Regular member of that thrifty defence at San Mames is a certain 19-yr-old Aymeric Laporte, only the 2nd Frenchman to represent Bilbao in their entire history. The 19 year-old Laporte ends a long wait for a second French player, it is 18 years since Bixente Lizarazu played 16 times for Bilbao before leaving for Bayern Munich and World Cup glory with Les Bleus in 1998. A left-sided player like Lizarazu, captain of France’s under-19 side and an international at under-21 level, the potential is already in place for Laporte to follow Lizarazu’s climb to the top.
WHO IS AYMERIC LAPORTE?
It is Bilbao’s admirable transfer philosophy of only signing Basque players that has contributed largely to the discovery of Laporte, another youngster to pass through one of the most productive youth academies in Europe. Born in Agen, a city in the south-western region of Aquitane which lies on the edge of the Pyrenees mountain range that borders with Spain, Laporte started playing with French amateur side SU Agen-Football where he spent 9 years, before moving to Aviron Bayonnais.
After spending a year with Aviron and turning down contracts with Toulouse and Marseille as his promise grew, he was noticed by scout Julen Masach who took the 15 year old Laporte to Bilbao’s Lezama based academy in 2010. It was a decision motivated by the player’s belief that Spain house the best league in the world, and that Bilbao, a club offering the chance for the defender to train with such talent as Fernando Llorente, was too good of an opportunity for him to ignore.
Shortly after joining, the defender suffered a cruciate ligament injury which ruled him out for 6 months. Returning from the lay-off just shy of his 16th birthday, Athletic put him under an intense training regime as they carefully managed his rehabilitation by offering him the best medical attention and reserving him a place in the youth side. Such was the talent that Laporte displayed in his teenage years that Athletic so intently oversaw his return, complimented by the defender’s own determination to recover from a potentially serious injury.
Upon returning to the Juvenil A side, Bibao’s youth team, Laporte impressed so much he was allowed to prove himself on a loan spell at CD Baskonia, a club residing in the third tier of Spanish football. 33 appearances and 2 goals later, Laporte playing a major role as Baskonia secured a tenth place finish in the Tercera, he went back to Bilbao in the summer of 2012 and began training regularly with the first-team. In November he made his début, playing the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 Europa League win over Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona FC in Cyprus, while in early December he came on as a late substitute in a 1-0 victory over Celta Vigo to mark his first domestic senior appearance.
Talent Radar Accolades
Then-manager Marcelo Bielsa was to include Laporte in his starting XI just a week later as they secured another 0-1 win away at RCD Mallorca and, shortly after his full league début, the defender signed a contract extension to prolong his stay with the club until 2015 which raised his release clause up to 18 million Euros. He went on to finish the campaign with 15 appearances to his name, 14 of them starts as he was included in Bielsa’s starting XI for 85% of the games in the second half of the season.
His sustained run in the first-team was due to the uncertainty surrounding Fernando Amorebieta’s future in Bilbao as the 28 year old became embroiled in a contract dispute and in the summer it was all change at the Basque-based club. Not only did they move into the new stadium but Bielsa departed to be replaced by Ernesto Valverde and also moving was Amorebieta who left for Fulham, leaving a central-defensive void that the new manager unsurprisingly filled with Laporte who was handed the number 4 shirt previously worn by club legend Ustaritz. The French defender, now 19, has made 32 appearances, 30 of them starts, as Bilbao, buoyed by their fantastic home form and resilient defence, now look favourites for La Liga’s final Champions League qualification place with 3 games left.
STYLE, STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
Perhaps the most telling tribute to Laporte’s talent is the assessment by website Inside Spanish Football who mark him out as having no apparent faults in his game. They point out that has come after the defender has managed to eradicate a previous vulnerability under the high ball that led to him misjudging headers by getting up and under the ball early. According to writer Chris Moar, this led to Bilbao being stretched on the counter attack as balls bounced off Laporte’s head, leading to the defender requiring his electric pace to recover his mistake.
His heading ability has improved to the extent he is now rated as the eleventh best defender in La Liga when it comes to aerial battles won, winning 73 out of his 119 attempted headers at a success rate of 61%. However it is with Ernesto Valverde’s reversion to a higher defensive line where his improvement has been most effective, not only with his outstanding pace enabling him to get back should a striker breach the Bilbao back four, but with a fine reading of the game that is shown by his 171 clearances and 67 interceptions across his 30 appearances this term.
Not only does Laporte’s maturity and fine reading of the game enable Bilbao’s defensive-line, in which the French teenage plays to the left side of his captain Carlos Gurpegi, to stay high in order to press opponents in areas further up the field, but he is aided also by more abstract qualities such as leadership and his ability to organise; it is no coincidence that he is captain of France’s under-19 side.
He also boasts a fine comfort and balance on the ball which helps the defender to link-up with his two holding midfielders positioned in-front of the defence, usually Andre Iturraspe and Mikel Rico, helping Bibao to build from the back. This term, Laporte has attempted 1480 passes and completed 1205 of them at a success rate of 81.4%.
Those statistics see him as the 6th best defender in the Primera in terms of passing, with only Dani Alves, Pepe, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Andreu Fontas sitting higher in the charts. His 8 chances created is also impressive for a centre-half, coming from the 24 appearances he has made from there while another 4 have come from left-back. It is this versatility that is a huge asset to Valverde, possessing a player who is equally comfortable in 2 positions which boosts the squad in terms of cover. It may be why Athletic felt able to loan out Jon Aurtenetxe, a defender in a similar mould to Laporte, to Celta Vigo.
His movement up the field with the ball is always a measured process with Laporte, emerging from deep positions with caution and a thoughtful approach, careful not to surrender possession with a mistake or a misplaced pass, but indiscipline off the ball remains an issue for the defender who only turns 20 next month. The Frenchman has picked up 10 yellow cards in one and a half seasons with Bilbao and 2 red cards have also occurred, the latest of which came in the defeat to Atletico Madrid as the rugged power of Diego Costa became too much for Laporte and his patience snapped with a cynically late foul on the striker who escaped the defender’s attentions late-on.
This is what Norwegian TV channel, C More, presenter and La Liga expert, Petter Veland told Outside of the Boot about Aymeric Laporte. Follow him on Twitter at @PetterVeland.
“He’s not even 20, and is leading the defense of Spains fourth best team – known for their physical, studs up defending. Surely to be one of the best defenders in the world, he could have a sensational partnership with Varane for the France national team in the future. Aymeric Laporte is good on the ball, modern defender who is capable of bringing the ball forward, wise and mature for his age, fearless and full of confidence.”
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