Tottenham Targeting The New Eden Hazard Who Could Thrive Under Maurico Pochettino


The sun had dipped just below the roof of the Stade de France before Paris Saint-Germain took the lead against Lille OSC in Saturday's Coupe de la Ligue final, but fans of the underdogs tried to stay bright and positive – their main glimmer of hope was the ability and form of their talismanic winger, Sofiane Boufal.

Just six minutes after the restart, Boufal charged forward, drew a foul from Adrien Rabiot and Djibril Sibidé curled the ball past Salvatore Sirigu and into the bottom corner.

“Keeping hold of Boufal is technically impossible,” Lille President Michel Seydoux told French outlet Le10Sport after Saturday’s cup final. “It’s sad, but we must understand. The gap with the Premier League is getting wider.”

At his most dangerous, Boufal is a game-changer, and it is understandable why Tottenham Hotspur, Inter Milan and PSG themselves have all shown interest. However, it has been a mixed campaign for the 22-year-old and although he played a part in the equaliser, there was more promise than product as Lille eventually lost the final 2-1.

Frederic Antonetti and the Lille fans were constantly looking for Boufal to get on the ball and create that moment of magic that would lead the team to glory, but more often or not the winger would run himself into a dead end, or try and do too much.

It's the one biggest criticism surrounding the Moroccan international. There is no doubt he has the ability to take the ball past most defenders in France, but when they team together, close down space and limit his options, he often makes the wrong decision. A pass may be the easier and better decision, he will try and beat one player too many.

After a while, it becomes more frustrating than exciting and that's where the Lille fans found themselves for large parts of the season. When you know a player has so much to offer, it can be infuriating to see that promise fall flat.

Not much was expected from the youngster when he arrived in Northern France in January 2015. Signed from Ligue 2 side Angers SCO for €4 million, there was even talk of a loan return as then coach Rene Girard would have preferred a more experienced forward in his squad.

In his first seven games, four of them from the start, Boufal showed glimpses of what he can do but failed to register a goal or an assist. That all changed against Evian in Week 32 and it would spark a wonderful end of the season.

The game was tied 0-0 away at the Parc des Sports in Annecy, Boufal won his side a penalty and then the 21-year-old was entrusted with taking the 81st minutes spot-kick, tucked it away and sealed the club's 1-0 away win.

It was a great show of confidence in the youngster and he then followed it up with three assists in two games - another penalty against RC Lens in the derby endeared him further to the fans and he finished the season with three goals and five assists in seven games.

This term, with just four league games remaining, Boufal has 11 goals and just five assists. Interesting, none of his assists came before Antonetti was appointed in November.

Talk within the club suggested that the player's attitude had changed since that first half season. A sense that he had already made it. Talk of a winter move to the Premier League surfaced and that didn't help the player's mood, the fans attitude or his performances.

Under the Corsican boss, Boufal has found himself benched on a number of occasions, most noticeably in the 5-1 Coupe de la Ligue semi-final win over Bordeaux. He would come on late and score with a wonderful chipped finish, but the message was clear, this team was very capable without his talent.

The signing of Éder on loan from Swansea has helped Boufal too. Lille now have a target, a focal point to build the attack around. Boufal now has someone to look for, it opens up more space and has added a whole new dimension to the front-line.

In the league, Lille are on a run of six wins in-a-row, something they haven't done since 2009 - not even when they were crowned champions in 2011 - and it was Boufal that helped that run continue in the difficult away game against Gazelec.

His first goal of an excellent hat-trick was a superb back-post volley, something only top players are capable of. He wrapped up the win with a lovely one-two with Sibidé in the dying moments - showing his importance to this team.

Comparisons have been drawn between him and Lille legend Eden Hazard and with the same skill on the ball and ability to change games, it’s an obvious assessment, however, Lille fans were desperate to see the Belgian stay, although they understood he left at the right time. For Boufal, as crucial as he has become to Les Dogues, there isn’t that same attachment.

The player himself hasn’t closed any doors, but he admitted that a summer departure was likely.

"I'm interested in the club's plans. My objective is to improve, and I can only do that by playing, I don't want to clip my wings. I won't exclude any options," he told L'Equipe.

"Every player has the objective of making it high as possible.

"It'd be great if Lille reached the European places by season's end, I'll think of my future later."

"The club has been clear about the possibility of me leaving, I don't think that there are any problems," he clarified.

"It's true that there is a good chance that I leave in summer, it's clear from what the president and the Coach have said."

Anyone who has watched Boufal for either Angers or Lille will have no doubts over his potential ability. The winger ticks all the boxes and every time he gets the ball you can sense the excitement in the stands. However, there are issues with him as a person.

Set for another big move, there would be worries again on complacency, but wherever he decides to play next, there are so many factors that will determine if he becomes a success. Boufal needs the right team with the right coach and the right people behind him – Spurs may not need Boufal, but Pochettino could be the ideal coach to transform him into a world-beater.