RB Leipzig took the Bundesliga by storm in their maiden top-flight campaign, finishing second to champions Bayern Munich with the best ever points haul for a promoted team. Names such as Timo Werner, Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita became household ones, but according to veteran centre-back Marvin Compper, France Under 19 star Dayot Upamecano could be set to outshine them all.
“Dayot has everything needed to succeed in professional football,” said the defender – the only outfield player in Ralph Hasenhüttl’s youthful squad to have already seen his 30th birthday. Eighteen-year-old Upamacano - who only joined the club in January from Austrian side RB Salzburg – earned high praise, especially towards the end of the season, proving a highly-capable replacement for the injured Willi Orban in the vital final stages of the campaign.
Upamecano displayed his aggressive, yet measured, approach to defending which has seen him attract huge interest from many of Europe’s top clubs since his emergence. With lightning-quick reactions and ability to overpower forwards both in the air and on the ground, Upamecano breaks up play without mercy, before showing his maturity far beyond his years in simple distribution to his teammates.
Starting in five of the last six Bundesliga weekends, Upamecano helped Leipzig secure their automatic UEFA Champions League spot in a 4-1 win against Hertha Berlin on Matchday 32. He is at the heartbeat of the club’s plans looking ahead to next season and beyond, which the player himself says is exactly where he belongs.
“I became a footballer to play in such (big) stadiums and in front of so many spectators. I am not a nervous guy; I am used to it. It was the same in France in my youth and now again in Leipzig.”
Watch: Upamecano's rise from rural France to the Bundesliga
The powerful defender was not the only Frenchman to take the Bundesliga by storm in the 2016/17 season, although he was perhaps a rather more unexpected star than fellow countryman Ousmane Dembele, of Borussia Dortmund. Aside from having French nationality in common, the pair are in fact best friends off the pitch having spent time together during their youth at Evreux FC in France.
They were not able to face-off against each other in Leipzig's narrow 1-0 loss to Dortmund on Matchday 19, with Dembele being substituted five minutes before his best mate came into the game for the other side.
“Sadly we didn’t get to play against each other,” Upamecano said of Dembele. “We grew up together in Evreux and have done a lot together. He is a wonderful friend and footballer and now we’re together in Germany, I will definitely visit him.”
Upamecano’s name has also previously come into the European spotlight. Before joining Salzburg, the youngster had been speaking with the likes of Bayern, Manchester United, Arsenal and Juventus. Despite the interest, he headed east to Austria and has since described it as “the best decision of my life.”
All this came in a rapid rise over two years, which included Upamecano being selected in the 2015 Under 17 European Championships Team of the Tournament, in which he helped France win the competition, beating Germany 4-1 in the final.
Like many young players before him, Upamecano’s move from Salzburg to Leipzig was the brainchild of sporting director Ralf Rangnick, who brought the teenager to Austria in 2015. Rangnick called Upamecano a “Wunderkind” when he joined in January, stating that “at his age, with his potential and playing style, he fits perfectly into our club and our philosophy.”
The hype was almost certainly confirmed as being justified during his half season so far in the Bundesliga. Not often do defenders steal the show, but in Upamecano’s case, with his dominating style which is impossible to miss, Bundesliga fans, and strikers, would be wise to keep their eyes fixed on this young star.