Oostende's Franck Berrier producing magic in the Belgian Pro League
His name is Franck, he used to play in the lower divisions in France until his early 20s, he is rather short and stockily built, possesses a great right foot and specialises in providing assists ... but he is not Franck Ribery, even though he was dubbed Ribery of Gaverbeek for quite a while.
He used to play for Cannes, he has always dreamt of starring for Marseille, he is balding, always serious on the pitch, never really smiles and is the ultimate playmaker with a killer pass ... but we are not talking about Zinedine Zidane.
Meet Franck Berrier, the 31-year-old Frenchman who might not be known outside of Belgium and never really fulfilled his aspirations but still deserves recognition for his remarkable talents.
Look at the Pro League table, and you will find the unfashionable name of Oostende at the top, with 19 points from eight games, and a prolific attack that has scored 17 goals. The team from the coast have spent most of their years in the second division, never winning anything, but this term they are not only successful, but also quite exciting, playing bold attacking football against any opponents and thrashing Anderlecht 3-1 a month ago.
Berrier was the brightest star in that triumph, supplying two majestic balls for Knowledge Musona and Zoro Cyriac to score, and his form has remained outstanding ever since. The Frenchman tops the charts in Belgium with five assists, and Oostende's colourful owner Marc Coucke is delighted: "Franck Berrier strengthens his position as the assist king, the Golden Panda!" he tweeted after the 5-1 win at Waasland Beveren, creating a nickname that will surely catch on among the Oostende faithful.
Franck Berrier versterkt zijn positie als assistenkoning, de Gouden Panda! #wbekvo- Marc Coucke (@CouckeMarc) September 12, 2015
Coucke has every right to be jubilant, because Berrier became the first major signing after he acquired the club in the summer of 2013. It was a remarkable coup, because the Frenchman performed brilliantly in the previous season, scoring career high 14 goals and almost taking the small Zulte Waregem outfit to the title.
They went tantalisingly close, needing to beat leaders Anderlecht in the last game and taking the lead, but it wasn't to be. The 1-1 draw was traumatic, but Zulte Waregem actually lost their best chance of finishing at the top in the 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Genk a couple of weeks earlier, and that game was dramatic in every sense, leading to Berrier's departure from the club.
The midfielder has never got on with the Senegalese striker Mbaye Leye, and the personal rivalry between the two was at its most fierce during the Genk fiasco when Leye missed the penalty that Berrier was supposed to take.
The Frenchman said something to his teammate and the Senegalese responded by slapping him in the face. From then, it was evident that they simply couldn't continue to work together. Leye apologised for his improper actions, but at the same time claimed: "It's either me or him next season."
Quite surprisingly, Zulte Waregem decided to keep the striker, and Berrier was loaned out to Oostende, eventually leaving the club for good in 2014.
"We had a problem with each other," Berrier confirmed two years ago in an interview with Sport.be.
At the time, it seemed like the playmaker lost out, and it wasn't the first time in his career that his dreams were shattered.
It is fascinating to go back and take a look at Berrier's words in 2006. He was 22 years old, but only played for third division Beauvais.
"I am aiming high. Last season Mathieu Valbuena played in the third division for Libourne, and now he stars for Marseille. If he can do it, why can't I?" he asked in an interview with Le Parisien. Berrier then promised that he will reach his ambitious target within three years.
And yet, he remained totally anonymous in his homeland. After scoring 12 goals for lowly Cannes who were nearly relegated to fourth division, Berrier abandoned his Marseille dream and crossed the border to Belgium where he found his new home at Zulte Waregem. Under coach Francky Dury, the playmaker flourished and provided 16 assists in his debut season in 2008-09 -- the second best tally in top European leagues behind the brilliant Zvjezdan Misimovic who starred for Wolfsburg's Bundesliga-winning team.
That's when the Ribery of Gaverbeek nickname was invented. The impression was such that Standard Liege signed the Frenchman in the summer of 2010, even though he ruptured knee ligaments when playing against Standard three months previously. The move turned out to be disastrous for all involved, though, as Berrier didn't get enough opportunities to prove himself after the long rehabilitation process, and eventually went back to Zulte Waregem in January 2012.
The comeback was fast and impressive. Berrier was one of the best players in the league in 2012-13, but his progress was stopped once again by the Leye feud, and moving to newly promoted Oostende appeared to be a step down. In fact, the last two seasons proved to be rather disappointing.
Coach Frederik Vanderbiest was initially delighted to sign the Frenchman, but was frequently disappointed with his contribution, and last season rumours circulated that some players were unhappy with his attitude in the dressing room, especially after he went straight to the team bus after being substituted in the defeat at Gent in January.
At times, it looked like Berrier's spell at Oostende was nearing its end, and it was questioned whether he could find a better option to continue his career in such a case.
That would have been a very sour finale for such a talented player, and fortunately everything changed completely in the summer. Yves Vanderhaeghe, formerly a hard working defensive midfielder for the national team, replaced Vanderbiest on the Oostende bench, and gave Berrier the freedom to create at will in midfield following the unfortunate injury to Michiel Jonckheere in the beginning of August.
The Frenchman responded with sensational performances that reminded of his best days at Zulte Waregem, and the ambitious project at Oostende suddenly looks like being ahead of schedule -- Coucke wants the team to become title contenders within five years.
Berrier might not be the most consistent player, and he is not the luckiest player either. He is not charismatic too, keeping a serious face even after scoring or providing a superb assist.
"You shouldn't laugh at work, you must keep your concentration," he recently told Het Laatste Nieuws. And yet, when he is on fire, you can easily see why he wanted to emulate the likes of Ribery and Valbuena.
It is a bit sad that only the Belgian fans have ever witnessed his stunning through-balls, and the prospect of seeing the likable Oostende in Europa League next season is very appealing if Berrier can keep up his current form.
Such a scenario will make the eccentric Coucke very happy, and one can almost hear him screaming: "Come on, you Golden Panda!"
Michael Yokhin is ESPN FC's European football writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Yokhin