U.S. defender Matt Miazga hoping Nantes, Ligue 1 can boost his career

Matt Miazga labels himself as "obsessed" -- obsessed with soccer, obsessed with honing his craft and obsessed with climbing the European soccer ladder. His obsession helped him thrive in the Eredivisie, and it's also what drove him to make the move to Ligue 1 this summer.

Miazga joined Nantes on a season-long loan from Chelsea in August, and did so with the aim to prove himself at a higher level after flourishing on loan with Vitesse in the Netherlands over the past two years. The promising 23-year-old U.S. international had other options on the table, primarily from clubs in England and France, but ultimately chose Nantes because he was convinced it was the best fit for the next chapter of his career.

"When I spoke with the management at Nantes -- I spoke with the manager, the president, the directors -- I had a really good feeling about the project that they had here," Miazga told ESPN FC in his first interview since signing for the French club. "It was a new manager who's in his first season here at Nantes as well, and I spoke with them at length about their plans for the season and why they want me and why I fit in there, and I had a good feeling about it and I made a decision."

It was not just Miazga's conversations with Nantes brass that helped persuade him the club was the right choice. He also spoke with U.S. teammate Alejandro Bedoya, who played for the Canaries from 2013-16.

"I spoke with him about his time here at Nantes just to get a feel for everything," Miazga said. "He couldn't say enough good things about it, and when you look at Ligue 1, it's a top-five league. France just won the World Cup, so there's going to be a lot of eyes, a lot of people, and a lot more exposure of Ligue 1 around the world now.

"I felt like it's the right step for me to come here and prove myself and show what I'm capable of."

Having moved to France in early August, Miazga is still going through the customary transition and adaptation periods on and off the field. He'd been living in a hotel for the first few weeks after joining the club and only just moved into a place of his own last week. He is also still a month away from taking French lessons Nantes has organized.

Still, he hasn't allowed any of that to get in his way. The 6-foot-4 defender did not play in Nantes' season-opening loss to Monaco at home because he had arrived just two days prior, but has started and gone the distance in the three games since.

"Football is the universal language and when you're on the pitch, your football does the talking," Miazga said. "Settling in has been different because of the language barrier, but all the guys are very helpful as well. I'm always asking questions, they're always telling me the words and all that stuff. A couple guys even speak English and the coaching staff speaks English, so settling in through that is much easier."

Miazga is hoping he can continue to establish himself with Nantes over the coming months and eventually piece together a season similar to the ones he enjoyed in the Netherlands. With Vitesse, Miazga went from a spot starter in his first season to an entrenched fixture in the lineup during the 2017-18 campaign. In total, he played in 72 matches and started 59 across all competitions for Vitesse while helping it win the first KNVB Cup in club history in 2017. He not only developed with the Dutch outfit, but also fell in love and became obsessed with everything that being a consummate professional entailed.

"In Holland the main focus for me was to really focus on my craft," Miazga said. "I wouldn't say I'm a young player because I'm not young anymore. I'm 23 now, but [when he arrived in] Holland I was 21 and being in Holland, being alone, no distractions, it really made me think and made me focus on my craft and just put in the time, put in the effort in my craft and solely my craft because it will just pay so much dividends in the future.

"I was able to do that and really focus day by day on just becoming better, and that really helped me, shaped me to where I'm at now. I felt like I've always had these qualities, but in Holland it really came out of me."

Miazga admittedly aspires to play at some of the biggest clubs in the world, but his year-long loan from Chelsea comes with an option to buy, and thus he could be at Nantes for the foreseeable future. That would be just fine for him, though, because he knows he is still in the process of proving himself in order to climb the European ladder.

"I'm not thinking too far ahead right now. I'm thinking about FC Nantes this season," Miazga said. "I'm really focused on this season. I'm making sure I'm taking this season day by day, week by week, and we'll see what happens in the future.

"If you told me two years ago that I'm going to play in Ligue 1, I wouldn't picture myself there, but I picture myself here now. It's the right step and it's perfect for me."