Borussia Mönchengladbach is famed as the Bundesliga’s stable, turning Foals into thoroughbreds year after year. The latest colt in the stall is striker Alassane Plea, and the Frenchman has made a blistering start to his Bundesliga race, leading even Robert Lewandowski in the goalscoring stakes.
"It's the right time to leave Nice," Plea said last season. That got the media talking. They put two and two together and got the forward teaming up with former Nice boss Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund.
To be fair, they were close: Favre used to coach the other Borussia, the Mönchengladbach one that Plea did join. Having seen his ex-protege's start to life in the Bundesliga, Favre might even have some regrets the press got their Borussias befuddled.
Involved in five of Gladbach's last nine goals, scoring four, Plea has made the cross-border switch with all the smoothness he usually brushes lovingly onto his finishes, which are rarely about power and always about precision. Did you see his brilliantly measured strike at Wolfsburg? See what I mean? Oh, and his first home goal in the Matchday 5 win over Eintracht Frankfurt…actually, that had both.
Watch: Plea loving life at Gladbach
"It's great that we have a forward who can score goals," said Plea's new boss, Dieter Hecking, who had seen his striker open his Bundesliga account with two headers against Augsburg and Hertha Berlin.
"It's a bit surprising that he's already scored two headers. You couldn't see that from training. Of course it's quality when he sees situations. I'm very happy with the way he's progressing."
Not that anyone at the club is really raising their eyebrows — they had done their homework. Thoroughly. "They showed me analyses, stats. They had seen a lot, a lot of matches since I was 18," an astounded Plea said of his meeting with Gladbach suitors last February. "I liked that. They thought I was the perfect player to complete their attack, because they didn't have a profile like mine."
Prolific goalscorer is actually a new facet to that profile which is — as Bundesliga defenders have found with Plea himself — difficult to pin down.
After starting as a winger at Lyon, he also played out wide when — after struggling to establish himself in the face of competition from the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Nabil Fekir — he joined Nice in 2014. "It's Claude Puel who immediately put me in the middle," Plea explained of his shift to centre-forward. "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."
So it proved, eventually. A modest nine goals came in 52 league appearances in his first two seasons on the Cote d'Azur — the second of which was ruined by a cruciate ligament injury — but that tally was surpassed in the 2016/17 campaign alone as he took advantage of playing off Mario Balotelli to strike 11.
The 2017/18 season was more potent still as Plea returned career-best stats of 16 goals topped off with six assists, more than enough to convince Gladbach to spend a club record sum to bring a pedigree Foal into their stable.
Watch: Christoph Kramer praises Plea's impact
"He doesn't think too much about it, he just hits it," raved Hecking, while Christoph Kramer praised the conjuring skills of his teammate who "scores out of nothing". "He has what it takes to become Gladbach's outstanding goalscorer," added Thorgan Hazard, whose team-high 10 goals last season is already in serious jeopardy.
The question now is how far can the Frenchman whom Favre says is "blessed with enormous potential" go? Marco Reus' tally of 18 six years ago — Gladbach's best return in recent memory — looks a realistic target, maybe even the 20 Heiko Herrlich claimed in 1995 as the league’s top scorer. Jupp Heynckes' impressive 30 from 1974 — still a club record — is probably asking a lot, but Hecking has already been pleasantly surprised once. Why not again?