By Andy Wales.
After a positive follow-up season for Borussia Mönchengladbach, Alassane Pléa has become the latest name to be linked with a move to the English Premier League.
Both Manchester United and Leicester City are rumoured to be interested in signing the 27-year-old forward.
The Frenchman is likely to miss the rest of the season for Gladbach with a thigh injury, which could be a blow for the Foals’ Champions League qualification hopes with two games to go.
Born and raised in Lille, he moved from his boyhood club to Lyon as a teenager, but opportunities were few and far between at a club where competition for attacking slots was high.
After a loan spell with Auxerre, he signed for Nice in 2014, whose then manager, Claude Puel, saw the potential in Pléa. It was Puel who switched Pléa to the central role he now considers his favoured position.
In an interview with the official Bundesliga website, he spoke of this, but in a way that emphasised his quality and maturity as a team player, saying: “Everyone knows I prefer playing through the middle. On the left, I’m not entirely at home, but I do it for the team. I’m a fighter, not a guy who sulks. Who am I to refuse to play on the wing?”
His steady development at Nice culminated in an impressive final season that saw him net 21 goals from 49 appearances in all competitions. He struck up a fruitful partnership with Mario Balotelli, whom he credits with aiding his progression and remains good friends with.
In the summer of 2018, Borussia Mönchengladbach were sufficiently convinced of Pléa’s talent to pay a reported €25m for his services. It made Pléa Gladbach’s record signing and they had to beat off competition from the English Premier League to secure his signature.
Pléa spoke of his desire to play in the Bundesliga and he quickly made an impact for the Foals. A hat-trick against Werder Bremen took him to eight goals and three assists in the opening 11 Bundesliga games, with Gladbach firmly established in the top two.
As the campaign wore on, goals were harder to come by; not helped by positions being rotated and Gladbach’s form tailing off under coach Dieter Hecking. By the end of the season, he finished with 15 goals and four assists from 35 games in all competitions. Although those were respectable numbers for his debut campaign, the signs were also there that he was capable of more.
Further development came in the shape of a coaching change at Gladbach, from the more functional and static approach of Hecking to the high-energy, aggressive attacking style of the highly-rated Marco Rose.
Pléa is not regarded for the defensive side of his game, despite playing the majority of his career on the left-wing. Rose, a pupil of Jürgen Klopp at Mainz, likes to play a counter-pressing style. This has given Pléa the chance to improve the tactical aspects of his game.
His pace, intelligent movement and willingness to run lends itself well to Rose’s style of play. It also utilises Pléa’s well-balanced attacking attributes very effectively. Often, the preferred front-three for Galdbach this season has been Pléa starting centrally, with Marcus Thuram and Patrick Herrmann either side of him.
This has seen Thuram begin to fulfil his potential and Herrmann enjoy something of a renaissance. Although Plea’s 10 goals in 26 Bundesliga appearances this season is not a prolific return, his 10 assists speak volumes of his unselfish contribution to a dangerous attack force.
There were concerns over how the enforced Covid-19 stoppage would affect players’ form, but Plea didn’t miss a beat before picking up his injury. If anything, his form improved further with Gladbach benefitting from his understanding with Thuram.
He’s certainly impressed his new coach Rose, who said of Pléa: “I’ve never seen such a degree of quality so often. If he gets a shot off in or around the penalty area, you can almost get ready to celebrate.”
Seeing Pléa cut inside his defender and curl the ball into the net is somewhat reminiscent of his boyhood idol Thierry Henry. Pléa may not be as prolific as his hero, but with all the necessary attributes of a modern-day forward, it is easy to see why he is attracting so much attention.