Mohamed Mohamed casts an eye over Martin Terrier and asks whether his stellar last season is sustainable and translatable
In terms of importance, Stade Rennais’ contribution to French football can mostly be attributed to the quality of the players who have come through their academy. Some of those names include Sylvain Wiltord, Yoann Gourcuff, and more recent graduates like Ousmane Dembélé, and Eduardo Camavinga. Team success has been less easy to come by. Before the past handful of seasons, they had garnered a reputation in France for not coming up clutch in big games.
Things have changed for the better in recent seasons. While the club still pumps out quality youth players, there’s also been a greater focus on finding up and coming talents in the transfer market. The end results have been impressive. Rennes won the Coupe de France in 2018-19, their first domestic trophy. The COVID-shortened 2019-20 season saw them qualify for the Champions League for the first time in their history, and they had another strong 4th place finish in 2021-22.
One of those burgeoning talents acquired was Martin Terrier. Despite having a strong reputation in France, his end results at Strasbourg and Lyon were middling. But the 2021-22 season was a career year for the Lille youth graduate, producing 24 goals and assists in just under 3000 minutes. That level of production has put him on the radar for Premier League sides this summer. Given the jump, one might question whether 2022 was more of a one year blip or Terrier making the leap. This article will attempt to do so, examining different aspects of his games, the pros and cons, and trying to ballpark his offensive value at this stage of his career.
Without the ball, Terrier is constantly trying to find space to help link play. This happens especially often when he’s starting alongside a forward who’s more likely to pin the opposition line. That allows Terrier to focus on orchestrating possession in the left half space. When it works, it can lead to him dragging defenders out of position and opening space for others to exploit near the box. When it doesn’t, he’d have moments of dropping deep and unnecessarily overloading parts of the pitch. Higher up, his motor to get on a defender’s blindside and attempt runs in behind was inconsistent. There would be passages of play where he’d be idle and not prepare himself to gamble. Arguably his best moments are when he curls his runs towards the channels if someone else created decent space for him.
Terrier’s not one who you’d want to constantly isolate on the flanks and create space off the dribble. He doesn’t have the explosive first step needed for that type of role. Rather, he’s more comfortable operating within the half-spaces and using small tricks to get by opponents. He can receive and quickly turn to continue possession. In particular, he’s got a good sense of knowing when to let the ball roll past him just enough to gain the upper hand and have enough strength to either draw a foul or bypass the opponent. He’s got good reflexes to sidestep incoming opponents within the interior once he gains a head of steam.
As a passer, Terrier is more of a mixed bag. In the final third, he can show moments of inventiveness where he leverages his ability to receive cleanly in pockets of space and at least attempt passes into the box for teammates. It’d be the right idea even if the weight of the delivery wasn’t always consistent. The more worrying part is he can look off those passing windows and instead opt to safely recycle possession. Having high-end playmakers like Benjamin Bourigeaud and Lovro Majer as teammates makes this less of an issue, but that’s not always the reality elsewhere. Creating from wide via crosses isn’t something he regularly does either. He did have success with headed lay-offs from the occasional long ball towards his direction if being matched up with a fullback, and he showed similar comfort with passes to his feet.
Shooting is clearly the area where Terrier created most of his value from last season. While producing a solid non-penalty expected goal rate, his finishing allowed him to pile up 19 non-penalty goals in just over 2800 minutes. A lot of the difference between his NPG and NPxG is due to scoring five goals outside the box from a total of 22 shots, an incredible scoring rate of 22.7%. For reference, Lionel Messi is likely the best finisher in the event data era and he’s hovered around 10% over the years. This isn’t to say that Terrier outpacing expected goals was entirely due to luck, though, as he does have a diverse repertoire of shots.
Terrier’s statistical resume is quite good but perhaps not great. His non-penalty goals and assists numbers were very solid on a per 90 basis, ranking in the top 50 among qualified players in the big five leagues last season. That was partly boosted by rather extreme over-performance in finishing, as his expected goal contribution had him closer to top 100 status, still above average, but a few rungs down from the elite. Terrier has shown signs of possibly being a long-term positive finisher from 2017-21, albeit on a relatively small sample size. It’s fair to chalk down at least some of his shooting last season to variance.
Public models that try to estimate total value also solidly rate Terrier. The Davies model, which measures the value of a player’s on-ball actions, had him in the top 25 last season. Hugh Klein’s adjusted plus-minus model placed him in the top 75 in expected points above replacement, in particular getting a lot of defensive credit. Though the plus-minus overstates his defensive worth to a decent degree, both models clearly think this was by far his best season to date.
And TransferLab’s Goal Difference Added model, which measures an expected contribution per 90, puts Terrier 11th for all players in Ligue 1; Bourigeaud and Majer are both in the top ten, too, showing how Rennes’ creative burden is shared among some high quality players.
Looking at expected threat, Terrier appears as a strong ball carrier and decent at progressing play into dangerous areas, which to some extent is confirmed from what was seen on film.
One can see that Terrier has an interesting profile, but perhaps one that is slightly tougher to build around. While he’s not necessarily taking up a ton of possessions, it’s still not an insignificant amount and you’d ideally like to see a higher proportion of opportunities that lead to shots. That aligns with him not gambling enough with trying to run in-behind and his final third passing not quite being at a strong enough level. I’m not sure he has the athleticism needed on the ball to be a top notch inverted winger, and it’s fair to wonder whether his playmaking is dynamic enough at this point to resemble a 9.5 like Karim Benzema or Harry Kane. Perhaps the best solution would be having him in more of a two striker system where the other forward can do the things he isn’t proficient at, but that isn’t a structure you often often see in England.
The 2021-22 season was very productive for Martin Terrier, and it’s not hard to see why multiple Premier League clubs have reported to be interested in him over the summer. He scored a lot of goals for a Rennes side that nearly made the Champions League once again. At age 25, he is right in the heart of his prime and a club trying to sign him should feel good from the standpoint that aging effects shouldn’t be an issue for a few more years.
The key question is just how much of this season was repeatable? While he may be a net-plus finisher, banking on outpacing expected goals to the degree he did last season is setting oneself up for disappointment. His off-ball work at this point leaves a bit to be desired, as well as his chance creation. Perhaps different coaching could help in both departments, which would compensate some for the likely return back to normal finishing and make it easier to envision him as a top striker.
This all goes to show how much context matters when evaluating players, and combining both the data and film gives a clearer picture. Terrier’s output was impressive but the process in which it happened makes for more of a nuanced discussion on his true value. It’s also important to consider the team context, as Rennes looked to dominate teams in their own half. Clubs have to factor in how well players can translate from one environment to another.
There’s enough to suggest that Martin Terrier has become a good player; whether he’s the right guy to spend big on this summer is more debatable.