replacement in the January window.
Delort’s story is not quite the Hollywood fairy-tale of Vardy, but it’s similarly astonishing. At the start of his career he spent four seasons at three different clubs, scoring just six times in 63 games. Then he moved to Tours FC, and everything clicked. Given regular time and space to play to his strengths, the forward scored 24 goals in one Ligue 2 campaign.
His move to Wigan Athletic followed. RC Lens, Leicester, Leeds United and Charlton Athletic were already reported to be after the 22-year-old, but the Latics won the race. After two months and four appearances, Uwe Rosler was sacked as head coach and Delort’s already fleeting chance of playing for the Lancashire club was gone.
As he had started the season with Tours, they were the only other club he could play for that campaign. He only scored twice on his return, but his five assists showed that his all-round game could be of benefit to any attack.
It’s easy to see how he would fit into Leicester’s system. He’s got that perfect combination of pace and strength. He can run the channels and ghost in behind defences and his stunning goal against Marseille showed how capable he is at creating his own goals and finishing from distance.
Sometimes life just doesn’t go how you planned it. Wigan wasn’t meant to be for Delort, he has once again found his feet at Caen. To move in January, for either the French striker, or Vardy, would be a brave and perhaps reckless decision.
If either side can continue their excellent adventures all the way to a European competition, huge transfer fees could see Vardy move on and Delort, like so many others before him, try again across the channel.
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