Even from a neutral perspective, you have to admit that the signing of Vincent Nogueira was one of the more intriguing moves of the Major League Soccer offseason.
Here's an experienced Ligue 1 player, the captain of FC Sochaux, moving across the Atlantic at age 26 to play for the Philadelphia Union.
We didn't get to catch up with Nogueira in January. He flew straight to Florida to join his new teammates and was immediately thrust into the starting XI in a preseason game against New York.
The opportunity to ask about his big move, and the motives behind it, presented itself in the week leading up to the season opener.
“I wanted to leave Europe. I wanted to make a change and discover something different,” said Nogueira, with Union forward Sebastien Le Toux translating. “I played in Europe all of my life. Philadelphia, as a team, was interested in me, and I was interested in coming to the United States and being with a club that had a good plan for the future. The type of player I am, with European experience, I'm not sure there are that many players like that in MLS. I wanted to bring that here, help the league continue to grow, and be a part of MLS.”
Prior to the MLS switch, Nogueira's entire professional career was spent in eastern France.
He was born in Besançon, and played his club football just 50 miles away in Montbéliard.
Rising through the youth ranks, he broke into the first team in 2007 and became a mainstay in the side in 2009. He spent the better part of the last decade with Sochaux.
“The most difficult thing was leaving, not just the team but the family and friends I have over there,” Nogueira said. “Sochaux was the only team I had ever played for. It's a change. It was difficult not just in making the decision to come over here, but also having to say goodbye to everyone I knew over there.”
Nogueira made more than one-hundred appearances for Sochaux, featuring 22 times in the 2011 squad that finished fifth in Ligue 1. A late surge pushed “Les Lionceaux” to 58 points, and they finished above Rennes and Bordeaux to earn a spot in the Europa League. It was Sochaux's best team in years and it featured international players such as Ideye Brown, Modibo Maiga, Marvin Martin, Damien Perquis, and Ryad Boudebouz.
He was briefly a teammate of Charlie Davies, whose Ligue 1 career was cut short by the life-changing car accident that took place ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
And the opposition in France was formidable. Nogueira's senior career started during the tail end of Lyon's dominant title run, as teams like Lille, Marseille, and Paris Saint-Germain began contending for the league crown on a yearly basis.
He comes to Philadelphia having played against the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Eden Hazard, and Olivier Giroud.
“I think they see it as a league that's been growing, year after year,” said Nogueira, of the French perspective on MLS. “It's a league that's growing up, it's getting bigger, there's more money involved, better TV deals. It's probably seen as a more physical league, and maybe there's a little less technical ability than you would see in a European league. They see it as physical, and not as technical, but they also want it to progress and grow and become better and better.”
In an odd stroke of similarity, Nogueira joins Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi as one of two Ligue 1 captains to make Winter moves to MLS. Pierazzi, a defensive midfielder, joined San Jose from AC Ajaccio. Nogueira, a box-to-box midfielder, will make his new home on the opposite coast.
It's extremely rare for Ligue 1 players to move directly to MLS. New York's Peguy Luyindula made the jump from PSG last season. Marcelo Gallardo moved from PSG to D.C. United in 2008. Some players have come from lower French leagues, such as Pascal Bedrossian and Laurent Courtois. But the list of players coming directly to MLS from France is brief.
For Nogueira, it was genuine interest in Philadelphia's setup and the North American experience.
“I don't think there was any specific influence from a move like David Beckham, or Thierry Henry,” Nogueira explained. “People in Europe, there's still this idea that European players are coming to MLS at the end of their careers to get that last contract and sort of help the league along. That's not the case for me. I liked the project in Philadelphia. I like the idea that I can be a part of the league, and hopefully be a good player, and help the team win trophies. That's what made me decide to come here. I also was attracted to life in the United States. Some other European players leave and play in leagues like China and Qatar. I knew a little bit about MLS already and this is where I wanted to come.”
What do you think of the addition of Nogueira? Leave a comment below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org