He's quick, strong and can start attacks just as smoothly as he nips them in the bud - is Bayern Munich's Dayot Upamecano the world's best young defender?
bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the French prodigy who is to the art of defending what his compatriot Kylian Mbappe is to attacking: the future.
Club: Bayern Munich
Country: France (11 caps/1 goal)
It would be easy to reduce Upamecano to his young age and man-mountain physique, but the 6'1" French centre-back has so much more to him than that.
Blessed with the sort of pace to rival the niftiest forward and the power to quickly shift his 198lb frame into high gear, Upamecano can also play a bit, and has regularly shown it with Bayern and also at his previous club RB Leipzig, who put their faith in him when he signed as an 18-year-old from Red Bull Salzburg. "I spoke to Ousmane Dembele before joining Leipzig and he told me, 'Here, they're going to play you,'" said Upamecano, who rejected overtures from across Europe to move to Germany on the advice of the former Borussia Dortmund star.
Part of the Leipzig side that reached the 2019/20 UEFA Champions League semi-finals, Upamecano displayed his ability on the ball as he broke the lines with vertical passes 113 times in the competition - more than any other player to make it that far.
Reunited with Julian Nagelsmann when his ex-Leipzig coach followed him to Bayern in summer 2021 - Upamecano's deal had been agreed the previous February - the Frenchman believed he will continue to flourish under his straight-talking boss.
"I have a very good relationship with Julian. I like coaches who tell me things as they are, and he does that. If I haven't been good, he comes to me and says: 'You made a bad decision there and you should have done that', and he shows me clips right away," Upamecano said. "He also speaks regularly with the players. And as a defender, above all, it's very good to have him because with him, we try to take risks and play forward."
Watch: Analysing Upamecano, the modern centre-back
Upamecano certainly does that, and successfully. His pass completion percentage has consistently been above 90 throughout his Bundesliga career - and a remarkable 89 per cent when under pressure in 2022/23 - symptomatic of a man who "played everywhere, forward, midfielder…" before he settled in defence at Valenciennes, his first professional club.
"He loves defending, getting the ball off opponents," France youth coach Jean-Claude Giuntini said of Upamecano. He generally does get the ball too, winning 60 per cent of his challenges and making 38 interceptions over the first 15 matchdays of the 2022/23 season - both are the best returns of any player in the Bundesliga and made it very difficult for Nagelsmann not to play him, even with Matthijs de Ligt and Lucas Hernandez the current competitors.
Plays a bit like: Marcel Desailly
Desailly was nicknamed 'The Rock' for a reason. Upamecano shares the same build as France's 1998 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2000 winner, and is equally the sort of player on whom a side can be built: solid, reliable, immovable.
Desailly's game was based on strength, speed and anticipation, all qualities that came naturally to Bayern's imposing young Frenchman. But he would not have been such a success in his career if he didn't have the ability to ensure his passes found Zinedine Zidane, Thierry et al far more often than Row Z.
For France, it is a case of deja vu with Upamecano, who thrives on bringing the ball out of defence once he has nabbed it from his opposition. The youngster followed his silverware-studded predecessor into the world champions' senior squad in September 2020. "I dream of becoming one of the best defenders in the world one day," Upamecano has stated.
Did you know?
Upamecano's first name in full is Dayotchanculle. "It was the name of my great-grandfather, my father gave it to me as a tribute," explained the centre-back, who grew up in the Madeleine neighbourhood of Evreux where Dembele was a childhood friend.
"When there wasn't any school, we went to the local pitches," Upamecano remembers. "We lived in a neighbourhood of footballers, with a little stadium where we had big tournaments, and for two or three hours, we gave our all."
What they're saying
"He's a great defender. He didn't need much time to adapt. He already knew the coach, and what was expected of him. He's a great guy, very very nice, a fantastic player. Defensively, he gives us a lot." - Bayern and France teammate Lucas Hernandez
"I've not seen a faster centre-back, and Dayot has an unbelievable physique. He can become as good as Jerome Boateng if he can keep improving." - former Leipzig teammate Timo Werner
"His development has been super. He's taken big steps." - Julian Nagelsmann on Upamecano's progress from his first to second season at Bayern
"If there are four better centre-backs than Dayot Upamecano, I want to see them." - former Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick when Upamecano was not called up for a France U21 game. He sent a scouting team... which eventually led to the signing of Ibrahima Konate!
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