The France side that faced Spain in Sunday’s UEFA Nations League final was packed full of players who have scaled the heights of the sport for club and country. Indeed, Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba all shone as the 2018 World Cup winners claimed another major international honour.
There was, however, one not-so-familiar name in Didier Deschamps’ XI. Deployed alongside Pogba in central midfield, Aurlien Tchouameni was handed only his second start at senior international level and played a key role against a Spanish opponent that could have dominated the contest at San Siro.
Only Pogba (78) and Jules Kounde (58) had more touches of the ball than Tchouameni (49) with the 21-year-old also registering two tackles, four interceptions and one key pass. His performance underlined why so many in the European game are excited about the young midfielder’s potential.
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Tchouameni’s rise hasn’t gone unnoticed. His performances for AS Monaco have attracted the attention of several Premier League clubs with Manchester United among those reportedly monitoring the midfielder. It might not be long before Tchouameni is taking the next step in his career.
“He’s the new sensation of French football. Fans love him and already consider him the new Pogba,” says Eurosport France’s Martin Mosnier. “He's only 21, but he's ready. His great physical abilities and his technical skills would make him a strong Premier League player just as they have made him a good player for France.”
Pogba himself already seems to be a fan of his new France midfield partner, Tchouameni. “He’s not a boy, he’s a man,” the Manchester United star recently said. “It’s a pleasure to play next to him, he provides a lot… plenty of energy, technical quality and extraordinary physicality. I hope to play plenty of games together and always be on his side.”
United could sign Tchouameni to either play alongside Pogba or as a replacement for the 28-year-old whose contract at Old Trafford is set to expire at the end of the season. The pair have been likened to each other in the way they play the game with Tchouameni called “the complete, modern midfielder” by AS Monaco teammate Cesc Fabregas.
“They play the same football,” Mosnier says about the comparison between Pogba and Tchouameni. “Eric Bedouet, his first professional coach [Bordeaux], who knows Pogba very well, told me: "The resemblance to Paul Pogba is striking. In terms of play, power, technique, they are very similar. But Pogba, today, is on another planet but Aurelien could join him there.””
Comparisons with Pogba don’t quite do justice to the breadth of Tchouameni’s skill set. The 21-year-old is the epitome of a new breed of modern midfielder who are forcing a rethink on what it is to be a central operator. Tchouameni sits alongside Jude Bellingham as someone who can’t be defined by his position.
Aurelien Tchouameni and Paul Pogba during the UEFA Nations League final against Spain.
Image credit: Getty Images
Some might be tempted to categorise Tchouameni as a defensive midfielder such is his capacity for breaking up opposition moves and providing defensive protection, but this doesn’t illustrate the full scope of what he offers with the ball at his feet going forward. The 21-year-old is an exceptional ball carrier and even provides a goal threat.
Mosnier still expects that N’Golo Kante will keep his place as Deschamps’ first-choice partner for Pogba at the 2022 World Cup. This midfield pairing still gives France the best balance in the centre of the pitch with Kante peerless in his role as Les Bleus’ safety net. Without Kante, France don’t have the same foundation.
However, Tchouameni is developing at such a rapid rate for club and country he could still be an important figure for France in Qatar. By that time, he could also be a Premier League player, whether it’s as Pogba’s new partner at Manchester United, his replacement or at another club.
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