The day is Wednesday, May 12, this year.
Kenya international Abiud Chirchir and French Ligue B side Grand Nancy set out on a blind date.
Inevitably or perhaps as has become the norm in the modern world, it was announced online through Grand Nancy’s social media platforms.
Abiud Chirchir signs for the Grand Nancy Volley Ball.
The 24-year-old Kenyan player, from the Olympic Club of Kelibia in Tunisia, will start at Pointe Nancéienne this season!
Leave him a welcome message in the comments. Welcome Abiud!” Nancy announced in a Facebook post.
The post featured three sentences, none of which gave details of Chirchir’s playing ability and justifiably so.
Eric N’Gapeth, Grand Nancy head coach, is the one who approved Chirchir’s signing in May and admits he had scanty knowledge of the player.
“As I told you this summer, he is a player who I did not know. I discovered him in videos when he was playing (for KO Kelibia) against Etoile du Sahel from Sousse. His performance had been very average. The videos of him playing the Kenyan national championship did not give me more information,” N’Gapeth told Nation Sport in an exclusive interview last Sunday.
It was not until August 11 when Chirchir reported for preseason training that player, club and coach met physically for the first time – a whole three months after he had put pen to paper! And eight matches into the new season, it seems N’Gapeth’s gamble is paying off as Chirchir has taken Ligue B by storm.
Since he made his debut against St Quentin on October 9, Chirchir has established himself as a regular and this already looks like a match made in heaven.
His personal tally of 135 points is third best in the league, Nancy have only lost once to leaders Nazaire and are second on the league standings just two points shy of their rivals.
“I am satisfied with Chirchir’s progress which has been real. His physical qualities conform to the very high level. This is what allows him to have high level attacking qualities. He has progressed in this area by hitting the ball as high as possible. It allows him to have better efficiency,” assessed N’Gapeth, a former France international.
Team of the Week appearances
Chirchir has been named in the Ligue B Team of the Week after impressing against AS Illacaise and France Avenir in Rounds Two and Five respectively.
While he scored 23 points in the 3-1 win over AS Illacaise on October 16, he contributed 15 in the 3-0 victory over France Avenir on November 5.
In their latest league match against Rennes last Friday, Chirchir scored a game-high 28 points as Nancy emerged 3-1 winners, earning another Team of the Week appearance for Round Eight. While his conversion rate in attack was an impressive 80 per cent, N’Gapeth notes that there are some grey areas in his game.
“Chirchir is also a courageous player in defence. It still happens that players shorter than him succeed in sneaking balls from him but this occurs less,” said N’Gapeth.
“He is very irregular in the service. He will have to understand that the top players playing at his position on the international level have three strong points. Attack, service and the counter. Regarding the last two points, he needs to work very hard,” he added.
The pair have already forged a father-son relationship off court but N’Gapeth — who has won five Ligue A titles, four French Cups and one European Super Cup as a coach — insists his trusted attacking outlet is far from the finished product.
“He has technical shortcomings on the counter, although he manages from time to time to achieve decisive blocks. The position he plays does not always allow him to organise himself tactically in defence.
“Working in these areas will take a tremendous amount of time. He will absolutely have to progress in these areas of play to succeed at the very high level. Hard work, patience and humility will be key,” advised N’Gapeth, who represented France at the 1998 Seoul Olympics.
N’Gapeth’s sons, Earvin and Swan, have played volleyball at the highest level notably the lucrative Italian SuperLega. Earvin is a two-time FIVB World League Most Valuable Player and led France to gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in September this year.
While his sons got a good foundation from as early as five years old, N’Gapeth believes Chirchir, who only started playing volleyball at 15, can match their standards if he maintains his focus and discipline.
“He has the faults of a player who has not received a good basic training. At a higher level, there are attackers who have exceptional physical qualities, good technique and superior tactical qualities because they started volleyball at a young age and have accumulated much more experience. It’s very hard to catch up…he will only progress if he works very hard on the technical and tactical delay he has compared to high level players,” said N’Gapeth.
Already, love is the air as envisaged in an appreciation post captioned “Air Abiud” and posted on the club’s Facebook page on October 26 where Chirchir is seen in the video flying from the backrow, his feet almost 1.5 metres from the ground, before smashing the ball in full swing at position two.
What started as a blind date is slowly turning into a beautiful love story that could meet expectations on either side. Promotion to Ligue A is certainly the common mission for both parties this season but for Chirchir the ultimate goal is to play beyond France’s top tier.
At 24, he is only getting started and he cannot get a better mentor than the legendary Eric N’Gapeth. “He can make it or he can’t, it all depends on his progress,” N’Gapeth offers another dose of tough love for his priced asset.
The talented Chirchir was born and raised in Sirsiron village in Kabiyet deep in Nandi County. He first made contact with volleyball at Chepnoet Primary School in 2012 at the age of 15. His talent earned him a scholarship at Malava Boys High School and since then he has always stood out in his volleyball career.
After joining record Kenyan champions General Service Unit (GSU) in May 2017 from Rwandese side University of Kibungo (UNIK), Chirchir won three consecutive league titles with the paramilitary outfit.
His performance at the 2019 Kenyan league play-offs, where he was named Most Valuable Player, earned him a move to Tunisian outfit Club Olympique de Kelibia from where he caught the eyes of French Ligue B side Grand Nancy. It was a welcome reprieve for Chirchir whose move to Turkish giants Fenerbahce fell through in 2018.
N’Gapeth wants this volleyball jewel polished into a gleaming diamond.
Date of birth: February 2, 1997
Previous clubs: University of Kibungo (Rwanda), General Service Unit (Kenya), KO Kelibia (Tunisia)
Current club: Grand Nancy (France)
Honours: Three Kenya national league titles with GSU, Finshed fourth with KO Kelibia in 2021 Africa Clubs Championship
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