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Jean Michael Seri: Why Liverpool, Arsenal in talks for Xavi's favourite player

Jean Michael Seri. In Ivory Coast they say he's the best since Yaya Toure. In Barcelona, Xavi says he has their DNA. And in Nice, well, they know they're on borrowed time with him.

Over the weekend, Liverpool made their move. It wasn't a bid. But an enquiry was lodged. After all the carry on with RB Leipzig and Naby Keita, Liverpool have found a worthy alternative. The best player you've never heard of: Jean Michael Seri.

Okay, okay, we're aware of the Ivorian. Of his form with Nice last season. Of the approaches from Roma, Arsenal. The talk of interest from Barcelona. So, yeah, Seri does have a profile. But how many of us are aware of his stats? Across Europe's five major championships, only Marek Hamsik, the Napoli captain, completed more passes than Seri last season. And there was also only one player who made more tackles - again Hamsik.

For a player who Jean-Pierre Rivere, the Nice president, declared could leave "for €40 million" at the end of last season, you'd think such dominant stats would make him a market headline grabber.

Instead Keita, Fabinho and Tiemoue Bakayoko have all attracted the press - and major offers - this summer, while the man who outshone them all has been relegated to a transfer rumour afterthought. But those in the know are aware of Seri - and aren't shy in talking up the Nice midfielder.

Xavi, the former Barcelona captain, is one self-confessed - and long time - fan.

"When I was told that a Nice player was called the African Xavi, of course I followed him closely. I did not know him and I was amazed: I was no longer used to seeing such talent in the middle of the field!" he declared this year.

"He would go so well at Barça ... He can play anywhere in the middle. Seri is fantastic. He has what is called in Barcelona the 'Barça DNA'."

Which is music to the ears of Seri, who upon arriving in France declared not only an admiration for Xavi, but admitting he modeled his game on the veteran midfielder, now playing in Qatar with Al Sadd.

"Xavi has this ability to calm the game, not by voice, but by what he does with the ball. He is reflective, playing simple but fair, he does not lose the ball. When he makes a decision, the change in tempo is created. It is this person who inspires me," said Seri upon his arrival from Pacos de Ferreira.

That deal, just two years ago, cost Nice a cut-price €700,000. Today, Rivere says he won't stand in the midfielder's way should a bid of €40 million arrive. Not a bad little earner for last season's Ligue 1 revelations.

"We have a moral agreement," Rivere stated at the beginning of the summer market. "We set the bar at €40 million. If someone comes with 40 million, we will have a moral obligation to let the player go. If it is below, there is no obligation."

Lucien Favre, the Nice coach, hopes Seri continues to fly under the radar in the remaining weeks of the transfer window: "It's too late. I expect Mika to still be here in September."

Favre continues: "He's very important for us. Mika forms the spine of the team. He is our base."

However, the coach's description - and Seri's own words of keeping it "simple"- actually sells the Ivorian's game short. There's more to Seri than give-and-go. Former Southampton boss Claude Puel, who worked with Seri at Nice, says the 26 year-old is a master of the "hidden pass". A 'look away' movement that has caught out Ligue 1 defences over the last two seasons.

"This is to create the element of surprise," smiles Seri, acknowledging Puel's depiction. "The opponent should be given as few indications as possible to avoid interception. I pretend to look on one side and give on the other. It's part of my game. In Barcelona, Xavi was doing it all the time and I've tried to copy it."

Xavi again: "Short game, long game, tactical intelligence, distance shooting, personality, organization of the game ... mama mia!"

Such praise would have most players floating, but Seri admits he's more likely to heed the words of critics than any fan - no matter how famous.

"I do not take any satisfaction, because I am someone who listens much more to criticism than praise. They are the ones that allow you to improve," he adds.

"Look, he's humble. Professional," so says Julien Chevalier, who coached Seri in Ivory Coast.

"Before, he was in the shadow of Yaya Touré. Now he has established himself as an indisputable starter in the national team.

"But for all of that, he's remained humble."

And it's that humility and willingness to take on criticism which now has Seri on the brink of the next phase in his career. At 26 he's ready for the next jump, whether it's to Rome, Barcelona or Liverpool.

If it was up to Xavi, Seri would already be in a Blaugrana shirt - especially at Rivere's current valuation. Those at Liverpool and Arsenal take note:

"I hope Barcelona sign him now," says Xavi. "Otherwise he'll cost double next year."

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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