The rumour mill is filled with transfer speculation linking household names and high-profile young talents with big-money moves to some of Europe’s top sides.
With the inflated prices being bandied about, clubs would do well to look past the names and identify potential superstars based on encouraging performances that may have been overlooked.
Promising talents often don’t get the attention they deserve because they’re featuring in lesser clubs away from the limelight of a title challenge or the recognition that comes with topping the charts for goals or assists.
A more extensive search though could unearth some hidden gems scattered across the European circuit and in this series, we put some of those players in the spotlight.
Bordeaux’s young centre-back Jules Kounde makes our latest edition.
STYLE OF PLAY
Blessed with a natural ability to identify forward movements, spot the opportunity for a pass and execute it, Kounde has become something of a secret weapon for Paulo Sousa’s side in Ligue 1 with oppositions perhaps not fully appreciative of the threat he poses when afforded time and space.
From his body position on receiving possession to his first touch into space, the Parisian is emerging as one of the best ball-playing centre-backs in France. His passing range is particularly impressive.
Not only does he spray diagonal balls forward to put his team on the front foot but his long passes over the top of defence create goal-scoring opportunities as well.
Kounde is blessed with good pace, regularly shuttling out wide to cover for the full-back.
Having bulked up over the last year, he boasts the athleticism required of a modern day centre-back in all but one aspect. The youngster stands at just 1.75 metres tall, short enough to immediately put off potential suitors.
He still ranks third among centre-backs in Ligue 1 for aerial duels won (120) but his success rate of 56.8 per cent, while not bad, isn’t exactly impressive either. While competent defensively, Kounde’s tackling still needs work as he can stand off his man at times, failing to recognise the opportunity to win possession.
The Frenchman is far from the finished article but has the potential to excel. How he develops and who he’s partnered with will be key.
Kounde registered 10 key passes in Ligue 1 last season, which was joint-third for centre-backs.
He may not be the most dominant in the air, but his mobility saw him cut out crosses at the source on occasion. His seven crosses blocked last season was the fifth highest in the league.
The Bordeaux defender also ranked sixth among centre-backs for most passes (1888).
SIMILAR TO – Thomas Vermaelen
Given his stature and specific attributes, there aren’t a lot of centre-backs Kounde shares similarities with.
However, he can be loosely compared to Thomas Vermaelen in his heyday. Like Kounde, the 33-year-old – during his Arsenal days – was excellent in possession, covered ground swiftly, distributed the ball well and was comfortable in wide areas.
Kounde shares the Belgian’s odd lapse in concentration and while he’s comfortable striding forward, he hasn’t yet developed into the driving force from deep Vermaelen used to be. He is also yet to show a keen eye for goal.
After fleeting appearances for Bordeaux’s first team at the start of 2018, Kounde went about establishing himself as a mainstay in the line-up last season.
In January this year he was rewarded with a new contract that runs until 2023 meaning the French outfit won’t let him go without a bit of a fight. His development is progressing nicely at Matmut Atlantique but the right club could lure him away.
🇫🇷 Sevilla are closing in on securing the signature of Bordeaux defender Jules Kounde.— The Scouted Hub (@TheScoutedHub) June 29, 2019
At just 20 years old, for £20m, this could prove to be another Monchi masterclass🕵️🏽 pic.twitter.com/SOX9WJEG6S
WHERE HE COULD THRIVE
Arsenal: The Gunners are currently in a battle to secure the services of Saint-Etienne centre-back William Saliba, but reports of rejected bids may leave them looking elsewhere. Kounde would add some much needed pace and mobility to the backline. The youngster seems suited to the high-line Unai Emery wants to employ while his distribution from deep is a big bonus with the likes of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang constantly threatening in behind.
Sevilla: Under Julen Lopetegui, Sevilla will be expected to operate with a targeted press in the attacking half meaning the defence will have to step up as well. The Spaniard will also want his centre-backs to be integral to build-up play and Kounde fits the bill. Reports from France, most recently L’Equipe, suggests negotiations between the two clubs started last week and an agreement could be reached for a fee above €20 million.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has become the most expensive uncapped British footballer in history after completing his switch from Crystal Palace to Manchester United in a deal worth up to £50million.
Here, PA’s Simon Peach takes a look at the 21-year-old right-back’s background.
Part of the Palace academy set-up since the age of 11, he was nearly released three years later. Wan-Bissaka stayed on and was converted from winger to wing-back role when playing for the Eagles’ development side during the 2016-17 season. He did not enjoy the experience at first but facing the likes of Wilfried Zaha and Yannick Bolasie in training toughened him up, while his own time as a wide man clearly helped with the transition to a Premier League performer.
The 21-year-old had requested to go out on loan during the January 2018 transfer window but Roy Hodgson kept him at Selhurst Park, leading to an impressive debut against Tottenham on February 25, 2018. Wan-Bissaka has not looked back since. An impressive end to the 2017-18 season was followed by an outstanding 2018-19 campaign, which saw him named Palace’s player of the season by both team-mates and fans. Wan-Bissaka made 46 club appearances in total for Palace and has represented England up to under-21 level.
Wan-Bissaka, nicknamed ‘Spider’ by some due to his long legs, has amazingly never had formal coaching on how to tackle despite his knack at winning the ball. Growing up he was more interested in doing tricks than thwarting others as he tried to replicate Thierry Henry and Ronaldinho in the park and on the pitch. The desire to make an attacking impact remains, but now there is a keen defensive edge to his game.
One of the best full-backs in Europe last season, Wan-Bissaka models his defensive play on former Barcelona, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain man Dani Alves. “I like the way he expresses himself in defence,” he said of the Brazil international.
“Unless you speak to him, he will not say a word,” former United player and current Palace favourite Zaha says. “Like, literally, he is in the changing room quiet – but he does his speaking on the pitch, really. I think that’s why everyone likes him. He doesn’t really chirp up much. He just comes in, does what he has to do, plays his game, plays well and just goes home.”
Wan-Bissaka’s quietness comes with self-confidence and his drive to succeed is as clear as his professionalism. Eagles boss Hodgson liked the fact that his feet remained on the ground as speculation grew last season, with his consistency, work rate and work ethic other “wonderful assets” that will see him continue to grow. But a torrid time with England Under-21s as speculation swirled about his future during June’s European Championship shows he is not immune to pressure.
Wan-Bissaka’s family have played a big role in his development and always come to his games. His mother Elizabeth and father Ambroise left the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997, making a new life for themselves in south London. Wan-Bissaka has been capped once by the youth team of his parents’ homeland, having fallen in love with football since playing in the park with older brother Kevin aged five.
His father has provided salient advice for Wan-Bissaka during his rise, with one of his stock phrases being: “Good, but just keep going and keep working hard, it doesn’t stop here.” Those words will be ringing in his son’s ears as his United adventure gets under way.
Manchester United have completed the signing of right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace in a £50million deal, according to reports.
PA understands United will pay £45million up front with £5million in add-ons for the 21-year-old, who will receive a five-year contract at Old Trafford.
He will become the second summer signing made by boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, after Daniel James joined from Swansea.
In Wan-Bissaka, United will be getting one of the most effective defenders in Europe.
See more in the video below.