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M'Baye Niang discusses his reasons for joining Watford, maturity and why he's nothing like Mario Balotelli

Colney Chat | M'Baye Niang

by Kevin Affleck

  
    

Nearly 34 years ago Watford were powerless to prevent AC Milan from poaching Luther Blissett, their top marksman.

The offer of £1m was just too good to turn down. How times have changed. These days the Hornets are able to persuade the Italian giants to do business over one of their coveted young players. 

M'Baye Niang, who is not 23 until December, may have fallen slightly down the pecking order at the San Siro but it's worth remembering this is a player who Milan pulled out all the stops to sign in 2012.

"I was on trial at Everton from Caen," recalls Niang. "I also did one test with Arsenal but then Adriano Galliani [the Milan vice-president] came over on a private jet and took me to Milan. It made me feel very special and that's what made my decision. If not I would have signed with Everton."

The Toffees were back in for him again last month. "I had other offers, from Everton and West Ham," said Niang, "but they did not get to the same level as Watford in terms of how much they wanted me."

Watford also had an ace up their sleeve in their head coach. "It was mainly the manager [Walter Mazzarri] who got me here," says Niang. "He was very determined to have me here and it was because of him that I made the decision to come."

Niang scores on his home debut against Burnley

And aren't Watford glad he did. "I am very pleased," said technical director Filippo Giraldi.

"He's potentially a player that can play in the top teams in England and in Europe. He needs to grow, he needs to develop and he needs to be consistent but he has all the potential. It's up to him to work hard during the week and behave in the right way."

Behaving in the right way is probably the key. You only had to watch Niang against Burnley to know he has bags of potential. It's harnessing that talent and extracting every last drop out of it that remains the great challenge for players of Niang's ilk.

To that end, he admits jumping off the balcony of an apartment into a swimming pool was probably not the best idea when recovering from an ankle injury he sustained in a road traffic accident. He puts it down to the callowness of youth.

"I was on holiday and I was with my friends and we were having fun," he said. "It was a mistake and I won't do it again. I was coming back from a bad injury and it was not the best thing to do. I know that now."

You get the sense the penny has dropped and that he's not about to follow in the footsteps of another enfant terrible who has played for Milan.

"It's not fair and not true to compare me with Balotelli," he says. "I am the way I am. I know the things I've done and the wrong things I've done but there is only one Mario Balotelli. I am myself. It's all in the past now."

Settling down with Emilie Fiorelli, his fiancee, has seen him turn a corner. "She helps me a lot," says Niang. "I've never had any problems since she has been with me. She speaks to me a lot."

He's also found common ground with Abdoulaye Doucoure. They were born in the same place in Northern France two years apart. "It's good to have Doucoure here as he speaks French and this helps me a lot," said Niang. "I grew up in the same place as Doucoure but we did not know each other back then. We both grew up playing on the streets and because of playing street football, when I go to the pitch I only think about having fun."

It was on the streets where he was spotted by a scout from Paris Saint-Germain. He ended up at Caen and such was his obvious potential, he was offered a professional contract at the age of 16. A hat-trick in a trial game sealed the deal.

"One was a header, one was a shot from outside the box and the other one was from a cross," he recalls on the treble that changed the course of his life.

Niang made his debut for Caen in Ligue 1 at just 16-years-old

He made his debut for Caen Under-19s at the age of 14; became the first-team's youngest ever player at the age of 16 and 114 days and is the second-youngest scorer of a goal in Ligue 1.

He's also the second-youngest goalscorer in Milan's history at 17 and 350 days. He also took just 15 minutes to score on his debut for the France Under-21 team. He's already a player of some pedigree.

The Hornets are able to take advantage of a first-refusal on Niang at the end of the season, which, by the sounds of it, would suit him down to the ground. 

"This is a club that is very organised and I'm enjoying it very much," he said. 

    
  

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