STADE DE REIMS are a fallen French giant, who even appeared in the first-ever European Cup final, edged 4-3 by Real Madrid.
They have had more downs than ups since then but currently sit fifth in Ligue 1 and are well-placed for a return to Europe.
One of the main factors in this season’s success is 22-year-old defender and Arsenal target Axel Disasi.
A relatively late developer by modern standards, Disasi fell through the net of various scouts and only joined the academy of Paris FC, one of PSG’s smaller neighbours, at 16.
He impressed enough in three Ligue 2 matches to be spotted by upwardly-mobile Reims, and, in 2017/18, played a bit-part role, making 11 starts, as the club were promoted back to the top flight.
Last season Disasi was not considered ready for Ligue 1, only making his first start, at the age of 21, in the last match of the season – and duly helping his team to a 3-1 win over champions PSG.
As Björn Engels left for Aston Villa, Reims decided to entrust the right-sided centre-back berth to Disasi as this season began.
And, in the image of his club, Axel has quietly exceeded expectations in helping his team join the fight for Europe.
Starting all but one of Reims’ matches this season, Disasi has been an essential component in what is the stingiest defence in Ligue 1, helping the club notch 11 clean sheets and conceding only 21 goals all term.
Reims’ stand-out result was another victory against PSG – this time away at the Parc des Princes – Disasi’s man-of-the-match performance in the 2-0 win earning an eight out of 10 rating from the notoriously-harsh markers in L’Equipe.
Tall and strong, Disasi – who has represented France’s U20s at the Toulon tournament, but has also attracted the attention of the Congolese selectors – is the perfect build for a modern defender.
Unsurprisingly he is dominant in the air and excellent at using his body to shield the ball and muscle opponents off it.
He is very strong in the tackle but rarely flies in wildly – only three bookings in his first top-flight season a testament to his control.
His temperament and concentration have also been impressive for one so young and inexperienced, seemingly unfazed by each challenge that he encounters and continuing to play with his usual sang-froid.
It is hard fully to gauge Disasi’s ability on the ball as Reims are so defensively-minded this season.
His task is to sit back and protect his area and he rarely ventures past the halfway line.
This willingness to sit back could make him a good foil for a fellow centre-back given more freedom to push forward.
However, he is confident enough to step up to win the ball back from opponents early and he is sufficiently comfortable with the ball to distribute it to teammates rather than just hoof it, generally going for a short pass but with a good rate of accuracy when he attempts a longer ball.
It remains to be seen just how capable he would be, given more freedom to roam.
There are of course some areas to be worked on and question marks to be raised.
Disasi has just one goal this season and, bearing in mind his aerial prowess, this is an area that needs to be worked on, as he could become a real threat on set pieces.
In terms of where Disasi would fit into as Arsenal team, he has only ever played on the right side, even filling in at right-back.
Brighter prospect William Saliba would be more likely to start in that position – unless Mikel Arteta is thinking of playing with a back three, with Saliba in the centre.
Disasi has also benefited from being part of an excellent defensive set-up this season.
His more experienced partner in the centre, Younes Abdelhamid, has been a superb leader and guiding force.
And Pedrag Rajkovic behind him has been comfortably the best goalkeeper in Ligue 1.
It remains to be seen whether Disasi can maintain his high standards as part of an Arsenal defence that has been quite dysfunctional at times.
While these may be valid concerns, Disasi would still be a great acquisition for Arsenal.
His contract expires in June 2021 with no headway made in contract extension discussions.
Reims remain a selling club and, with Arsenal already having made enquiries in January, they will surely look to cash in, rather than run the risk of his contract running down.
At a mooted price of £13million – which could be bartered down in the current volatile climate – Disasi is definitely worth a punt and could prove a bargain buy.