The start of the Ligue 1 season has not quite gone to script, with expected runaway champions Paris Saint-Germain currently five points off the pace set by Marseille nine games into the campaign. With Willy Sagnol's Bordeaux also sneaking in ahead of the Parisien side, the season ahead is beautifully poised at this early stage.
What is highly impressive about the French top flight is its ability to constantly replenish itself with talents as more established names move on and this year is no different. Even at this early stage, there are a group of new names emerging that are relatively fresh on the radar. Standouts would include Corentin Tolisso, Nabil Fekir and Clinton N'Jie at Lyon, Abdoulaye Doucoure at Rennes and Bordeaux's Thomas Toure being among the most interesting. It is a teammate of Toure's, though, who is grabbing the early headlines.
Uruguayan Diego Rolan has long been regarded as an interesting talent among South American circles, having been a star for his country at youth team levels. A quick striker with an eye for goal, Rolan was a standout performer at the 2013 South American Youth Championships, earning himself his move to the Southwest of France. His career in Europe has developed slowly over the intervening period, but it now appears as if the 21-year-old is ready to make his mark on the game at senior level.
Already two thirds of his way to last season's total of 12 starts, the former Defensor Sporting player has taken an unexpected turn. Rather than pursue a role as a central striker, where he had been struggling to adapt to his new surrounds, Rolan has carved out an interesting role for himself as a wide forward, playing from the right flank. Sagnol, a former full-back of some repute, has Bordeaux playing with real width to their game this season and it is an approach that is already getting the best out of his young South American star.
Rolan's job is to provide the side with balance. With Brazilian wing-back Mariano overlapping, along with Diego Contento on the other flank, Rolan can push infield and support striker Cheikh Diabate. Cutting in from wide positions, he has bagged four goals so far this season showing excellent judgement when it comes to the timing of his runs into the area. His striking instincts remain strong.
What has been more of a surprise, though, is how well he has adapted to the defensive demands of his wide role. Rolan has shown a responsible side with regards to tracking his full-back and fitting into Sagnol's rigid defensive structure. While the side are given freedom in attack, they quickly drop into two banks of four when without the ball, presenting a difficult challenge for opponents as they seek to break Bordeaux down. Rolan has shown no qualms about doing the dirty work his manager requires.
On the ball his strengths are clear. Composed in front of goal, a good dribbler and an intelligent mover off the ball, he has the skills to be a goalscorer at high levels of the game. Rolan is now a feature in the Uruguay squad, setting up teammate Luis Suarez for his opening goal in his country's victory over Oman on Monday night. Rolan, former teammate Giorgian de Arrascaeta and Atletico Madrid centre-back Jose Gimenez are leading the way for a new generation of talents in the country.
Strength is perhaps the side of his game in most need of work if he is to truly excel from a wide berth. For the moment, he does not possess the required physical ability to return to a striking role and is better continuing his development from wide areas. He must, though, continue to work on his decision making regarding his final ball if he is to ever truly excel. He has to become a creator as well as a finisher.
Rolan may never reach that level, but there are signs this campaign that he is beginning to come good on his potential. After initial issues with injury and homesickness in France, he is now taking responsibility at Bordeaux in the manner of a true star. It is only a start, though, and many players have offered similar hope that can be regarded as false dawns with the virtue of hindsight. With Rolan, though, there is good reason to be excited at his potential.