The Ligue 1 season resumes this weekend after its winter break, with scouts from all over Europe joining French football fans in enjoying the action in a league famous for unearthing exciting young players. UEFA.com picks out five rising stars who impressed in 2011 and could become even bigger names in the new year.
Benjamin Corgnet (midfielder, Dijon FCO)
The 24-year-old slipped the scouting net in his youth but has made up for lost time since helping his side win promotion to the French top flight last season. The Thionville native is a qualified optician and his seven league goals so far this term, including strikes against Olympique de Marseille and Olympique Lyonnais, suggest there is nothing wrong with his eye for goal. Corgnet has forged a formidable partnership with Brice Jovial, who might himself have made this list, flourishing in the free role accorded him by coach Patrice Carteron, who spotted him playing for an amateur side in Lyon.
Frédéric Bulot, (midfielder, SM Caen)
After five uneventful years at AS Monaco FC, the Gabon-born Bulot has found his feet in Normandy under the guidance of coach Franck Dumas, himself a former Monaco player. The 21-year-old, who has played 50 times for France at various youth levels, has earned a regular place in the Caen side, scored three Ligue 1 goals and laid on five more. "I didn't expect to have stats like that this season," he said. This could just be the start.
Alain Traoré (midfielder, AJ Auxerre)
The scorer of seven league goals this term, 23-year-old Traoré has established a good understanding with Kenyan forward Dennis Oliech at Auxerre. As a teenager, he was reportedly on the verge of signing for Manchester United FC, but elected to stay in Burgundy. The Laurent Fournier academy is renowned for bringing on young talent and their star graduate is progressing well, but Auxerre will have to wait until Burkina Faso are out of the Africa Cup of Nations before they can field him again.
Bakary Koné (defender, Olympique Lyonnais)
One of Lyon's three summer signings, Koné was something of an unknown quantity when he arrived from Ligue 2 outfit EA Guingamp for €2m. That modest investment was soon returned in the UEFA Champions League play-offs when his header at FC Rubin Kazan proved decisive. A modest, down-to-earth but determined defender, he is providing healthy competition for Lyon captain Cris, and the 23-year-old added another goal in the league, where he has appeared in 16 of his side's 19 games.
Nicolas N'Koulou (defender, Olympique de Marseille)
Once a team-mate of Bulot in Monaco's reserves, N'Koulou broke into the first team last season, but was unable to prevent his side from relegation in his 30 appearances. The 21-year-old was a surprise €3.5m signing for Marseille in late June, and regularly paired with another Cameroonian centre-back, Stéphane Mbia, the Yaounde-born defender has impressed with his composure and reliability. He is just one of three OM outfield players to have featured in every minute of Marseille's UEFA Champions League campaign.
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