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Sports Features of Friday, 1 February 2019


French revolution: Baba Rahman returns to France for inspiration

Now, I do admit to arguing on this very platform — only days ago, in fact — that Ghana defender Baba Rahman’s interests would be better served if loaned by English giant Chelsea to a Premier League rival, albeit one of a smaller profile, rather than shipped off to some relatively obscure destination overseas.

And while that opinion remains valid — as far as I’m concerned, at least — the club Rahman and Chelsea ultimately settled on, France’s Stade de Reims, almost seems just as good an option, though for different reasons. Reims aren’t the biggest club in the world (they just returned to Ligue 1 after another lengthy spell in lower tier football) but, traditionally, the French game boasts few clubs of greater pedigree in a sense that dwarfs even the mighty Paris Saint-Germain.

Reims, in fact, may just have been the PSG of the fifties, winning multiple top-flight titles in that period, but it’s their success in Europe at the time that’s most memorable. Reims contested the first and fourth European Cup finals against Real Madrid, and although the club lost both, those feats still make it one of only four from France to play in the continent’s biggest fixture — and just one of two, along with Olympique Marseille, to do so twice.

These days, Reims ain’t such a big deal. No longer relevant in Europe, they’ve also been overtaken by several clubs on the domestic front. Even so, Reims are currently ninth on the Ligue 1 table — not bad for a club that’s been out of the championship for the last two seasons. Also appealing to Rahman is the fact that Ghislain Konan, his African compatriot and Reims’ first-choice left-back, is sidelined by injury for a considerable while, meaning the former would face little competition for a starting berth till the season’s end. Even better, the lack of a clause permitting Reims to tie Rahman down for the long-term after his temporary stay expires also suggests there’s probably some life left in his Chelsea career.

For Rahman, though, Reims isn’t the big attraction; the French game itself is.

“The French championship? It’s fast game, a bit physical also with quality players,” the 24-year-old said after the loan deal was sealed, adding that he “cannot wait to discover this new competition.”

Rahman does have fond memories of playing in France, even a foretaste of sorts. His biggest highlight for Chelsea — and there haven’t been many — came at PSG’s Parc des Princes in the Uefa Champions League. It was an evening, in February 2016, that Rahman took in so well — despite his team losing — that he was described in one review as “a class full back.”

England may hold the brightest prospects for Rahman, but if there is any inspiration to be found in breathing life anew into his comatose career, it awaits across the English Channel, in the very land where he enjoyed his finest hour in a Chelsea shirt. Reims have already been to PSG in the league, but it’s against the seven-time champions that the campaign would be wrapped up come May.

When Rahman packs his bags and jets off back to London after that game, the former Augsburg star should have more to smile about than he’s had in the last two years, with an even better future to look forward to.