This is taken from the GFFN 100, our leading 150-page FREE publication ranking the best 100 players in France, see the full list and read every profile right here.
‘Presidential candidate’ was not the title Rennes midfielder Benjamin Bourigeaud was aiming for last season.
However, amid a career-best campaign, the 28-year-old’s form was such that Rennes fans with a sense of humour added Bourigeaud’s name to their blot papers during France’s presidential election in April. One even added a poster to Twitter that implored: “Vote Bourigeaud.” Bourigeaud may have been pipped by Emmanuel Macron in the end, but his year has been victory-filled nonetheless.
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Thanks to shrewd business from sporting director Florian Maurice and the flowing football engineered by coach Bruno Genesio, Rennes have brought more joy to Ligue 1 than any other team in 2022 but Rennes’ countless flowing team goals have arguably been surpassed by Bourigeaud’s form as the headline.
The 28-year-old Frenchman has long been a consistent, skilful creator but his vision, astute movement and interplay have been set free by Genesio’s freewheeling style, as well as the fresh influx of imagination alongside him.
Finishing the season in double figures for league goals and assists (12 assists, 11 assists) the swaggering Bourigeaud’s effect on Genesio’s team has increased exponentially this year. Although aided by the intelligence and versatility of Rennes’ forward line, no one in Ligue 1 is as deadly from crosses or set pieces. The flat, whipped nature of Bourigeaud’s deliveries is strikingly reminiscent of a young David Beckham’s.
Considering Martin Terrier’s prolific year, the low-key excellence of Flavien Tait and some irresistible performances from Lovro Majer, it’s no minor compliment to say Bourigeaud is now Rennes most important player, which Genesio clearly recognises, making Bourigeaud the sole un-droppable man, playing 48 games last season across all competitions. His only absence, a Coupe de France tie in January was due to illness.
Aside from Kylian Mbappé, no one produced a more effective, more consistent, or imposing individual campaign in France last term, only Lionel Messi and Mbappé managed more Ligue 1 assists and just Mbappé and Dimitri Payet provided more short-creating actions. Most impressively, Bourigeaud’s 21/22 expected assists tally of 13.2 was the highest across Europe’s top five leagues.
According to FBRef, in France, he also finished with the fifth most progressive passes, the third most crosses, the most successful crosses and the second most passes into the area. A record of 121 key passes was the most impressive tally, however, being by far the most in Ligue 1. Marseille’s Dimitri Payet was second with 101, while Jonathan Clauss’ 76 made the Lens wing-back a distant third.
With just a year on his current contract come last summer, potential suitors sensed an opportunity with Real Betis, Roma and especially Lazio interested in the player but, despite it seemingly likely he would leave, Bourigeaud was eventually convinced to stay, signing a new deal until 2026. France coach Didier Deschamps also seems to covet the midfielder, despite not yet calling him up, Deschamps pre-selecting both Bourigeaud and Rennes teammate Martin Terrier for his France squad ahead of four June Nations League games.
After a slow start to the new season for both player and club, an upturn in results has been mirrored by Bourigeaud’s improving performances since the summer. Over 21 Ligue 1 Europa League games so far, the 28-year-old has contributed seven assists and two goals. His 2022 total of 27 club goal contributions puts the Rennes midfielder equal seventh among Frenchman playing in Europe’s top five leagues, level with Bayer Leverkusen’s Moussa Diaby and Olivier Giroud of AC Milan. That tally is stronger than Moussa Dembélé (26), Ousmane Dembélé (25) and Antoine Griezmann (16), despite playing a similar number of games.
Few have matched his unerring consistency and level of influence on any one team across Europe in 2022. Bourigeaud may not be president of France, but he does end the year as the undisputed King of Roazhon Park.
Adam White | GFFN