They were on different continents on Thursday, but Valentin Gnahoua and Asnnel Robo enjoyed an important moment for tackle football in France.
Gnahoua, a 24-year-old defensive lineman from Le Mans, was chosen first in Thursday’s first-ever CFL European player draft by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Robo, a 25-year-old running back from Cayenne, in French Guiana, went third to the Montreal Alouettes.
Gnahoua spent the last two years playing for the Berlin Rebels of the German Football League, after spending the 2016 season with the McGill Redmen in Montreal. Robo has spent the last four years in Montreal, playing for the Carabins. He was the team’s top running back in 2018, with 56 carries for 488 yards and four touchdowns. Gnahoua had a combined 47 tackles and nine sacks in 13 games over two years with the Rebels in the GFL.
Four of the nine players taken in Thursday’s draft are from France. Three German-born players were taken, as well as one Italian and one Finnish player.
“I think it’s pretty exciting for French players because from now on they have a goal to aim for,” Robo said.
Added Gnahoua: “It’s going to help for the other French players.”
The roles that the nine players chosen on Thursday will play with their new teams are still to be determined, both in terms of on the field and within a roster, as part of what the new collective bargaining agreement. The draft’s impact on its partner nations has the potential to be very interesting as CFL 2.0 moves forward.
“They can see in France we have some good players and we can be an example for them, I believe,” Robo said. “They can think of playing professional football whether it’s in Germany (or other places in) Europe. Now they can play for the CFL, which is the second-best league in the world.”
Thursday capped what’s been a hectic month or so for the European players involved in the draft. They found out they’d be participating in the combine about 2-3 weeks prior to the event and they learned about the European draft about 10 days after the combine. For Gnahoua and Robo, it’s a welcome disruption to their normal schedules. Gnahoua would be starting his third season with the Rebels in the coming month and Robo would be heading into his fifth and final season of U SPORTS eligibility in the fall.
”To be ranked as the best European players, it just shows that in France we have some great talents and we can do great things.”
“We know there’s a new CBA coming in, we don’t know how our spot is going to be defined, but it’s great news and an amazing opportunity for us,” Robo said.
”To be ranked as the best European players, it just shows that in France we have some great talents and we can do great things. The GMs and coaches in the CFL noticed that and we can’t wait for the training camps to prove what we can do.”
They’ll both take the next few weeks to study up on their new teams, how they operate and how they can best help them. Like many new players to the CFL, they’re focused on special teams as an entry point and seeing where that can take them.
“I’m ready to compete and to help the team in any way that I can help, whether it’s special teams or offence,” Robo said. “I don’t know a lot about the team and I don’t know a lot of the players. I know (Als d-lineman) Jean-Samuel Blanc was a Carabin and I’m pretty excited for this new challenge.”
“I don’t know a lot about Hamilton,” Gnahoua said. “I can’t wait to get there and start working with the staff. I still have a long way to go but I’m ready for the challenge.”
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