RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano has been called up for France's UEFA Nations League matches against Croatia and Sweden, providing the 21-year-old with a richly deserved opportunity at senior international level.
Upamecano piqued interest Europe-wide during Leipzig's run to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2019/20, but had been making a name for himself in Germany long before Die Roten Bullen's quarter-final win over Atletico Madrid.
He ranks as the youngest Bundesliga player in Leipzig's history, having debuted at 18. Despite being a defender by trade, he also became the club's youngest Bundesliga scorer just over a year after joining the club, at 19. On top of that, he won the UEFA U17 European Championship back in 2015, helping France beat Germany in the final.
Upamecano has had to be patient, but after turning out 46 times for France at youth levels ranging from U16 to U21, the towering centre-back could be about to make his senior bow for Les Bleus.
"He's a player we've been following for a long time," said France coach Didier Deschamps of his decision to select Upamecano.
"He's one of the players who was always likely to come. He's very athletic, he's fast, good in challenges. The ball is not a problem for him, even if he must be careful not to abuse his power too much at times. He's young, I felt it was time to prepare him. It‘s up to him to maintain this level. He still has to develop."
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As a player, it would be easy to reduce Upamecano to his young age and man-mountain physique, but the 6'1" ball-playing defender 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 90kg (198lb) frame into high gear, Upamecano can also play a bit, and regularly shows it.
His top speed of 21mph in the Bundesliga last season - also his best all-time - is 0.6mph faster than Bayern Munich pair Jerome Boateng and David Alaba, and Borussia Dortmund's Mats Hummels. In fact, he's not that far off having the fastest speed of any defender in Bundesliga history.
As well as boasting the type of speed that allowed him to keep pace with the likes of former Leipzig striker Timo Werner in training, Upamecano plays like a central midfielder in possession and can often be seen bringing the ball out from the back once he's retrieved it.
Upamecano made 46 offensive dribbles – bringing the ball out of defence – in 2019/20, which is 13 more than Boateng, Alaba and Hummels combined. Not only is he a magnificent dribbler and confident on the ball, but he can find the right man, too, no matter where they stand on the pitch.
The Valenciennes academy graduate completed more long passes than the Bundesliga's undisputed centre-back quarterback last campaign, with his 107 besting Boateng's 92, as well as Alaba's 103. It’s the type of play that head coach Julian Nagelsmann loves to see from his central defenders, even if it sometimes brings risks.
"I called him a ‘beast’, which is probably what motivated him," Nagelsmann said of Upamecano after his jaw-dropping performance against Atletico in Leipzig's 2-1 Champions League quarter-final triumph.
"Today he was indeed a beast, focused from the first to the last minute. Otherwise, he always has a situation where he has a little reckless mistake in him, but he didn't even have that today. He played smart."
While France are defending FIFA World Cup champions, Upamecano has the opportunity to now cement his place in Deschamps' squad ahead of next year's European Championship. Real Madrid's Raphael Varane is considered France's top centre-back, while Barcelona's Clement Lenglet and Prisnel Kimpembe of Paris Saint-Germain are also in the latest squad.
The Leipzig man can quash any questions about his lack of experience at the highest level as well, having made 113 senior appearances for Leipzig since his move in the winter of 2017. That's equal to PSG's Kimpembe across the same period, while Lenglet has managed another 42 during his time in Spain.
Quick, strong, able to start attacks just as quickly as he nips them in the bud and with experience well beyond his tender 21 years, Upamecano may have had to wait for his first chance with France's senior squad, but it will be no surprise to see his name remain among the world champions' best from here on out.
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