NICE, France, Jan 8 – He’s not yet 20 and been farmed out on loan, but William Saliba has no hesitation in declaring himself the new defensive ‘boss’ at Ligue 1 side Nice.
Saliba has been sent back to France by Arsenal after failing to make a first-team appearance since the Gunners paid Saint-Etienne 30 million euros for him in July 2019.
Not that his confidence has been bruised by his failure to make an impression in London.
“Even though I’m young, I come as the boss. I come to lead the defence,” he said on Friday.
The former France Under-20 international, who played for Saint-Etienne on loan last season, was drafted in at Nice when central defender and skipper Dante suffered a serious knee injury.
He made his debut in the midweek 2-0 loss at Brest but his performance was widely praised.
Coach Adrian Ursea believes Saliba will be key as the team, currently in 13th place in the table, look to rebuild their season.
“When you have a young player of his age who arrives at a new club and who exudes this personality in the middle of defence, despite only knowing the guys for one day, I find that very encouraging for the future,” said the Romanian.
“He also gives off a calm air that the team needs. I’m not interested in age. The only question about a rookie is whether he’s a good player or not.
“William will bring us even more along the way in training and matches.”
Saliba insists he does not feel the pressure of having to replace Dante who at 37 is almost twice his age and a Brazilian international.
“I’m replacing a great name but I don’t put more pressure on myself. I am a young player but I can bring something here to the defence,” he said.
“Against Brest, we made two mistakes that we must correct. We will have to communicate more. We are in a bad patch, as all clubs know. We are going to recover.”
Saliba insists his time at the Emirates Stadium has not scarred him despite his lack of playing time in the first team.
“I arrived in London after six months without training due to lockdown just as Arsenal were finishing last season’s championship.
“On resumption, I lacked rhythm. I would have liked to have had my chance but that’s football,” he said.