Sheffield United: The REAL story behind Blades target Lys Mousset
The lengths Eddie Howe went to in order to sign Lys Mousset confirm, despite enduring a frustrating time at AFC Bournemouth, Sheffield United will be acquiring a player of huge potential if they unveil the French striker.
The 23-year-old, who has spent the past three seasons on the south coast after arriving in England, is powerful, fast and technically adept. Three qualities Chris Wilder, the newly promoted club's manager, places at the top of his check-list when assessing possible targets.
But it is the story of Mousset's move to Bournemouth which reveals the most about his ability. Back then, before investing around £7m to acquire his services, Howe waged a long and successful charm offensive to beat off competition from a host of other interested parties following the youngster's performances at 2016 Toulon Tournament. And, as his track record in this particular section of the transfer market demonstrates, Wilder's counterpart is an expert at identifying special up-and-coming talents.
With Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Southampton all expressing an interest in Mousset following his displays against the likes of Mexico, the Czech Republic, Mali and Bulgaria, Howe resolved to set about persuading Mousset that the Vitality Stadium should be his next destination as he prepared to leave Le Havre, where he had progressed through a youth programme which counts Paul Pogba, Riyad Mahrez and Dimitri Payet as former graduates.
By his own admission, the negotiations were "protracted" such was the level of interest in Mousset. But Howe's work - and his reputation for developing players - eventually paid off.
"Last season was his breakthrough season when he did very well for them and showed he is a player of rich potential," Howe said at the time.
"He has all the attributes you look for in a young player. He is a good size, he is very strong, very quick and knows where the goal is."
"We are really excited to have signed him and are very much looking forward to working with him," Howe added.
As United prepare for their Premier League return following over a decade away, Wilder has spoken of his admiration for the 'Bournemouth model' and Howe's ability to beat the odds in a division dominated by financial behemoths. So his counterpart's description of Mousset as being "very much in the AFC Bournemouth mould," will have pricked his attention when it emerged the striker might be available.
Some observers will point to his goalscoring record in Dorset - five in 71 appearances - as cause for alarm. But these concerns betray a failure to properly analyse Mousset's statistics. And Wilder, as he demonstrated before offering Ravel Morrison a contract, always does his research.
The overwhelming majority of Mousset's outings for Bournemouth have come from the bench. Thirteen of the 28 he made last term saw him introduced during the final 10 minutes of a match, although Howe trusted Mousset enough to introduce him earlier as they chased games against Manchester City and Liverpool, who finished first and second in the table respectively. It should also not go unnoticed that Mousset wrote his name on the scoresheet after being handed a start at Arsenal in March.
Sign up to our Sheffield United newsletter
Born in Montvilliers, a commune in the Seine-Maritime department of Normandy, was regularly on target for Le Havre after making his senior debut for Les Ciel et Marine in 2013. He left the Stade Océane having claimed 14 goals in 36 appearances and produced three assists.
It was there, under Bob Bradley's stewardship, where Mousset was switched from the wing and handed a more central attacking role. The American's faith in his ability proved justified, with all of his efforts coming during the 2015/16 Ligue 2 campaign.
"Mousset has technical ability streets ahead of most (footballers) his age," one journalist wrote after being seduced by his performances. "It is quite scary to think what a player he could become if his potential is fulfilled."
Retaining the ability to operate on both the right and left flanks, Mousset's versatility will be another attraction for Wilder and, after he complained about a lack of opportunities at Bournemouth, a source of opportunities at Bramall Lane for the striker himself. With Callum Robinson joining Billy Sharp and David McGoldrick in South Yorkshire and Oli McBurnie possibly set to follow too, Mousset could bring even greater flexibility if, as expected, United tweak their 3-5-2 system for meetings with the likes of City, Chelsea and Spurs. Crucially, given the lack of top-flight experience at his disposal, Wilder knows Mousset is used to working at the highest level. That knowledge – or shortage of it - partly explains why Phil Jagielka was recently brought back to United following over a decade with Everton.
"We like to dominate opponents and hopefully that will continue but, we've got to accept, with the level we're going into that might not always be possible," Wilder admitted earlier this week. "But the principles of how we go about things, the attitude and that desire, won't change a bit. That's what makes us who we are."
If, as expected, United finalise their deal for Mousset , his first appearance for Wilder's squad could come against Bournemouth, where they are scheduled to begin the new season on August 10.
"We've still got work to do," Wilder said following Tuesday's friendly against Burton Albion. "We're not where we want to be yet."