Bristol City aim to pull off another coup with Han-Noah Massengo contract as Freiburg hover

Han-Noah Massengo has been the subject of transfer interest for at least the last two transfer windowsHan-Noah Massengo has been the subject of transfer interest for at least the last two transfer windows
Han-Noah Massengo has been the subject of transfer interest for at least the last two transfer windows | Getty Images
But Robins may have a big decision to make in the next weeks if things do not go well

“If he keeps the current path and attitude, just turned 18, I haven’t seen many better, to be honest.” Lee Johnson’s assessments of his own players can border on hyperbole, but he may have been right here.

The then Bristol City head coach hailed the signing of Han-Noah Massengo two and a half years ago as an ‘unbelievable coup’ for the South West club, after a fee of around £2.7m was agreed, rising to almost £8m with clauses.

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The France U19s player has never quite cemented himself into Bristol City’s central midfield since, and really made sure that selling Marlon Pack to Severnside rivals Cardiff three days later was business worth doing to recruit the young Monégasque.

But Massengo is still just 20 and improving year on year. He has three years on Cameron Pring and five on Joe Williams. Simply: his best is yet to come.

Nigel Pearson has carefully managed Han-Noah Massengo’s workload given his age. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)Nigel Pearson has carefully managed Han-Noah Massengo’s workload given his age. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
Nigel Pearson has carefully managed Han-Noah Massengo’s workload given his age. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Bristol City are expected to have a quiet January. After several sides in the Championship appeared to be ready to spend, things have calmed.

That’s the view of manager Nigel Pearson, who explained to the media on Thursday that he would like to recruit one player himself in this window.

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But as ever at this point, with just over half the campaign gone, there are plenty of balls to juggle and any of many scenarios could play out before the 31 January transfer deadline.

While Kasey Palmer hopes to move on this window, City must also weigh up transfer interest in the coveted Massengo.

The Frenchman is well documented as being in contract talks with the club and those are likely to be crucial to the outcome.

CEO Richard Gould has previously explained that the hope is to keep the midfielder in BS3.

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“Han-Noah is certainly a player that we would like to keep hold of for the next 10 years,” Gould said last November.

“We are in discussion with a number of players about extending and improving terms. The market is very different and the players, I think, are trying to understand where the market is.

“But I would expect us to be able to extend key players, that’s certainly our aim.” If that fails, a sale now, for a higher fee, makes more sense than a reduced fee closer to the end of his contract, as happened with former winger Niclas Eliasson.

City have a nucleus of good young players at the club, having recruited 23-year-old Rob Atkinson and 22-year-old George Tanner last summer, to add to homegrown talents Ayman Benarous, Sam Bell, Tommy Conway and Ryley Towler, while Alex Scott, Cam Pring and Antoine Semenyo are developing nicely, having joined the Robins after 16 years of age.

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If Massengo can be locked down on a new deal, the West Country outfit could repeat their feat of summer 2019, when they brought in the Monaco wonderkid to much acclaim.

Millwall have become somewhat of a bogey side for City over the last few years. (Photo by Jacques Feeney/Getty Images)Millwall have become somewhat of a bogey side for City over the last few years. (Photo by Jacques Feeney/Getty Images)
Millwall have become somewhat of a bogey side for City over the last few years. (Photo by Jacques Feeney/Getty Images) | Getty Images

After Thierry Henry departed the Ligue 1 side that year and Leonardo Jardim took over, first-team chances in the principality disappeared and Bristol City swooped. Henry was to later watch his former youth player as Bristol City drew at Brentford at Griffin Park later that same year.

But renewing terms with the former Stade Louis II resident will not be easy.

Massengo would have to turn down moves to the top tier. A Premier League offer arose last summer (said to be around £8m), and suitors Freiburg are likely to be in European competition next season too, which would offer further education to a player who has been studying hard with two hours of English classes a day.

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And there are likely to be other clubs in the mix too. Massengo has not been a first-choice for all of this season either, so can he trust that he will get the desired game time going forward?

Under Nigel Pearson, it has been just 12 starts in 25 league games this season so far.

It may not be coincidence that an interview with RMC Sport appeared late last year, with the phrase that last summer, “maybe it was not the right plans or the wrong time” for a transfer, with serious interest again arriving this window.

“If it did not happen, it was because it should not be done. I am very serene with all this because I have confidence in myself and if I work well, things will come of themselves,” said Massengo.

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The industrious midfielder grew up in the north-eastern suburb of Villepinte, near to Charles De Gaulle airport, Paris, and the PSG supporter has spoken previously about the wish to make it one step at a time towards the top of the game. In particular, if his career takes off, then he wishes to play at the World Cup one day.

Indeed, following the 2018 World Cup win for France, Massengo asked himself what it would be like to play in such games.

While Massengo currently lives near his family in Bristol, with five sisters close by, his father Auguste-Bernard, a football coach himself, is Massengo’s chief advisor and will play a key role in negotiations.

Mother, Celine, was asked on social media about a potential transfer this week and explained that she is kept out of things and does not know what will happen next. (Close friend from Monaco Benoit Badiashile, 20, could be another player set for a transfer this January incidentally.)

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Likely, it will revolve around what is deemed to be best for the young talent’s development. “When the time comes, we’ll see what is best for me,” Massengo said recently.

There is a school of thought that Bristol City have released information and pushed out that the club is offering Massengo a new deal to show that they are making the effort to retain the 20-year-old. A sale might then be more palatable for supporters used to seeing the best assets sold on year after year. PR at play.

Those contract negotiations may even come down to the club’s own ambitions, as much as Massengo’s. What do the next few years hold at Ashton Gate? Then there might be other factors too: will money do the talking? Would a release clause sway things?

If chairman Jon Lansdown, Gould and Pearson are able to agree a new deal with the energetic central midfielder, then that would rank as an even bigger coup than snatching him from the continent with the promise of more first-team football in the first place.

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As Massengo has said himself, he is not the same player of two years ago. A first assist was grabbed last weekend, but there is plenty more to his box-to-box game than that. He added 5Kg of muscle in his first year at City alone.

To see Massengo, Scott, Benarous, Atkinson and others develop this year is about as good as it gets for Bristol City fans, who otherwise get to watch an inconsistent team in transition. City are building for a brighter future, but one that that will be tested when the big money offers arrive, with financial pressures a constant factor.

Reaching the top and the big clubs? “I’m not in a hurry, but hey, we shouldn’t delay too much either,” Massengo told Onze Mondial magazine previously.

An answer positioned in the middle. Which is just where many Bristol City supporters wish to see Massengo stationed in their team over the coming seasons.

“I believe he’ll be a top-level player without a question of a doubt,” said Johnson of his French transfer signing back in 2019 too. But will that be sooner or later, and with Bristol City?

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