The Bundesliga is home to the brightest young talents in world football and Borussia Mönchengladbach's midfield looks safe in the hands of one of them, Denis Zakaria.
bundesliga.com provides the pertinent details about the powerhouse Swiss midfielder with strength and passing ability far beyond his years…
Club: Borussia Mönchengladbach
Country: Switzerland (33 caps/3 goals)
The 6'3" central midfielder netted two goals early in 2019/20 compared to four overall the previous year - marking the best scoring return of his career. A goal and an assist followed in 2020/21, taking his total to nine goals and seven assists in over 100 Bundesliga appearances. His role in the Foals' 2019/20 best start to a Bundesliga season in their history saw Zakaria named their Player of the Month for August, winning 37 per cent of the vote, while his performance in the Rhineland derby against Cologne summed up the all-action midfielder. In that 1-0 away win, Zakaria covered 6.9 miles (more than any of his team mates), had a passing accuracy of 88 per cent, had 61 touches of the ball, three shots on goal, hit the crossbar and won 80 per cent of his duels.
With Gladbach leading the standings nine games into the 2019/20 season, no other player had covered more distance than Zakaria (99.6km), while the central midfielder boasts his team's second-highest successful pass rate (88 per cent) and won duels (97). Meanwhile, only five other Gladbach players had enjoyed more touches of the ball than Zakaria (428) and only Stefan Lainer (594) and Marcus Thuram (567) had made more high intensity runs than Zakaria (556).
Zakaria suffered a season-ending knee injury against Borussia Dortmund in March 2020, and missed the first eight matches of the 2020/21 campaign as a result. That impacted his overall return last season, but he now heads into the 2021/22 season - his fifth in Germany - fully fit on the back of a UEFA Euro 2020 tournament that saw Zakaria earn his 33rd international cap in Switzerland's Group A opener against Wales.
Plays a bit like: Patrick Vieira
"I've been compared to [Patrick] Vieira and [Paul] Pogba – two more players I really respect and, in a way, see as role models. When I watch videos of them I think I'd like to play that way," Zakaria has said previously. There is plenty more to come from the Gladbach player – who can also fill in at the back – and the signs are there that another Vieira or Pogba-styled long-limbed midfielder is on the rise. Strong, full of running, great in the tackle and a fine passer, Zakaria is quickly developing into a fine all-round midfielder in the same mould as former Arsenal and France midfielder Vieira.
Did you know?
Zakaria could have played for either Sudan or Congo, with his mother Sudanese and his father Congolese, but the Gladbach midfielder has only ever played for the country of his birth. He started out with the U19 team in 2014, and is now a key player for the senior team. He featured twice for his country at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in group-stage draws against Brazil and Costa Rica before Switzerland were eventually knocked out by an Emil Forsberg-inspired Sweden in the round of 16. A second major international tournament has brought about a second last-16 appearance for Zakaria and Switzerland at Euro 2020.
What they’re saying
"It's not easy to compare him to the greats of the past, but he combines many qualities that were really defined by Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane." - Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer
"We have a top player in our ranks, who has developed successfully with us and fits perfectly into the football that Marco [Rose] and his coaching team want to see." - Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl.
"I'm glad that Gladbach have found another pearl. At his age I was earning my first stripes for Borussia. He reminds me of Toni Kroos at that age." - German football great Lothar Matthaüs