The rise of the Monaco and France midfielder Aurélien Tchouaméni
When Bordeaux sold Aurélien Tchouaméni to Monaco for £16m last January they may have thought they had done well to command such a fee for a 20-year-old academy product who had only started 13 league games for the club. They won’t be seeing it that way now. Tchouaméni has blossomed in the last 18 months, becoming a star for Monaco and winning his first trophy for France.
As a youngster, Tchouaméni was used as a playmaker or a forward, but he has become such an influential figure from deep for Monaco that, despite his tender years, he is currently vice-captain for the club. Niko Kovac’s decision to use him in the centre of midfield has had a positive impact for Monaco, who finished third in Ligue 1 last season. Tchouaméni was their standout player, winning the Ligue 1 young player of the year award and making it into the Ligue 1 team of the season.
His reputation is soaring. Having already represented his country at every underage level from the Under-16s to the Under-21s, Tchouaméni made his senior France debut against Bosnia and Herzegovina in September before earning his first start against Ukraine three days later, slotting in seamlessly alongside Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot. “I felt comfortable against Ukraine, thanks to my teammates and the coach,” said the 21-year-old after the 1-1 draw. It was a disappointing result for France but he was one of few players to come away with any credit. Tchouaméni was awarded a seven out of 10 in the notoriously stingy L’Equipe ratings, better than any of his teammates.
He also impressed his manager. “I picked him because I thought he had the potential to be there,” said Didier Deschamps after the match. “He has confirmed that to be the case on his debut and then on his first start. There are quite a lot of new players. They should use Aurélien as an example and perform the way he did.”
Having finished last season so strongly, losing just two of their last 23 league games, Monaco were slow to get going this season, losing three of their first five matches in Ligue 1. Things have improved for Niko Kovac’s side recently and their 3-0 win over Tchouaméni’s former side Bordeaux before the international break was their third straight win. Tchouaméni has impressed throughout, with Deschamps not the only manager who has been monitoring the midfielder.
Chelsea and Manchester United are apparently interested in the 21-year-old, who put in a solid performance for France as they beat Spain in the Nations League final on Sunday night. A first medal will have done little to dampen expectations. But why would Chelsea and United be keeping tabs on Tchouaméni? Because he combines the best aspects of their own French midfielders, N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. Tchouaméni is a ruthless ballwinner who is also capable of breaking forward from deep to punch a hole in an opposition defence.
He has made a combined 232 tackles and interceptions in Ligue 1 since the start of last season. Only two players in the league have made more. His dribble success rate of 66% is 17th best of the 111 players who have attempted 50 or more dribbles over the same period. He also puts his 6ft 2in frame to good use. His aerial success rate of 68% is the ninth best of the 113 players who have contested at least 75 headers since the start of last season. Evidently, he is a master of all trades.
Tchouaméni is not easily pigeonholed into one specific role. He is comfortable in a midfield two or three, and he can play as a holding midfielder or a box-to-box player. This versatility affords Kovac and Deschamps greater tactical flexibility, depending on the opposition or how the game is panning out. For example, Tchouaméni made his full France debut as the deepest midfielder in a 4-3-3 against Ukraine, yet put in another solid showing alongside Pogba in a 3-4-1-2 against Spain on Sunday.
“He has the potential to become a complete midfielder,” said his Monaco teammate Cesc Fàbregas earlier this year. Coming from a midfielder who has won almost everything in the game, that is high praise. There are aspects of his game that could be improved. He is neither a prolific provider of goals or assists, having only scored three and set up five league goals in his career. Although, he has a grounded attitude that will help him to develop. “I’m still young and I still have a lot to learn,” he said earlier this month. Fans – in France and England – will be hoping he takes the next step in that journey at their club.