There has been something of a talent stream forming at RC Lens at recent years. As well as Mohamed Diame, Adel Taarabt, Nolan Roux and Raphael Varane who have all passed through the youth set-up at Les Lensois, a defensive midfielder of Central African descent is also making his way in Europe after learning his trade at Le Stade Bollaert.
Geoffrey Kondogbia was very highly rated at Lens since being plucked from amateur club Senart-Moissy in 2010. It was youth coach Eric Assadourain who described him as having “great potential” and a “mature player” despite being just 18 years of age when he broke into Lens’ senior squad. After learning his trade in the Lens II “B” side, he impressed coaches enough to be given several appearances on the first team bench as well as 3 senior appearances towards the end of the 2010/2011 season.
The following year, manager Jean Louis-Garcia made him an integral part of his team, playing him 32 times in the heart of midfield. Such was the quality of his performances that interest from the likes of Napoli and Juventus to the tune of a reported €6 million emerged.
Lens have history in producing left-footed defensive midfielders, with Seydou Keita moving to Sevilla five years earlier. Ironically, after more clubs became interested in his burgeoning talent, it was the Spanish club who landed Kondogbia, for the same fee as they signed Keita, a relatively modest €3.5 million.
Despite losing a promising physical central midfielder who had been noticed enough at international level to represent France at every level from under-16 to under- 20, Lens fans were not particularly bothered about the departure of Geoffrey Kondogbia. His attitude was being called into question following episodes of immaturity and egotism on the pitch. He rashly picked up 8 yellow cards in his debut season for Lens. He also marred his off-field behaviour by being caught with a fake driving license, costing the player a 7,000 Euro fine.
Such problems did not put off Sevilla who pressed on with the deal, bringing the young Frenchman to Andalusia in partnership with investment group Doyen, who currently own 50% of the player’s contract. He was bought in by coach Michel to initially play at left-back but after appearing there in a pre-season friendly at Girona, he has only appeared in defensive midfield.
Now 20 years old, his progression at Seville has been beyond expectation, making 26 appearances and forming a solid midfield partnership with Gary Medel in the heart of the side. Despite Michel’s mid-season departure to be replaced by Unai Emery, Kondogbia has been a mainstay in the team as Sevilla sit tenth in La Liga. Still only in his first year at the Roman Sanchez Pijuan, Kondogbia has started to again draw interest off potential suitors with a series of strong, mature performances.
Geoffrey Kondogbia featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014. He was at #10 in our list of midfielders. See the entire list here.
Strengths, Style and Weaknesses
When you consider Geoffrey Kondogbia has drawn many comparisons to Patrick Vieira, it can be guessed what his game is all about. Possessing impressive upper body strength in a body-frame that exceeds 6ft, he is an athletic midfielder who likes to patrol the area in front of the defence. He is naturally combative, averaging nearly 3 tackles per game at a rate of 1.5 interceptions per game suggests his fine reading of the game. His interceptions make up 60% of his defensive contributions according to statistics website Squawka.
The 20 year old naturally loves a challenge and a massive success rate of 80% in the tackle this year shows his ability to use his tenacity and dynamism in the correct way. However, a record of 63% of challenges resulting in committed fouls suggests that he maybe over-enthusiastic in the tackle, something that is likely to be eradicated as he matures further. He has also won over half of his aerial challenges (at the time of writing), 21 out of 40 to be precise, indicating his power and ability in the air.
Kondogbia is also adept at distributing the ball after winning it back, averaging 30 passes per game, attempting 800 passes over the course of this campaign and completing 697 of them at a percentage of 87.1%. His position at the heart of the midfield dictates a controlled, measured use of the ball and that is shown by his reluctance to venture forward, he has created just 6 chances for his team-mates so far this campaign, instead choosing to pick short, clever balls across the midfield to keep Emery’s 4-2-3-1 system ticking. This has been indicated by an average pass length of 16 metres.
The youngster is especially cautious with his positioning however, preferring to remain deep instead of embarking on the swashbuckling forward runs that used to embody the game of the likes of Vieira. This is shown by his reluctance to dribble the ball forward, entering the final third on average just once per game.
The Frenchman has also worked on his discipline despite his problems at Lens, picking up just 2 yellow cards. That statistic is especially surprising when it is considered Sevilla have had to deal with various disciplinary issues within the squad over the past year (fighting in training etc.). But Kondogbia has cut a cool figure on the pitch whilst Gary Medel and Emir Spahic have blown their fuse spectacularly at various points over the season. Away from the comfort of his family and friends over in France, the 20 year old has matured into a calm, domineering midfielder who shows authority on the field.
With Abou Diaby’s injury issues striking once again, and after losing Alex Song last summer to accusations that his midfield may be a little too lightweight, Arsene Wenger is reportedly interested in a move that would make perfect sense for Arsenal.
Wenger has been asked about the ex-Lens midfielder but has refused to go into detail, although he refused to rule a potential move out, saying “I don’t want to talk too much about Kondogbia because everyone is after him”. The latter part of the sentence hinting at the reputation the 20 year old is building himself after a promising first year in Spain.
While the links with Arsenal have intensified, Kondogbia himself has admitted that a move to Real Madrid is particularly appealing, saying it “would be a dream come true” to play for the Spanish giants. A step to the highest level may be too early at just 20 however, something that the player acknowledges by claiming “it is only a rumour at the moment”.
With club president Jose Maria Del Nido tightening the purse-strings at the Sanchez Pijuan as club debts are scheduled to rise by 15 million Euros per year, Sevilla may be tempted to cash in on their promising French star, but such a move would be undermined by the arrangement with Doyen, who would demand 50% of any fee. It is likely that Kondogbia would cost around 20 million Euros, a respectable fee for a talented defensive midfielder who is on his way to becoming the next Vieira.
UPDATE: Geoffrey Kondogbia joined AS Monaco.
Original image (pre editing) taken from sport.fr
- Spanish Football Column: Death of Deportivo supporter blights the weekend’s action - December 1, 2014
- Spanish Football Column: Levante work hard to improve, Espanyol disappoint, Messi breaks another record - November 26, 2014
- Spanish Column: Nolito finally getting recognition while Sociedad get Moyes - November 12, 2014