Alassane Plea: Five things on the Borussia Mönchengladbach and France striker
Alassane Plea came through the ranks with Bayern Munich's Corentin Tolisso and has learned the art of goalscoring from Mario Balotelli. Now the striker is putting those lessons into practice for Borussia Mönchengladbach, earning himself a maiden call-up to the squad of world champions France.
1) A young Lyon
bundesliga.com introduces the French forward who has swapped the Mediterranean for Mönchengladbach. He's Lille born, Lyon bred and a Nice guy in many respects.
Born in the northern city of Lille, Plea never featured for his hometown club, instead joining their Ligue 1 rivals Lyon as a teenager. He played with Bayern midfielder Tolisso, Manchester United's Anthony Martial and current Lyon captain and France international Nabil Fekir as he rose through the ranks before making his league debut — a one-minute substitute cameo — in a 1-1 draw at Lorient in October 2012.
"When I got to Lyon, I realised football wasn't only a game - that it wasn't only your passion," Plea explained. "I became aware that football was also a job. When you arrive at Lyon and you see the competition for places, you understand that you can't mess around anymore. You have to play well every weekend. From that moment, I did everything to perform and have the chance to become a professional."
Watch: Plea strikes as Gladbach humble Bayern
2) Nice to see you, to see you...
Plea would go on to play just six more league games for Lyon - for whom he never scored a top-flight goal - before former OL boss Claude Puel brought him to Nice in 2014. "They felt I was a youngster with potential," Plea said. "It's true coach Puel had a major role in my arrival. He played an important role in my decision because he called me and convinced me to come. I also saw there were a lot of young players at Nice. I liked the club. As a result, I accepted immediately." It proved a beneficial decision for both parties as Plea built momentum over his four seasons on the Cote d'Azur, finishing with a career-best 16 goals in 35 league games last term.
3) Super Mario's mate
"Balotelli speaks to me a lot and I owe a lot of my progression to him." Plea enjoyed a privilege that very few have had by speaking frequently to his controversial, talented former teammate. The Italy forward arrived at Nice with a reputation to restore after a troubled spell at Liverpool, and the ex-Manchester City man's renaissance went hand-in-hand with the best football of Plea's career. He had already shown a willingness to learn at Lyon, where he worked with ex-Brazil international and Barcelona striker Sonny Anderson. "With him, we worked a lot in front of goal. He gave me a lot of advice. I learned a lot of things there."
4) Positional sense
Gladbach can congratulate themselves on bringing in a player who can adapt to any spot on the pitch across the front line. But having started his career out wide, Plea now knows where he plays best.
"It's Claude Puel who immediately put me in the middle," Plea explained. "He said to me, 'For your playing style, it's the ideal position.' He made me work, work and work again. Even when I didn't play well, he put me in there again. He said to me, 'It'll come with work'. I enjoy myself hugely in the middle. I think it's the perfect position for me."
Watch: Plea loving life at Gladbach
Balotelli's arrival at Nice in 2016 changed that though with then-boss Lucien Favre, now in charge at Borussia Dortmund, moving Plea back to the flank. Not that you will hear the fledgling Foal complain.
"Everyone knows I prefer playing through the middle, but there is a great player who scores lots of goals there," he said of Balotelli. "On the left, I am not entirely at home, but I do it for the team, the club. I have always been supported here. It would be a lack of respect to grumble. I'm a fighter, not a guy who sulks. Who am I to refuse to play on the wing?"
5) Charity case
While Gladbach coach Dieter Hecking has been enjoying the benefits of a versatile player with unflinching commitment to the team cause, the club's fans will also find Plea's heart is in the right place as far as they are concerned too. Following in the footsteps of the likes of Bayern's Mats Hummels and Serge Gnabry, Hoffenheim boss Julian Nagelsmann and Stuttgart's Dennis Aogo who have joined Juan Mata's Common Goal initiative, Plea pledged one percent of his salary to charitable causes as part of Nice's own social commitments.
"When the club told me about its social initiatives, I accepted right away," said Plea in an interview with Nice-Matin. "It does you good to offer a helping hand to people in need. You say to yourself, 'Sometimes I complain over the smallest thing 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 and it brings you back to reality."