Pat Lee Nichols and Alfie Sayers team up to bring the 24th instalment of The Goalkeeper's Chronicle…The Grass is Sometimes Greener!
The Premier League is widely considered to be the greatest league in world football and has held that reutation for some time now. The best players dream of playing in England's top flight, with moves to Real Madrid or Barcelona having been seen, traditionally, as the only two clubs worth signing for over a move to the Premier League.
With all of this being said, Brice Samba's transfer to RC Lens from newly promoted Nottingham Forest was quite unusual. To understand the context of this decision, we must first go back to Wembley and the Championship Play-Off Final vs Huddersfield Town on the 29th May 2022.
It was Nottingham Forest's best chance to be achieve promotion back to the Premier League for the first time since 1999. Samba played a key role in the semi-finals, saving three penalties from Oliver Norwood, Conor Hourihane and Morgan-Gibbs White to defeat Sheffield United over two legs. Forest would go on to win the final 1-0; a clean sheet for Samba in the biggest game of his career thus far.
It seemed a formality that the goalkeeper who had played a big part in the promotion side would naturally continue in his role as number one in the big time. However, Samba turned down the opportunity to play in the Premier League, leaving for Ligue 1 side RC Lens in early July, signing a 5 year deal. Speaking to L’equipe in August he explained his decision:
“It may seem surprising…the choice to come back to France was above all a sporting one. When you see the last two seasons of Lens, how the team plays, the fans who come to the stadium…I definitely felt the desire to come here.”
If, at the time, the decision seemed somewhat bizarre, it would ultimately prove to be an inspired one.
Fast forward to today and RC Lens sit second in Ligue 1, with Champions League football all but assured for next season. It will be the first taste of European football for Samba in a career that has thus far spanned over a decade. Success has materialised in several forms this year for the ex-Forest man, awarded with a call up to the French National Team in March due to his excellent domestic form.
In his 35 Ligue 1 games so far, Samba has been part of a defensive unit which has kept 14 clean sheets. This puts him joint first with Yehvann Diouf of Reims. Additionally, he is part of comfortably the best defensive unit in France, conceding a staggeringly low 27 goals all season. In Europe's top five leagues, this has only bettered by Barcelona (11 goals) and Napoli (23 goals), both of whom have won their respective leagues.
This monumental defensive effort has kept Lens in touching distance of a PSG super team looking to win their 11th Ligue 1 title, the most of any club in French footballing history.
Keep your eyes on Ligue 1. RC Lens and Brice Samba may just prove that the grass sometimes is greener on the other side…