Having already given Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski a torrid time of it in the DFB Cup, Armel Bella-Kotchap is primed for his first taste of the big time. bundesliga.com profiles the up-and-coming Bochum defender...
Country: Germany (One U20 cap)/ Cameroon/ France
Born in Paris, France, Bella-Kotchap has been in Germany since a young age and began playing football with Rot Weiss Ahlen - the club that gave Marco Reus his start in the game - at the age of four. The young centre-back then passed through a few of the nation's youth academies, including Borussia Mönchengladbach's and Duisburg's, before signing for current employers Bochum in the summer of 2017 when he was 15.
Bella-Kotchap wasted little time in impressing the youth coaches at the club and was handed his U19 debut in a 3-0 win over Rot-Weiß Oberhausen aged 16. Twelve weeks later he was turning out for Frank Kramer's Germany U18 team, helping them to a 1-0 friendly win over Cyprus in November 2018, a month before he turned 17.
Bochum's nickname of Die Unabsteigbaren - the unrelegatables - may have held less water since their maiden demotion from the Bundesliga in 1993, but there was little chance the U19s were going to suffer a similar fate in the 2018/19 campaign, with Bella-Kotchap helping them to six clean sheets and scoring his first goal in a 3-1 win over Preußen Münster.
Now a fully-fledged member of Thomas Reis's first-team squad, Bella-Kotchap really justified what seasoned Football Manager players had suspected for some time - that he could mix it with the big boys - against Bayern in the DFB Cup second round last October.
Bochum may have been beaten 2-1 by the defending champions, but Bella-Kotchap marked Serge Gnabry out of the game in the first half, and then Lewandowski when the Polish goal-machine had replaced Gnabry at the point of Bayern's attack in the second. Gnabry only got the go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute after abandoning his central position, before Thomas Müller rounded out the scoring.
Less than 12 months later, he started 26 games as Thomas Reis's side won Bundesliga 2 to seal a return to the top flight after a 12-year hiatus in 2020/21.
Plays a bit like: Jonathan Tah
Still only 19, Bella-Kotchap is already a hulking physical presence who stands more than 6'2"-tall. The scary thing for opposition strikers is that he also has plenty of pace to go with his burgeoning power, and regularly nips attacks in the bud either by stopping the ball getting to its intended target in the first place or - on the rare occasions when he gets turned - switching the jets on and recovering the situation.
With his combination of towering defensive headers, balance, stamina and speed, Bella-Kotchap bears more than a passing resemblance to Bayer Leverkusen's Jonathan Tah. At 25, Tah is now a 13-time Germany international with nearly 180 Bundesliga appearances under his belt. Bella-Kotchap will hope to match that in the coming seasons.
Did you know?
Bella-Kotchap's father is former Cameroon striker Cyrille Florent Bella. With Samuel Eto'o and Patrick Mboma hogging the frontline positions for the Indomitable Lions in the late 1990s and into the 2000s, he never made it to a FIFA World Cup but did earn four caps in spite of the illustrious competition.
An impressive physical presence himself, the 6'3"-tall Bella spent a decade in German football with his most notable spell a four-year stay with Ahlen between 2000 and 2004. He scored 37 goals in 131 games with the North Rhine-Westphalians, and also helped mould a promising young centre-back in the family back garden…
What they're saying:
"A long time ago, we set ourselves the goal of putting our own training at the forefront, introducing talented youngsters to professional conditions as early as possible. The contracts for Paul Grave, Armel Bella-Kotchap and Moritz Römling show that our work bears fruit. […] Armel has already been in the matchday squad. He's very far athletically for his age." - Bochum sporting director Sebastian Schindzielorz
"The lad's a special case. He's really good. Fast, tall and two-footed. He can still be a bit reckless in training though!" - Bochum goalkeeper Manuel Riemann
"After an impressive performance against Bayern and their stars, he saw red a few minutes from time. Bella-Kotchap made a mistake and could only save himself with a handball, but the fans didn't take offence - they gave him a standing ovation when he left the pitch." - Bochum journalist Philipp Rentsch after the Bayern game