Having only shown glimpses of his remarkable potential in France, and after an entirely forgettable experience in England, Cologne's Anthony Modeste has emerged as one of the continent's most ruthless marksmen since joining the Bundesliga. We take a closer look at the rise of the free-scoring Frenchman, who helperd fire the Billy Goats into next season's UEFA Europa League.
On 14 April 2016, Modeste celebrated his 28th birthday – and what a year it has been since then. In the ensuing weeks, the Frenchman grabbed four goals as his Cologne side finished the 2015/16 season with a five-game unbeaten run, and ended the campaign as their top scorer, notching 15 in total. There were only four men above him in the scoring charts: Robert Lewandowski, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Müller and Chicharito. Esteemed company indeed.
The Billy Goats striker began the current season at an even more furious pace, with 11 goals in nine games putting him in pole position for the Torjägerkanone. He continued to find the net consistently throughout the campaign, and ended up with a tally of 25, only a handful shy of Bayern Munich's Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund's Aubameyang. His goals were a crucial component of Cologne sealing a fifth-placed finish and a place in the Europa League.
Watch: Modeste's Bundesliga goals up to Matchday 25 of this season:
"I'm 28 now and I feel level-headed and confident," Modeste told bundesliga.com after his remarkable start to 2016/17. "I'm better equipped to rate and analyse my performances."
Twenty-three goals was Modeste's previous best single-season haul, and in 2016/17 he netted a huge 49 per cent of the Billy Gotas' 51 league goals. Yet things haven't always been quite as straightforward for the Frenchman, who came through the youth ranks at Ligue 1 side Nice a decade ago.
After a tentative start to life on the Mediterranean coast – hitting only three league goals in two seasons – Modeste was loaned out to second-tier side Angers, where his stock rose considerably thanks to 20 goals in 37 outings. Though he was pipped to the golden boot by current Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud (then at Tours), his reward was a move to Bordeaux, who had completed a Ligue 1 and league cup double only a year beforehand.
At first, it all seemed to be going to plan. After making his debut from the bench in a 2-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain, Modeste scored in back-to-back games against Marseille and former club Nice, and impressed with a hat-trick against Arles-Avignon. But after a fine start to 2011 – four goals in six outings following the winter break – he slumped to a run of 16 games without a goal, which ultimately cost him a place in the starting line-up early in 2011/2012.
Things went from bad to worse. After six months of playing in fits and starts, Modeste was loaned out to Blackburn Rovers in January 2012, and his short-lived stint in the Premier League will probably go down as the worst experience of his career. He failed to score a single goal in nine appearances, and was sent off in a 3-0 defeat to West Brom as Blackburn were ultimately relegated.
Slammed by pundits and supporters alike, Modeste was all but unanimously labelled a flop – and yet with hindsight he believes his time in England was a necessary part of his development.
"Going to Blackburn made me stronger," he told French newspaper Sud Ouest. "You have to find the positive aspect of every experience. Apart from anything else, it means I can speak English!"
After his inglorious spell at Ewood Park, Modeste returned to Bordeaux, where he no longer fit into coach Francis Gillot's plans. At only 24, he looked in danger of sinking into 'what-might-have-been' anonymity, and settling for the journeyman existence of the player who never quite lives up to his potential. Until, that is, he washed up on the shores of Corsica.
Loaned out to Bastia for the 2012/13 season, Modeste began his renaissance as early as the opening weekend, netting in his side's 3-2 win over Sochaux. The goals continued to flow and he ended the season with 15, his best ever return in Ligue 1. That was enough for Bastia to comfortably avoid relegation, and for their top scorer to earn himself a move to the Bundesliga, as he signed for Hoffenheim in the summer of 2013.
"In Germany, you play to win, whereas in France you play not to lose – the defences are much tighter," he explained to Sud Ouest. "It's a question of mentality. As a striker, it's great to play in this kind of attacking culture, and it's why I came to Germany. I think I made the right choice."
Hoffenheim certainly wouldn't disagree. Like in Bastia, Modeste hit the ground running, with six goals in his first seven outings. Though he was unable to maintain that consistency through to Christmas, the Frenchman nevertheless finished the season with 12 goals – a respectable tally for his first year in the German top flight, and a far cry from his struggles in Blackburn.
The following season was tougher, as Modeste was forced to compete with Sven Schipplock and new signing Adam Szalai for the lone striker role in Markus Gisdol's 4-2-3-1 formation. He made a total of 16 starts and notched just seven goals, enduring a five-month scoring drought between November and April.
At the end of the season he was sold to Cologne in a move that would turn out to be money very well spent by the Billy Goats. "It wasn't a complicated transfer," Cologne's general manager Jörg Schmadtke later admitted, as though surprised by how easily the club were able to get their hands on a man who would become one of the Bundesliga's star strikers.
The Frenchman continued his trend of flying starts with a hat-trick in his first competitive outing for Cologne, a 4-0 dismissal of fourth-tier Meppen in the DFB Cup. He then racked up six goals and two assists in his first eight games of the Bundesliga season, and hasn't looked back since.
His career has been a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows, and there is no doubt that Modeste is currently at the peak of his powers. Team-mate Timo Horn insisted that what the Frenchman did in 2016/17 was "comfortably better" than Lewandowski and Aubameyang, who are surrounded by stars at Bayern and Dortmund. Cologne's success, by implication, is rather the result of team solidarity and Modeste's ice-cool composure in front of goal.
"After every game, I watch the entire 90 minutes and observe what I did with the ball and how I moved off it," the man himself explains. "It helps my development. I work hard, and I firmly believe you reap the rewards when you do that."
Modeste's achievements also haven't gone unnoticed in his native France, with the online magazine So Foot questioning why Didier Deschamps has yet to hand the Cologne frontman a maiden call-up to the France squad – and even launching a petition for him to go to the 2018 FIFA World Cup with Les Bleus on Twitter, via the hashtag #Modeste2018.
"My two objectives are to play in the UEFA Champions League and to taste international football with France," Modeste once told France Football. While the former seems unlikely in the immediate future, the latter remains a real possibility, especially if Modeste carries on impressing in the coming months.
"He's playing well, he's progressed," Deschamps admitted in March. "It's up to him to keep performing well, but of course he's one of the attacking players that we're keeping a close eye on."
Whatever his future in bleu, it has been some journey for Modeste, but the man once considered a flop continues to work his way to the top.
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