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Sofiane Boufal: Why Man Utd, Man City have joined battle for Lille dazzler

A 'revelation'. A 'crowd pleaser'. The 'new Eden Hazard'.

They're just some of the statements being bandied around France when describing Sofiane Boufal, Lille's exciting new winger.

He's not six months into his LOSC career - nor his first season in Ligue 1 - but Boufal is being watched by Europe's biggest clubs. Tottenham have been following the 22 year-old since his time in L2 with Angers. But it's now emerged that Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City have all made tentative enquiries in recent weeks. And in France, pundits are convinced only one club, PSG, is capable of keeping Boufal in the country.

"Boufal? He's a Lille player!" joked PSG coach Laurent Blanc with reporters last week. "Look, he's a young player who has suddenly broke through this season.

"He's now proving himself at the highest level.

"His strengths? Oh, it's his dribbling."

Blanc was being coy, though it's generally accepted that Olivier Letang, PSG's sporting director, is now in regular contact with Lille about Boufal's situation.

Indeed, with the January market now upon us, it's a situation that is developing rapidly as Europe's biggest come calling.

"We want to do a full season in L1 and then a choice will be made next summer," insists Yven Le Mee, Boufal's agent.

"He must continue what he's doing, have a good second part of the season to show his potential to major clubs. For us, leaving in January is too early."

As Blanc says, he may've 'broken through' this season, but for Boufal, himself, the ease with which he's adapted to life at the top level has come as no surprise.

"I realize that it's gone very fast, but I was hoping it would be like this, because I trust in my qualities," says Boufal.

"I'm not surprised. Some were, not me."

Boufal admits he is always assessing his game, noticing where he must improve and tackling his weaknesses. He credits his rapid development to this constant self-analysis.

"At Angers, they said I had a good first year in L2. It was okay, but I looked at my stats and it was nothing," Boufal says.

"I exploded (last season) because I realised some things had to improve. Since then, I've respected this approach."

And when Boufal talks about 'exploding', it's not just his form he's referring to. Less than three years ago, the midfielder still stood at 4ft 9in - he's since grown a clear foot and with that spurt has come his outstanding form.

For Boufal's tricky wing play - and now being with LOSC - the comparison with Chelsea star Hazard is obvious.

"He is an example. But in all humility, the comparison is difficult. At my age, he was already at Chelsea."

While insisting he was born to be a great dribbler, Boufal acknowledges street football in Angers helped bring on his natural talent.

"It comes naturally," he insists. "Some of my dribbles I cannot even imagine pulling off.

"I learned this in the district of Angers. It was 3 against 3, 6 against 6. You never forget where you came from. Some players have inspired me, like Ronaldinho, for me the best of all time.

"Currently, I admire (Lionel) Messi."

Boufal adds: "My game is about taking people on. I also have good passing skills, but the most important thing is to be decisive and effective."

And he's certainly been effective for Lille this season, maintaining his form despite the upheaval of coach Rene Girard being sacked and replaced by Frederic Antonetti.

For Boufal, he's happy to take it all in stride. The experience of playing in L1 is something to enjoy.

"Why be complex about it? Whether its in Paris against a great team or against amateurs, it's still football, fun on the beautiful lawns and full stadiums."

"Goals?" he adds, "Of course we all have goals. Mine is to move forward, to play good matches, and to make my family proud of me."

And his plans to move forward are sure to include moving on from Lille in 2016. But Boufal, despite admitting his admiration for PSG, insists nothing is set in stone in terms of remaining in France.

"England, France, Spain, Italy, Germany...," he smiles. "It's more the club project that will interest me. Not the championship."


Sofiane Boufal: What French football is saying about 'new Eden Hazard'

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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