In his first full senior season, Romain Faivre has captivated in Brest’s fun attacking side. FTF spoke to his youth coach to see just where he grew from.
An object’s speed when surpassing the speed of sound. It conjures images of a rocket launch. Ground shaking power, eye-watering ferocity. One cups their ears to protect the senses.
Didier Jousse however imagines a goal scored by a thirteen year old Romain Faivre. Faivre was only a teenager at the time, but the strike was a memorable, and important one. That, and a second goal by the teenager, won Racing Club de France an international tournament in 2011.
Incidentally the location of that defining moment was Guipavas, a commune in France’s north westerly corner in Brittany. It has been Brest, one of Brittany’s most populous cities, that Faivre has blossomed further.
So much so that Faivre has featured in France’s under 21 squads for both stages of the European Championships. On his current trajectory, it might not be long before he makes his case for the senior set up.
FTF spoke to Faivre’s youth team coach Didier Jousse of Racing Club de France to uncover where the magic lay in a young talent like Faivre.
Romain Faivre was born as part of the 1998 generation of French player. That same crop as Kylian Mbappé, Dayot Upamecano, and Houssem Aouar. These names were attracting the attentions of elite academies from a young age, with Mbappé selected for the national Clairefontaine academy.
Faivre however made his first steps more inauspiciously. He would play his first games as a child with Gennevilloise before joining Racing Club as a nine year old in 2007. It was here that Faivre would be coached by Didier Jousse as part of the under 13 side in 2010/11.
‘Romain was 12 years old when I coached him for that one season. Like many children at that age he was introverted, not very talkative, but I remember a boy with a strong character with his advantages and disadvantages.’ recalls Didier, who has worked at the club since 1986.
Didier also describes Faivre as having a good family environment surrounding him at that age, prioritising education as much as football. These point to a boy with a special talent, yet with the network to support and make the right choices to nurture that talent.
From watching Romain Faivre’s career to date, it is apparent that this remains. For the importance placed in such an environment however, the rare spark of talent is what is remembered about special players. Faivre is no different.
‘Looking back and objectively, however, I am not so surprised by the start of Romain’s career, because combining technical qualities and a strong mentality is a guarantee of success. In Romain burned this little flame which makes it possible to cross the most difficult stages.’
Showing his quality
The young Romain Faivre was showing all the personal and mental attributes to progress. However his technique and talent was already at a level not often seen in twelve year old boys.
‘What immediately struck me about Romain was his excellent technique. A left foot like a hand, if you will. His ability to drive the ball with a technical mastery lacking in others of his age.’
‘He was capable of playing long at a young age, which is quite rare for those of his age. Romain showed overall technical mastery, of control, ball handling, pass quality.’
‘However what marked Romain was his ability to play “heads up”. Giving him a head start in the vision of the game.’
Such testaments to vision and awareness, let alone mastery of the ball, are seldom attributed to twelve year olds. A special array of skills and temperament to create an embryonic star.
That control, and complete dominion over the ball’s direction, is one of the first traits you associate with a twenty two year old Romain Faivre. In a way that is almost exclusive to aesthetic left footed attackers, the Frenchman ties ball to foot in a delightful manner.
Seeing this talent in a pre-teenager, as Didier did ten years ago, would have set the heart racing. It is no wonder his memories are so vivid.
Leaving Racing Club
Faivre’s winning double crowned his time at Racing, and would leave the club three years later. He would depart to Tours aged sixteen, albeit via signing for Le Mans. Le Mans were liquidated just months after signing from Racing, with Faivre instead moving to Tours.
After training with the then Ligue 2 side’s seniors, Faivre struggled to breakthrough and make his senior debut. Making appearances for the reserves, Romain Faivre’s discontent was beginning to rumble. With this came the interest of AS Monaco, who swooped to move Faivre to the gorgeous south-east coast.
This of course was the AS Monaco of Leonardo Jardim, coming off the back of their momentous league title the previous season. That team of Mbappe, Silva, Falcao, Bakayoko, Lemar and Mendy was already in the process of being disbanded. Four of these talents had already left ahead of the 2018/19 season, and so the replacement acts were being called upon.
Monaco’s prestige of recruiting young and smart, and placing faith in such potential, is almost unrivalled in France. For Faivre, not only did this represent a step up to Ligue 1 from the reserves of a Ligue 2 team. It realistically presented a chance to breakthrough into a Champions League, league winning team.
A debut in choppy waters
As Faivre acclimatised to his new surroundings at the polar opposite end of the country to that he had played in, he was once again amongst the youth setup. Leonardo Jardim intermittently brought him into the first team squads, without giving him that prized first appearance.
A dismal campaign would ensue. Jardim was sacked in October, with Thierry Henry hired in his first managerial role. The results did little to improve, with Henry too released later in the season. His replacement? Jardim again, as Monaco crawled over glass to a seventeenth placed finish.
Henry’s tenure was a bizarre one to unfurl. Clearly a job too soon for the young manager, his dedication to promoting youth players was admirable. Benoit Badiashile and Khéphren Thuram were case and point of this policy. Romain Faivre too would make his senior debut under Henry in a 1-0 win over Lorient in the Coupe de la Ligue in late 2018.
Faivre would make three more senior appearances that campaign, including a Ligue 1 debut. However Jardim’s return and Henry’s dismissal meant that these were not added to. Even for the 2019/20 season that followed as AS Monaco once again flailed.
With squad turnover, and managers arriving like London buses, Monaco was no longer the ideal breeding ground for a developing teenager. Four goals and two assists for Monaco B in 2019/20 showed that Faivre was still on track, albeit away from the senior setup.
Relocating back northwards would be the solution to this.
Back to Brittany
There is a cyclical irony to Faivre’s career, and that his major senior breathough would come so close that final he dominated for Didier Jousse’s U-13s.
‘The story is beautiful because a few years later Romain continued his career in Brest, located a few kilometres from Guipavas!’ laughs Didier.
Entering their second consecutive season in Ligue 1, Stade Brestois 29 would offer Romain Faivre the minutes he had been deprived of. Having finished fourteenth in the previous campaign, Brest were desperate for a creative spark. One who could play on the right or left of a midfield four and cut inwards. Faivre was acquired for less than half a million euros that summer.
What has followed has held this fee in a remarkably favourable light.
Brest would in fact finish three places lower in 2020/21, and just once point above the relegation playoff places. In scoring fifty goals however, they entertained and thrilled in attacking measure. In his first full senior campaign, Faivre was integral to this ethos.
Playing as one of the wide midfielders in a 4-4-2, Faivre contributed six goals and five assists. The twenty two year old also featured in thirty six league matches, a number bettered by only two others in the squad. He and Franck Honorat played the wide roles in this system, with the other Frenchman scoring eight and assisting four.
Faivre had played most of his football at central midfield in Monaco, but in these advanced roles he looked a different proposition. Able to execute that vision, technique and creativity identified in him by Didier.
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Brest coach Olivier Dall’Oglio was steadfast in his 4-4-2, only occasionally moving to a 3-4-3 or a 4-4-1-1. Attacking vigour from wide, and supplying central strikers Irvin Cardona and Steve Mounie was the order of service in attack.
License afforded to Faivre and Honorat was liberating for both. Such an approach compromised the defence, with Brest’s 66 conceded goals lower than only three other sides. Their fifty goals however were the tenth highest in Ligue 1. Coming from an xG of 47.5, this was no drastic overperformance neither.
Giving Faivre the ball with the task of carrying it upfield was a major part of their play. Only three other sides dribbled at a higher success rate than Brest’s 62.5%, and whether Faivre played left of right, his proficiency in this area has proved to be among the best in all of France.
Faivre ranked sixth in Ligue 1 for players dribbled past (93) and progressive carries (237) and fourth for progressive carry distance (5900 yards). However the greatest endorsement of Faivre’s dribbling capacity is in his driving into the final third. He topped the Ligue 1 rankings for this metric, completing 121 carries across the campaign. A colossal 36 more than the next highest, and to be heading this list ahead of the likes of Neymar, Mbappe and Jonathan Bamba is mightily impressive.
Faivre’s 150 shot creating actions (SCA) was only bettered by Memphis Depay, in the greatest season of his individual career. 4.67 SCA/90 from Brest’s 19.29 (in itself a very impressive production and only just lower than Lille’s) demonstrates the attacking lynchpin Faivre has become. Be it from his dribbling or creative passing- 63 across the season and ninth highest in Ligue 1- Faivre’s attacking output belied his inexperience.
Impressive defensive work adds to his product. Over three tackles and interceptions per 90 put him in the upper 92nd and 85th respective percentiles across attacking midfielder in Europe. Faivre remains slight at only 152lbs, and his enthusiasm in the press carries this defensive work. It nevertheless marks him as the perfect, versatile attacking midfielder.
A familiar style
Throughout his career and development, Faivre has been heavily compared to Hatem Ben Arfa. The dextrous ball carrying from wide certainly befits this comparison. However the excellent defensive work defer from this similarity, and if anything his left footed tendencies to drift centrally are comparable to Riyad Mahrez.
Only taking 1.90 shots per 90, Faivre’s game can certainly be improved with a greedier thirst for goal. He currently operates with the precision of a scalpel, and so can bypass the chance to shoot in favour of a more cultured angle.
Such culture was evident in arguably his standout goal for the season. Coming in a 3-1 away defeat to Nantes, Romain Faivre stood over a free kick twenty five yards out. Shuffling up with a couple of steps, the ball is curled beautifully into the top right corner. The pace and drift perfect, and the placement exquisite. On corners and free kicks Faivre is an excellent delivery man, another string to the young man’s bow.
The way he drifts from wide, accessing central spaces and triggering a central player to charge ahead, is very Phil Foden-esque. Both possess the same culture in their left feet, and have shown an aptitude to playing both on the left and right. One imagines that both will find their true callings in central attacking midfield.
A left footed aesthetic such as this call to the heart like few quirks in football. The elegance that emanates from Faivre’s certainly make him an attraction, albeit still a raw, unfinished one.
Faivre for France?
The 2020/21 season also saw Faivre make his international debut for the French under 21s. Faivre is said to have rejected the chance to play for Algeria in favour of participating in this generation of extraordinary talents. One can hardly blame for him.
Sylvain Ripoll has watched Faivre in his Monaco years, and called upon him after a matter of months at Brest. His debut in a 5-0 win against Liechtenstein featured a debut goal from a central position.
Faivre was taken to the first phase of the U-21 Euros in spring 2021, and started twice. In a shock 1-0 defeat to Denmark in the opening game, Faivre’s performance of the right wing was the only bright spark. A rather tepid French performance yielded little attacking thrust from central midfield. Yet Faivre frequently came centrally to link play, and slide balls forward for Odsonne Edouard and Amine Gouiri. It was a promising display.
Heading into the second phase of the competition, Romain Faivre once again will feature for Ripoll’s side. They may have finished second in their group in the previous stage, but France remain overwhelming favourites to lift the trophy. Faivre’s versatility and creativity from wide and centrally will no doubt be important if they do.
It is always difficult to roadmap how a French attacker breaks into the senior set up currently. The depth of riches are ludicrous, and the recall of Karim Benzema only furthers this. Right wing is certainly the position of likeliest change however, and Faivre will find himself among the next in line should he continue his rise.
This summer marks ten years since Romain Faivre’s Racing won that international tournament. The match that would stick with Didier Jousse for the next decade. Not only the technique to score as he did, but the control he took of such a pressured stage.
‘We must add to these technical qualities the temperament of Romain, his winning character, his passion for football (always present in training regardless of the conditions), all these elements surely impacted Romain’s success.’
That little flame of character and competitiveness burns bright still. As he skips past yet another flailing left back, or harasses another opposition player, or stands atop a dead ball.
‘As far as I’m concerned it would be pretentious to assert any certainties about such and such a player that I coached when they were between 11 and 13 years old.’
‘What is certain, is that Romain Faivre, like all those who succeeded thereafter already possessed qualities, aptitudes above the average.’
It is important not to race away with Faivre’s potential. He remains at Brest, and will likely need another year or two developing in this environment to assert himself among Europe’s best young players.
Protecting his development is crucial, and to safeguard the fun and freedom with which he dances across the turf. His time will undoubtedly come to move away from Brittany. However, just minutes from where he broke the sound barrier with that special goal, Faivre continues to enchant.
Yesterday and today, Northern France. Tomorrow, Europe?
All stats correct as of 27/05/2021 (via FBRef and Whoscored)
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