If you can impress a striker of the calibre of Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski by the time you’re 20 then you must be doing something right. bundesliga.com profiles RB Leipzig's formidable French youngster Ibrahima Konate…
Club: RB Leipzig
Country: France (9 caps for U21s)
Konate came through the ranks at French second division side FC Sochaux, having joined their boarding academy at the age of 15, moving 300 miles south-east of his native Paris in 2014 to pursue his dream of becoming a footballer. Just two years later it came true when he signed his first professional contract, and in the 2016/17 season the defender made his senior debut for Sochaux, taking to the pitch 12 times and scoring once.
By then the 6'4" hulk had attracted the attention of some of Europe's biggest clubs and Leipzig won the race for his signature in summer 2017 – on a free transfer no less – thanks to their ambitious project of targeting silverware by trusting in gifted young players.
Watch: Leipzig's tactics under Julian Nagelsmann
He was thrust into the Bundesliga for the first time at the age of 18 on Matchday 7 of the 2017/18 campaign, starting the side's 2-1 win away to Cologne. That was the first of 16 top-flight appearances that season, often keeping club captain and fellow centre-back Willi Orban out of the side. Konate cemented his place in the first team in 2018/19, starting 27 league games – scoring his first goal against Fortuna Düsseldorf on Matchday 19 - and another five in the DFB Cup to help Die Roten Bullen finish third in the Bundesliga and as runners-up in the cup.
A France youth international since U16 level, Konate was given his first U21 cap in May 2019 and despite the fierce competition at senior international level from the likes of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti, among others, he is tipped to become a fixture for Les Bleus sooner rather than later. Konate's appearances in 2019/20 were limited due to a serious muscle injury, but he remains one of the club's prized possessions and Europe's hottest properties.
Plays a bit like: Virgil van Dijk
Likening Konate to one of the best centre-backs in recent times may seem like a premature comparison. It's not. There are few in the position who excel at so many aspects of the game as the young Frenchman.
Whether it be in terms of positioning, sticking tight to the striker, intercepting passes, tackling or building from the back, Konate cannot just do it all, he makes it look easy.
He has the pace to match the quickest of attackers and the physique to bully – rather than be bullied by – muscular strikers much more experienced than he is.
The Leipzig No. 6 wins 66 per cent of all tackles, a well-above-average quota that even rises to 81 per cent in the air. He can dribble out of defence or ping accurate long balls forward – averaging a 95 per cent accuracy rate. Even Liverpool stalwart Van Dijk would be pleased with those numbers.
Did you know?
Konate is one of seven brothers and learned his trade playing with his siblings on the streets of Paris. Nicknamed 'Ibu' by his mum at an early age, he still goes by the same moniker to this day – much to the amusement of his teammates in Leipzig. "The boys sometimes have a laugh with it and call me 'Ibuprofen'," Konate said.
What they're saying
"I'm particularly delighted with our coup in signing Ibrahima Konate. We got him on a free transfer from Sochaux. He's is so good that he could play for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day." – Former Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick
"Leipzig have two really good centre-backs in Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate." – Bayern Munich forward Robert Lewandowski
"I've developed well and I enjoy the style of play you encounter in the Bundesliga every week: it's attack-minded with lots of pace and passion." – Konate
Keep an eye on…
Leipzig's reputation for giving young players a chance to shine in the first team means they have an embarrassment of riches in that department. Fellow Frenchman and centre-back Upamecano is already considered one of the best defenders in the league despite being just 21, and the duo are the team’s go-to pairing at the heart of defence when fit.
Perhaps less widely known is defensive midfielder Tom Krauß. The 18-year-old was born and raised in Leipzig and already trains regularly with the first team. A defensive midfielder by trade, he registered three goals and two assists in the first 12 games of the U19 Bundesliga season in 2019/20 campaign.
The right-footer has represented Germany at every youth level since the U15s and, by Matchday 25 of the Bundesliga season, had been included in Leipzig’s matchday squad eight times, while also earning a place on the bench as unused substitute in the DFB Cup and UEFA Champions League.