Norwich City newcomer Pierre Lees-Melou in action for Nice and pursues Brazil and PSG superstar Neymar in a Ligue 1 game
– Photo credit: Imago / PA Images
Dubbed a “match winner” by Patrick Vieira after moving from non-league to Champions League in just over two years, Norwich City’s newcomer Pierre Lees-Melou enjoyed a rapid rise to fame in France .
Lees-Melou is originally from Langon, a town near Bordeaux in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region in southwest France. Lees-Melou played junior football for his hometown club.
He started in men’s football at the local club Union Sportive de Lège-Cap-Ferret and was still in the fifth division when he was in his early twenties, before moving to Dijon in Ligue 2 in 2015.
Patience was required, however, as he completed nine mostly short appearances as a substitute in the first half of 2015/16 when his new club was pursuing promotion to the top division and also continued in the fifth division for the B-team played.
His big chance came with seven games remaining and Dijon at the top of the table, played 87 minutes in a 0-0 home draw against Nancy and then really made its impact – with two goals in two games.
Lees -Melou played alongside teammates, including current Celtic defender Christopher Julien, in the 3-2 away win against newly promoted Clermont and the subsequent 3-0 home win against Paris FC. He had arrived.
Three straight defeats brought Nancy Dijon to the title, but Lees-Melou set up the early opener, which calmed the nerves when midfielder Ajaccio was beaten on the final day for second place and the Secure promotion.
After just nine starts in the second division, the midfielder popped champagne corks and prepared to face Paris Saint-Germain, Monaco and Lyon. It was an opportunity he would seize with both hands.
Initially continuing mainly as a right winger, he began to establish himself centrally as the season progressed as the tactic was optimized to a 4-3-3.The season started with consecutive defeats but started with a famous win for the newly promoted team when Lees-Melou came off the bench and scored a 4-2 home win over Lyon.
That opened the big boys alerted the Dijon threat and proved the only real headline grabber, but results against direct rivals were enough to ensure survival in 2017 as the Canary Islands freshman neared his 24th birthday.
He scored in wins against Toulouse, Lorient and Angers and his form proved to be enough to make a big move to the French Riviera and the Mediterranean coast.
The four-time champions Nice made his move and signed Lees-Melou with a contract in Reportedly worth around £ 3m after being steered into third place and Champions League qualification in the first season by Lucien Favre, who later moved to Borussia Dortmund.
It meant he was in two Seasons had been promoted from the non-league to the Champions League, with Favre praising his “intelligence” and “great quality” when he was presented at a press conference in June 2017.
“I never would have thought to become a professional that it would happen, ”said Lees-Melou. “I enjoyed it, but I thought the step up was too high.
It was a significant step up. The Dijon stadium has a capacity of around 16,000, but the Allianz Riviera can hold 36,000 and will be used at Euro 2016 – hosting England’s disaster against Iceland for the past 16 years.
He made his debut in the Champions League Qualifying, with a 1-1 home draw against Ajax and a 2-2 away draw that sealed progress on away goals. Napoli would prove to be too strong, however, as Nice fell at the final qualifying hurdle after a 4-0 aggregate defeat.
That meant Europa League football instead, where Lees-Melou won all but one game started via Zuulte Waregem and Vitesse Arnhem made it into the K.
Five goals and six assists in 34 league games ensured that he established himself in the heart of midfield as Les Aiglons finished eighth and former and future Premier League stars were right in the middle of the action. Mario Balotelli was the top scorer with 28 goals and Allan Saint-Maximin appeared in the form that would eventually lead him to Newcastle.
Vieira came to Dortmund after Favre’s departure in summer 2018 and the world champion steered Nice to seventh place, with Lees-Melou remaining a regular with two goals in 30 games.
It turned out to be a more productive season personally during a 2019-20 campaign that was shortened by the Covid-19 pandemic and ended in sixth place. Six goals and six assists in 29 games ensured he remained a key player after Adrian Ursea replaced Vieira mid-season.
Shortly before the departure, however, the Arsenal legend ensured that Lees-Melou got a new one Contract was awarded after a series of Man of the Match ads posted on the club’s website: “He’s a player who has become a match winner, his stats last season were very positive. He’s making progress.
“He’s got to show more leadership on the pitch because he’s one of the team’s technical leaders. He has to be more on the ball, make the difference more often and get more involved in the middle of the park. I count on him a lot. ”
Sixth place brought a return to the Europa League last season, which turned out to be disappointing, however, as Lees-Melou was only defeated at Bayer Leverkusen and Slavia Prague than Nice before Eliminated in the round of 16.
Four goals and two assists in 29 games ensured that he remained a regular in Ligue 1, absent for about a month from early December due to injury, but returned and often wore the captain’s armband as the former Manchester midfielder United, Morgan Schneiderlin, was not available.
In ninth place, however, Christophe Galtier came to Nice as head coach after winning the impressive title with Lille last season due to a change of ownership at his former club.After 18 goals and 140 games in Nice, Lees-Melou embarks on a new adventure in England bringing his talents to the Premier League after turning 28 in May e.
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