By Christian Châtelet
Having scored a seven-minute hat-trick in a 4-0 win against FC Girondins de Bordeaux to help UEFA Cup contenders FC Sochaux-Montbéliard end a two-and-a-half month spell without a domestic home win, it is easy to see why 17-year-old striker Jérémy Menez is regarded as a phenomenon in France.
Supporters at the Bonal stadium were presented with a goalscoring flurry on Saturday as Menez became the youngest player to score a Ligue 1 hat-trick, beating Bordeaux's former French international goalkeeper Ulrich Ramé with a left-foot shot, a right-foot shot and a glorious chip.
It was not the young man from the Paris suburbs' first record. He became the youngest player to sign a professional contract with a French club when he signed a three-year deal with Sochaux at the age of 16 years, ten months and 15 days. It may not be his last record either if he can fulfil his promise.
Last season, word of Menez's skills had reached as far as England, as Manchester United FC manager Sir Alex Ferguson invited the teenager over to Old Trafford and even came to meet his parents in France in an attempt to lure him to the north of England.
However, to Sochaux's delight, Menez decided to stick with the club who first spotted his talents. "When I learnt Alex Ferguson was interested in me, it was great," he said. "I visited their stadium and the training ground, but in the end I preferred to stay at the academy who first put faith in me."
Aside from having abandoned his studies to be an accountant and having left the safety of the Sochaux academy to rent a flat with his older brother, Menez seems a typical teenager - slightly taller than average, maybe, but typically fond of his PlayStation.
"He's a shy boy who prefers to laugh at others' jokes than his," said coach Philippe Bergeroo who won the UEFA European Under-17 Championship last May for France with Menez in his side. "But once on the pitch he has just one thing in mind - score, score and score again."
Certainly, his natural shyness got the better of him after the Bordeaux game. "I'm not exactly a striker," he said after scoring his hat-trick. "I was a bit lucky." His coach Guy Lacombe was clearly jealous: "Three goals in a game at 17," he sighed. "I had to wait until I was 28 to score once."
However, Lacombe - who nurtured the talents of Zinedine Zidane, Patrick Vieira and Johan Micoud at AS Cannes - was in no doubt of Menez's class, saying: "Menez is a good thing for Sochaux and French football." Bergeroo added: "Another positive point is that he is a team player and can defend too."
Sensibly, Lacombe has been easing Menez into league and European football cautiously, which might explain why he had scored just one goal before Saturday, in a 3-1 win at AS Monaco FC on 19 November.
Nonetheless, his goalscoring feats will not have been lost on the French public who, having watched the national team lose their World and European crowns in recent years, hope that Menez's generation - including Olympique de Marseille playmaker Samir Nasri and Olympique Lyonnais striker Hatem Ben Arfa - may yet emulate the golden boys of 1998 and 2000.
"France need not worry about the future," said Bergeroo. Olympiacos CFP, Sochaux's next UEFA Cup opponents, may feel differently.
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