Name: Nicolas Isimat-Mirin
It is a question asked many times across the north of England in recent weeks - just who exactly is this Nicolas Isimat-Mirin fellow? Frequently linked to both Newcastle and Liverpool in the back pages of Britain's tabloids, the 21-year-old Frenchman is far from a household name in European football. However, he may very well be in the near future.
With Valenciennes riding high in sixth place in Ligue 1, it was only natural the club would find their players attracting a certain amount of unwanted attention this January. Les Athéniens are not a club particularly used to life in the upper echelons of the top flight and, already, the transfer talk is gathering pace.
Most of the attention has, indeed, focused on Isimat-Mirin and his centre-back partner Gil. The Brazilian, who is set for a move back to his homeland with world champions Corinthians, has been one of the star defensive performers of the league thus far. Unfortunately, ever since arriving from Cruzeiro in the summer of 2011, Gil has suffered from homesickness and, having been persuaded to stay for an extra season, now has permission to leave the club in January.
Immediately, then, we have a major problem for anybody looking to sign his younger partner in the coming month. Valenciennes may be persuaded by a sizable offer, but the 3-million-pound price that is doing the rounds in the newspapers will surely not be enough for the club to part with a second centre-back in the same transfer window.
So, despite all that, what is it about Isimat-Mirin that is attracting attention? It is well-documented that the youngster has followed the well-trodden path to the top of French football by passing through the famous Clairefontaine academy, before joining the academy of one of Ligue 1's biggest clubs, Rennes.
However, after just two seasons in Brittany, he was released by the club at age 17. It was at this point, in the summer of 2009, that his Valenciennes journey began.
Moving forward three years, the young centre-back has firmly established himself at first-team level. Now in his second campaign as a regular starter, the defender has shown signs of new-found maturity in his game that has no doubt prompted the renewed interest from the Premier League. Gil has been an outstanding guide for the young defender in how to improve, with the Brazilian a fine technical defender and reader of the game.
Isimat-Mirin has shown signs of adding similar qualities to his game. Physicality has never been an issue for the Frenchman - he is solidly built and enjoys the challenge of man-marking an opponent. It has been his judgement which has not always been as good, as demonstrated by his two red cards last campaign. It is easy to forget, though, that he is still just 21. His mentality, though, is often praised and it appears he is learning quickly.
Sometimes when a player is young and enthusiastic, his physical strengths can be a disadvantage - it can translate into clumsiness in the tackle. But Isimat-Mirin appears to be taking this on board. He may not read the game as well as Gil, for the moment, but he is showing signs of improved judgement of when to seize the ball. Aerially, he is fantastic, which will be a plus should he eventually move to the Premier League and, for now, all the signs indicate that England may well be his eventual destination.
His exit should not be pushed through too soon, though. He has enjoyed a fine past 18 months, but he is still learning as a defender. Any transfer that will see him consigned to a bench should, therefore, be avoided at all cost. At his age, there is simply no need to rush and, indeed, one or two more seasons as Valenciennes' leading defender could prove highly beneficial long-term. Gil's impending exit would suggest the club feel the same way.
Isimat-Mirin has proven himself to be one of the best young defenders in Europe. Now, if he hopes to make the next step in his career, he must prove that he is capable of polishing the remaining flaws in his game.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout's Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter -@chris_elastico
Name: Nicolas Isimat-Mirin