Christopher Nkunku: Who is RB Leipzig’s French wonderkid?
The Bundesliga Player of the Year in 2021/22, and regular Player of the Month candidate, Christopher Nkunku has more than made his mark on the Bundesliga since signing from Paris Saint-Germain as a 21-year-old, but what else is there to know about the France U21 midfielder?
bundesliga.com shines the light on the the PSG-honed starlet…
Club: RB Leipzig
Position: Attacking midfielder/winger
Country: France (8 caps)
Born in Lagny-sur-Marne, an eastern suburb of Paris, Nkunku joined local club PSG at the age of 13. Having grown quickly into what is now a powerful 5’8” frame, Nkunku raced through the youth teams in the French capital and was promoted to the first-team squad on a full-time basis – alongside Presnel Kimbembe and future Leipzig teammate Jean-Kevin Augustin – by Laurent Blanc in the summer of 2015. He was handed his debut that December, replacing Lucas Moura against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League to become PSG’s sixth-youngest debutant ever at the age of 18 years, two months and 25 days.
Two of the world’s most expensive players – Neymar and Kylian Mbappe – may have occupied similar withdrawn attacking roles as Nkunku at the Parc des Princes, but the 21-year-old still managed to rack up 77 appearances in all competitions for the French champions, hoovering up 11 trophies on the way. His final season at the Ligue 1 club was his most prolific. Nkunku featured in 23 Ligue 1 games, 13 of them starts, chipping in with three goals and two assists, before making the move to Leipzig.
Given more of a prominent role in the Bundesliga, Nkunku soon started showing his pure talent on a regular basis, winning the Bundesliga Player of the Month award for the first time in October 2021. Three more Player of the Month awards followed, and he was duly named Bundesliga Player of the Season after recording 20 goals and 13 assists in 34 top-flight appearances during 2021/22. Leipzig and Nkunku rounded out the campaign by winning the DFB Cup - the club's first piece of major silverware - and in June 2022 he extended his contract by two years to 2026.
Although originally called up to the France squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, injury forced Nkunku to withdraw, though he is now considered a fixture for Les Bleus when fit.
Plays a bit like: Julian Brandt
Julian Brandt was hot property after helping Bayer Leverkusen to a UEFA Champions League finish with his seven goals and 11 assists in 2018/19, and Borussia Dortmund reportedly fought off some of Europe’s biggest clubs to secure the Germany international’s signature. Like Brandt, Nkunku began life as a winger, but has proved more effective through the middle, where his range of passing options are broadened, but not at the expense of his ability to dribble past his marker with his low centre of gravity, quick feet and core strength.
The Saxony outfit had previously gone somewhat against the grain in sticking to a 4-4-2 since their promotion to the top-flight in 2016, and one question mark around the how Leipzig would play under Julian Nagelsmann in 2019/20 was who would fulfil the role that Andrej Kramaric did for Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim, behind a front two? Die Roten Bullen found their answer in Nkunku.
Watch: Christopher Nkunku, Leipzig's superstar
Did you know?
Nkunku was born in the same Parisian commune as Paul Pogba, but the French World Cup winner was not his biggest footballing influence growing up, that honour instead going to former PSG teammate Marco Verratti. “I’m inspired by his game,” Nkunku said of the Italy international. “He’s not the biggest but he knows exactly how to use his body on the pitch.”
Away from the beautiful game, Nkunku follows the NFL and the NBA, and met Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. at PSG’s Camp des Loges training centre in March.
What they're saying
“I was immediately drawn to him, even if he was playing youth football. It was immediately obvious that he had the DNA of a footballer. He was playing through the middle and was clearly a cut above. He wasted little and had perfect vision.” – Nkunku’s agent and former PSG centre-back Jose-Karl Pierre-Fanfan
“He came up from the youth team to help us, and given PSG’s strength, that can be difficult for a young player. But I noticed the ease of his technique and I don’t think I was alone. It was a nice surprise.” – former PSG coach Laurent Blanc
“I’ve been told that I need to work on my killer instinct, because I sometimes don’t try my luck or I might miss the odd chance. This is important. I aim to work on this because attacking players must be decisive.” – an ever-humble Nkunku on the development of his game.
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