Mohamed Simakan soon established himself as the new bedrock of the Leipzig defence. - © imago images
Mohamed Simakan soon established himself as the new bedrock of the Leipzig defence. - © imago images

Mohamed Simakan: Who is RB Leipzig's replacement for Dayot Upamecano with shades of Lilian Thuram and Raphael Varane?


Leipzig's French defender was brought in from Strasbourg to replace Dayot Upamecano, and he has not looked back... has the lowdown on Leipzig's French force compared with Lilian Thuram and Raphael Varane...

Mohamed Simakan

Age: 23
Club: RB Leipzig
Position: Centre-back/right-back
Country: France (6 U21 caps)

Key stats

Born in Marseille in May 2000, Simakan scored 130 goals at U11 level as an attacker before linking up with his most famous local club from 2011 to 2015. It was during his time with Marseille's academy that Simakan become a defender, and also when he began demonstrating the determination that would become a feature of his career.

Hit by growing pains that kept him out for several months in his early teens, Leipzig's latest signing bounced back before deciding he needed to move on from the club he supported as a boy. He joined SC Bel Air, a less glamorous club in his home city, becoming captain of a successful team but seeing himself knocked back by several professional clubs who took him on trial.

Simakan was resilient, though, and he joined Ligue 1 club Strasbourg in February 2017 after another trial. He then suffered another huge blow as a teenager when he tore his cruciate ligament in the summer of 2018, but impressive perseverance allowed him to fight back. A year later, he made his senior debut in a UEFA Europa League qualifier against Maccabi Haifa in July 2019. Standing at 6'2", Simakan broke into the Strasbourg first team as a right-back but has more regularly played at centre-back. He made his debut with the France U20 team in September 2019, scoring in a 2-2 draw with Slovenia.

He had huge boots to fill in Leipzig, following the defection of Dayot Upamecano to Bayern, but he has proven to be an almost ever-present in his first two full seasons in the Bundesliga, slotting in seamlessly at the back and winning the DFB Cup not once, but twice. He represented his country's U21s at the 2023 U21 Euro in Romania and Georgia.

Plays a bit like: Lilian Thuram

An impressive athlete blessed with pace and power, Simakan is comfortable at full-back or as a centre-back in either a back three or four. He can even play in midfield if required, and that effortless flexibility is one of the reasons he has been compared to France's 1998 World Cup-winning star Thuram.

Simakan has been compared to former Barcelona and Juventus defender Lilian Thuram (pictured), who earned 142 caps for France. - imago sportfotodienst/imago/Laci Perenyi

Simakan is the half-brother of former Rennes and Dynamo Kiev striker Ismael Bangoura, 15 years his senior, who first compared the new Leipzig player to Thuram - the most-capped France player of all-time - after he made his debut. Francois Keller, Strasbourg's academy director when Simakan joined, offered another comparison: Real Madrid and France defender Varane.

Did you know?

Simakan was voted Strasbourg's Player of the Month three times in the first four months of the 2020/21 season before signing on the dotted line for Leipzig.

What they're saying

"It all happened at the worst possible time because I felt that the coach had confidence in me and I wanted to pay him back. There were times when I thought my chance had passed by, but my family helped." - Simakan on how he recovered from the serious knee injury that threatened to derail his career in 2018

"We quickly realised that we were dealing with a phenomenon. He tore the place up… I said to myself that we had the new Varane. He was athletic, powerful, assured and calm." - Strasbourg reserve team manager Francois Keller on his first impressions of Simakan

"I could tackle them and they would get annoyed but I really didn't want them to score. I couldn't let that happen, even if sometimes I was the one who ended up on the ground. The logic was either it's you or it's me. I've kept that mentality." - Simakan on how trying to prove himself against his two older siblings gave him an appetite to try and win every ball that comes his way