After supporting Mario Balotelli from the wing in Nice, Alassane Plea has become one of Europe's most clinical centre-forwards at Borussia Mönchengladbach. bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the rise of the France international.
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Country: France (1 cap)
Plea is Lille born, Lyon bred and a Nice guy in many respects. Despite growing up in Villeneuve-d'Ascq – a stone's throw from Lille's Stade Pierre Mauroy – he never played for his beloved hometown club, instead coming through the ranks at local sides US Ascq and ES Wasquehal. At the age of 16, the talented frontman caught the eye of Lyon scout Gerard Bonneau and was soon on his way to one of the most highly rated academies in France and Europe.
Part of a golden generation of young talents at OL – including Samuel Umtiti, Alexandre Lacazette, Nabil Fekir, Anthony Martial and Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso – Plea was nevertheless given scant first-team opportunities at the club, making just 12 senior appearances in all competitions. Following a six-month loan spell at second-tier AJ Auxerre, he left Lyon for Nice in summer 2014, aged 21, determined to seek more game time.
The Cote d'Azur proved to be the perfect stepping stone for 'Lasso' (his nickname at Lyon), as he gradually emerged as one of Les Aiglons' most potent attacking assets. His first coach, Claude Puel, had the bright idea of moving him into the middle of the park, but it was really under current Borussia Dortmund boss Lucien Favre that he flourished. Playing alongside a red-hot Mario Balotelli, he proved much more than a wingman by notching 27 goals and nine assists across two Ligue 1 seasons, helping Nice finish as high as third in 2016/17.
In summer 2018 he decided to trade France for Germany, signing a five-year deal with Gladbach and completing a move that he "desperately wanted", according to an interview with bundesliga.com last year. The powerful forward enjoyed an impressive debut campaign, playing all 34 Bundesliga games for the Foals and notching 12 goals. He also earned himself a first cap with France in November 2018, in a friendly against Uruguay.
In 2019/20, Plea has added a creative edge to his attacking output, contributing eight goals and seven assists in his 22 appearances so far. Gladbach currently sit fourth in the table, six points behind leaders Bayern.
Plays a bit like: Harry Kane
Some of Plea's earliest football memories are of watching Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo strut their stuff at UEFA Euro 2000 and the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and his boyhood idol was Arsenal great Thierry Henry, which is why he wears the number 14. His style, though, perhaps most resembles one of his contemporaries – England No.9 Harry Kane.
At Nice, Plea often played on the left side of an attacking trident, with Balotelli starting in the middle – although he has admitted that it's not his favourite position. Since joining Gladbach, he has been shifted into the centre – with Marcus Thuram taking that left-sided spot – and has turned into one of the most clinical finishers in Europe.
Watch: Plea's solo show at Bremen in 2018/19!
Standing at 5'11", Plea isn't the tallest of centre-forwards, but he makes up for that with his strength and robustness on the ball. He can mostly be found either running in behind defences to shoot at goal in one or two touches, peeling off defenders to find space to score inside the box, or with his back to goal, holding up play. Like Kane, variety and unpredictability are two of his major assets – and his quality in front of goal was perhaps most evident when he scored his first Bundesliga hat-trick last season at Werder Bremen.
Did you know?
Plea's father Sekou is originally from Mali, and came to study in France at the age of 17. A former teacher, he has served as mayor of the Malian village of Keke, north of the capital Bamako. He has also set up an association providing mutual aid between France and Mali.
Though Alassane was never tempted to represent his father's country of birth on a football pitch – he played for the France youth teams from U18 to U21 level – he has clearly inherited the same sense of social responsibility, joining Juan Mata's Common Goal initiative and pledging one per cent of his salary to charitable causes.
"It's good to offer a helping hand to people in need," Plea once said in an interview with Nice-Matin. "You say to yourself, 'Sometimes I complain about the smallest things even though I have everything in life. I have a roof over my head, I eat well and I earn a lot of money…' It's a real slap in the face, it brings you back to reality."
What they're saying
"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." – Gladbach head coach Marco Rose
"At Nice, I don't think people understood how lucky we were to have a player like him. Mario stole most of the limelight, but as far as I was concerned, Alassane was our best attacking player, no question about it." – Plea's former Nice teammate Alexy Bosetti
"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?" – Plea on his best role