Football leagues across the world are entering the final stages of this season and that usually means frantic efforts on field to improve the finishing position. One other person whose action intensifies during this part of the season is the scout. Top clubs need to keep replenishing their talent pool to stay at the top of their domestic leagues and one player who is popping up on the radars of a lot of English clubs, that include Manchester United, Manchester City Arsenal and Chelsea, is Aymeric Laporte.
Laporte is a 20 year old French central defender who plies his trade at La Liga club Athletic Bilbao. At such a young age, Laporte has already become one of the first names to go onto the team sheet on match day, having played 27 of the 32 games in the league season. Laporte is a tall and physically dominating defender. He tackles well and his takeons usually end successfully. Apart from this Laporte also provides a very realistic aerial threat while attacking and defending. These abilities have brought him attention from top English clubs including Arsenal, Chelsea, both Manchester clubs, and Liverpool. All these clubs have need to shore up their defense and Laporte fits the bill perfectly for the highly physical English game. Moreover his age also makes him a suitable candidate for a long term option to feature in the back four for at least a decade thus providing some stability at the back.
Laporte is a very proficient defender even at such a young age and it is visible in his statistics this season. His skills include tackling and anticipating the ball well. These skills have come in good stead as he has an average of 8 defensive actions per game. That means one defensive action in less than 15 minutes. What is also important is his high accuracy while defending. While he successfully executes tackles 56% percent of the times, his heading ability is better, winning more than 60% aerial balls sent his way. Better still is his take on ability where he has won 8 out of 11 takeons he executed this season. Another statistic that highlights his defensive astuteness is that he has committed only 3 defensive errors this season (in 27 games) and only one of those directly led to a goal. That surely is the kind of quality any of the big sides would be willing to spend money on.
Laporte’s skills don’t end once he has retrieved the ball though. While he does struggle to hold onto the ball himself, he is extremely reliable to pass the ball ahead quickly to get the counter attack running. An average of almost 80% pass completion and an average of 24m on the pass gives him the ability to effectively start off the counter attack quickly.
Laporte’s best game in a Bilbao shirt has arguably been the one against Levante early in the season. Laporte singlehandedly stifled the entire right flank of Levante from playing. He also passed the ball forward well, in fact a couple of passes were pinged into Levante’s penalty box.
Chelsea need to replace an ageing defensive line in the form of Terry, Ivanovic and Cahill. While they have already reportedly lined up a bid for Real Madrid’s Rafael Varane, it would not be surprising if they compete for Laporte as well. Similarly Louis van Gaal has his eyes set on bringing Mat Hummels from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United. The recent news that long term manager Jurgen Klopp would be moving away from the Dortmund outfit at the end of the season would make his loyal players more mobile and smoothen the transfer of Hummels to United. That said, it would again not be surprising to see LvG throw his hat in the ring for Laporte.
The fact that former team mate Ander Herrera is a good friend could enhance United’s chances of landing the youngster. City have fallen off a cliff and this drastic drop in form can be easily correlated to the drop in form of skipper Vincent Kompany. While rumours abound that Pellegrini might get the sack any day now, it doesn’t change the fact that City need to go shopping for new talent as well. The very expensive Mangala experiment has failed as the young defender has failed to fill the over sized boots of Kompany in the latter’s absence. None of the other defenders including Demichelis, Zabaleta or Gael Clichy have been able to step up in Kompany’s access and it seems increasingly likely that City would go hunting for players like Hummels, Laporte and Varane.
Arsenal is another place that would be lucrative to the French player chiefly because of Arsene Wenger and a bunch of French players such as Giroud, Koscielny, Flamini, etc. Laporte has already been a part of the France U-17, U-18, U-19, and U-21 sides and on the evidence of his current season, his call up to the senior side should not be too far away.
Some reports suggest that Laporte wants to make the switch to the Premier League while others claim the opposite, stating that the player is satisfied at Bilbao for now. It is certain, however, that Bilbao would not negotiate on their player, instead requiring teams to pay the full amount of a 40 million to trigger his release clause. The price tag might put Arsenal and Liverpool out of contention but Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea will all be able to make cash available if at all they decide to buy the player. It will just be a question of who has enough conviction and deep pockets to place a a 40 million bet on a 20 year old Frenchman.