A case for the defence: Who should we sign?

Author: . Published: at 9:53pm

Written by Harry Rawlings @harryrawlings1

With our premier league status for next year still not guaranteed, uncertainty over the manager staying and a director of football coming in, it is very hard to predict how we will line up next season and what style we will be playing to.

Despite our predicament, what we do know for certain is that we need a new central defender. Winston Reid is always struggling with injuries, Fonte has been sold and Collins hasn’t been offered a new contract yet. This will leave us with only two recognised centre backs for next season, if Oxford also leaves, which is looking likely. Aaron Cresswell has been playing in a make shift left centre back role, but I would prefer a proper centre back playing there instead. I think it’s fair to assume Reid and Ogbonna will stay and Rice is the youngster on the scene, so one more young quality centre back is needed, which would allow Cresswell to alternate with Masuaku in the left wing back position if we carry on playing a back 5.

No matter who our manager or director of football is next season, the club needs to set a precedent of buying younger players instead of ‘has-beens’ on their decline. Not because players like Zabaleta are bad but because the average age in our squad is simply too old. We missed a massive trick not going in for Harry Maguire last year, he was snapped up for £20m by Leicester and is probably worth over double now because he has played for England. But, of the relegation bound teams I cannot see any centre backs that really take my fancy, other than Mawson who we have been linked with. However it is looking as if Swansea will stay up and demand a huge fee for him if he wants to leave.

Having watched a lot of games across this season in Europe I have come up with a couple of targets we should be looking to bring in. Issa Diop is a towering 21 year-old French centre back is and already the captain of Toulouse, he has also represented France through every youth level. Standing at 6ft4’ Diop is an athletic and physically imposing player who is capable of dominating attackers in the air and also beating them in a foot race. His man marking qualities are fantastic, as shown against PSG when he effectively took Mbappe out of the game earlier in the season. Diop not only reads the game exceptionally well and is aggressive when sensing an opportunity to intercept and cut out a pass or through ball; but he also has the speed and strength to do it successfully. Being captain of his team at just 21 shows he is a natural born leader and is thought of very highly by his club. He came through the ranks at Toulouse, but with his boyhood club being constant Ligue 1 strugglers for survival, finishing 17th in three of the last four seasons, Toulouse may have come to terms with the fact he will be looking for a new challenge and will entertain bids for him this summer.

At the moment in France there is such a depth of talent, particularly in central defence. Varane (R.Madrid), Umtiti (Barcelona) and Koscielny (Arsenal) are starters for the national team. Youngsters such as Pavard (Stuttgart) and Kimpembe (PSG) have just broken into the squad and other players in the Premier League such as Sakho (Palace) and Zouma (Chelsea) cannot even get close to a game. So, If Diop was to break into his national team, moving to West Ham and making a name for himself could be the answer. He would be guaranteed game time and could make himself the main man, much like his compatriot Dimitri Payet did in 15/16, forcing his way into the Euros starting line up that summer. There is also risk of not getting guaranteed game time if he goes to a big team with so much competition for places.

Carrying on the French theme, another player I like the look of is Joris Gnagnon, who is an under 20 French international playing for Rennes. He is a very composed player and stands out due to his calmness on the ball. He will look to play a purposeful ball forward or bring it out himself and go on runs. There is a tendency with our defenders to just lump the ball forward and I believe we have to build passages of play from the back, so we could benefit greatly from his qualities. Declan Rice also has this ability, therefore two young ball playing centre backs is something we should aim for. Standing at just 6ft he is not the biggest of centre backs but is very light on his feet and uses his positional sense and game reading skills well. Instead of diving into tackles and committing fouls, he is able to stay tight and track runs. Gnagnon was born in Paris and didn’t actually sign his first contact until he was 18 at Rennes, the same academy that has produced Ousmane Dembélé, Abdoulaye Doucouré and Tiémoué Bakayoko in recent years. However he quickly broke into the first team and is now considered their star defender and talent.

It is worth noting that Sevilla put in a 10m euro bid for him in January which was rejected. Sevilla are known as being one of the best teams out there for talent identification, allowing them to consistently challenge for Europe and getting them into the Champions League quarter finals this season. One of their best signings recently has been another young Frenchman Clement Lenglet who they signed from Nantes. He put in an exceptional defending performance against Manchester United in the Champions League Quarter Final which has lead the likes of Barcelona and R.Madrid to pursue him. Playing for Rennes means we already have a relationship with the club through selling them our old friend Diafra Sakho in January, so he is definitely a viable option to come in for the £15-20m region.

The stats from whoscored.com show Gnagnon has slightly less tackles, blocks and fouls than Diop, he isn’t as combative but is slightly better with the ball and playing out from the back. They are very different centre backs but both great talents. Have a look at their youtube highlights below to get a better understanding.

Issa Diop – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=peNPvAqYtwM

Joris Gnagnon – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxo2UeHJ0qU

If we could sign either one of these young promising talents, not only would it improve us immediately, but looking to the future they are good investments and could go on to be sold for 3 or 4 times more in coming years. It is safe to assume that our owners are not going to start splashing £40/50 million on players out of their own pockets any time soon, so investing good money into young promising talents, and turning them into stars has to be the way forward for us.

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