8 October ~ Jan Koller joining Cannes was one of France's most surprising stories of the last January transfer window. The club have fallen a long way since their 1990s heyday, when they twice qualified for the UEFA Cup in an era when the competition still mattered. Cannes fans were delighted the Czech Republic national team's all-time leading goalscorer had chosen to pursue his career at their club in France's third division, known as National. Yet there were some questions about the striker's attitude, because he made it clear he had moved purely for family reasons.
In 2006, when Koller joined Monaco, his wife and two children moved with him. They stayed in the principality when he left for Nuremburg in January 2008, and remained there when he switched to Russian side FC Krylia Sovetov as well. As his time in eastern Europe neared its end, Koller publicly invited French Riviera clubs to sign him because he wanted to return to his family home. When Cannes offered him an 18-month deal, he snapped it up even though they were playing at a much lower level than he was used to. "He had offers from Germany and China, but favoured a happy family life," said his agent, Pavel Paska.
Koller scored four times in 15 games in the final five months of 2009-10. Things have really taken off since the summer – he netted seven times in six pre-season games and is top of the National goal charts after scoring eight times in his first ten league games of 2010-11. Nobody doubts his attitude any more. Cannes lead the table going into tonight's home league match against fifth-placed Beauvais, but club president Ziad Fakhri refuses to talk about promotion. Coach Albert Emon, last-but-one manager of Marseille, is smitten with his big striker: "He works hard, keeps things simple and still has good technique. And, most importantly of all, he's committed to the club."
In pre-season, the 37-year-old Koller's commitment shone through. Emon organised two training sessions a day. At lunchtime, staff found Koller curled up asleep on a sofa. The club hired the player a city centre studio flat for a month. Koller appears to be loving every minute of this unlikely and possibly final chapter of his career. "An hour or so on the motorway from Monaco to La Bocca [where Cannes train] every morning is nothing. I'm enjoying myself. That's exactly what I was looking for when I joined the club." Cannes' historic roll call of foreign stars includes Rudi Krol, Alen Boksic and Gerald Vanenburg. Should his goals help the club regain their Ligue 2 status for the first time in a decade, Koller will eclipse them all. James Eastham