South Africa striker Lebo Mothiba had the time of his life coming through the ranks in France.

He scored goals for Lille’s development, or reserve, team in the fourth tier.

Then came an early recall from loan at Valenciennes to net five goals which helped keep Lille in the top flight.

Mothiba moved on to Strasbourg, was selected for the Bafana Bafana and is currently on holiday in the south of France.

But he might have an eye on events at the Amex given that two reasons for those memorable times could be on the pitch.

Yves Bissouma and Nicolas Pepe hope to go head to head when Albion host Arsenal.

They were great mates and productive team mates when they were together at Lille.

And Mothiba accepts he might have been the greatest beneficiary of their creative talents.

He told The Argus: “I go way back with Yves. I started to play with him in the reserves and I scored a lot of goals.

“He is a very good midfielder, very skilful and he has confidence.

“Each and every time he is always looking for the ball and, when he has the ball, he makes the difference. He is very skilful and he is very strong.

“I played with Nicolas later, when I was in the first team. Pepe is like a genius. If there is no solution, he is a little bit similar to Yves.

“He has that change of direction and body feint, he is good with this. In fact, he is better at this than Yves.

“But, when it comes to strength, Yves is better. As for technique, both of them are very good.”

Bissouma made his name in France after graduating from a football academy in Bamako, where he played barefoot.

Mothiba said: “We started together in the reserves in the fourth division. It was a long time together.

“I went out on loan and came back and that is when I met Pepe and played with him.

“When I played in the first team with Yves and Nicolas it was something great.

“They are players who, when the team has no solutions, they were the two who could make a plan or score.

“I wasn’t surprised when they got to the Premier League. When I played with them I knew they would go far.

“The way they played, the confidence they had when they were playing - and they have talent and hard work at the same time.

“I knew the time was coming when they would go to play in the Premier League but they never talked about it.

“They were focussed at Lille because it was very difficult for us.

“It was just about getting results and making sure we didn’t get relegated.

“They didn’t talk about going to the Premier League.”

Lille have generally been among the pack of clubs competing for second place behind the heavily bankrolled Paris St Germain in recent years.

The one exception to that was the 2017-18 campaign, Bissouma’s last at the club.

He spoke about never wanting another campaign like that when he arrived at Albion ahead of last season. 

It sounded like it left a few scars but it will have given him valuable, hard-earned experience.

Mothiba said: “When Lille called me back to play with them, they were struggling.

“They were about 18th, 19th and were about to get relegated.

“Lille had a lot of young players and confidence was down.

“But, when I came back with Yves and Nicolas, I saw they could make a lot of chances for you to score. 

“They are always talking to each other. African players can play but Yves and Nicolas had this special relationship.

“They can dribble and there was no game that passed where they don’t create chances.”

Bissouma has shown glimpses of what he can do but Graham Potter is calling for consistency.

Asked whether he could go on to greater things in the Premier League, Mothiba said: “I think so, yes, but now it has been hard because of injuries.

“He needs time. He is still young. Me and him are the same age – (born in) 1996.

“He has the confidence. Just give him the ball and you will see magic.”

Pepe will hope for playing time having remained on the bench during the Gunners’ 3-0 defeat at Manchester City on Wednesday.

He will no doubt have a chat and a laugh when he sees Bissouma at the Amex.

Mothiba said: “Yves Bissouma is a funny guy. He likes making jokes and is always happy. He enjoys life. Nicolas is the same but Yves is funnier because he is always making jokes with people.

“Pepe is one I used to speak to a lot.

“He always wants strikers to hold up the ball for him or lay it back to him.

“He is the kind of player who dribbles, gives you the ball and he wants it back immediately.”

“But I’m also confident in Yves - 100%. He is one of the players who is skilful but has also got strength.

“At times on the field he used to tell the midfield and defence to give him the ball.

“He can take on two or three players.”