Mateus Carvalho provides a detailed scout report about Dayot Upamecano, RB Leipzig’s precocious talent.
RB Leipzig is a source of utterly paradoxical feelings between football fans around the world. The last Bundesliga season’s revelation is on one hand one of the most hated sides in Germany (if not the most hated of all), but has, on the other hand, delighted football aficionados from all ages and preferences with both its stellar performance in Germany’s top tier and its core philosophy of giving opportunities to the youth, setting some of his brightest and youngest talents out to stardom, like Timo Werner, Naby Keita, Emil Forsberg and the player this article aims to thoroughly present, Dayot Upamecano.
Who is Dayot Upamecano?
Dayotchanculle Upamecano was born on the 27th of October 1998, in the small French village of Évreux. And if there is a word that can sum up his life story, that word is, most definitely, precocious. That assertion is based on two key factors. Firstly, standing at 1,88m and weighing 79 kg the French defender has an impressive physical stature for an 18-year old and the physically astonishing centre back he is today is mainly the result of such a growth. Secondly, his career is nothing less than a meteoric-like rise to professional football. And to explain it we will start from the end, presenting a simple fact: Upamecano joined RB Leipzig at the age of 18 after winning the Austrian Championship as a regular at RB Salzburg being 17(!) years old. But let us not get ahead of ourselves.
Talent Radar Accolades
To recap, Dayot started to play football for a local side in France, Vaillante S. Angers, in which he stayed for three years. He then moved to a similar size team, FC Prey de Normandie, but stayed there for only a year, arriving at his hometown club, Évreux at the age of 11. Upamecano quickly established himself as one of the most promising French players, although playing in youth lower tiers of his country for Évreux, beginning to be observed by both French youth national directors and various French clubs’ scouts. After four years playing for his hometown club, Dayot was transferred to Valenciennes, at the time a Ligue 1 team, being only 15 years old. Since that time, the young defender worked his way up in the youth French system, impressing teammates, adversaries and coaches alike in such a way that the call to join French’s u-16 team was not a surprise. The above said rise to stardom that Dayot Upamecano went through is definitely explained by the two superb consecutive spells for the young defender in Valenciennes, each one being topped with presence in France’s youth teams in international competitions. Representing France’s u-16 side, he was one of the stars of the 2014 Agean Cup, being named the tournament’s best defender and the next season he was promoted to the u-17 team, winning the European Championship and being also named in the team of the tournament, having played every single match.
With all the success it was predictable that Dayot’s stay at Valenciennes would not continue for long. And those predictions were proven right after the u-17 Euro with a transfer to Red Bull Salzburg (by a fee of 1,8 million euros – a quite surprising amount for a 16-yearold). Although Dayot’s immediate destination at the Austrian club was the junior team, his qualities quickly convinced Salzburg’s directors that he could handle more challenging levels of competition. As such, in the same season he arrived at the club, Upamecano made his professional debut for Salzburg’s senior team and was subsequently loaned to Liefering, a second-tier club affiliated with the Austrian giants. His season impressed everyone and the promotion of a 17-year old to the Salzburg’s first team only surprised the ones that did not know Dayot. Even more impressive was the maturity and quality the French youngster displayed for the Austrian champions, enabling him to sediment himself as a starter under the orders of Óscar García, playing 21 matches during the first half of the season (alongside with a continuous presence in France’s national youth u-17, 19 and 20 sides). His outstanding performances drew some of the European giants’ attention, but it was RB Leipzig (certainly favoured by his Red Bull shared management with Salzburg) that beat the opposition, securing the young defender for a 9 million fee in the winter transfer period of last season. It is curious to observe that since he left Valenciennes, Dayot Upamecano has only played for Red Bull linked sides (Salzburg, Liefering and Leipzig).
At the 2016/17 Bundesliga’s revelation side, the French starlet did not have the same ease in affirming himself and one might rapidly reach the conclusion that he has not done so yet. In fact, Bundesliga presented Dayot with increased demands, mainly in the tactical aspect of the game and a superior level of competitiveness that the young player was not accustomed to, even more so as Dayot arrived at the club in the middle of the season, when adaptation to a club is certainly much more difficult. It was a learning period for Upamecano, topped by a 4-match consecutive streak in Leipzig’s initial line-up. The opportunity to be with the team since pre-season will most definitely ease Dayot’s job and offer him a fresh start in the season to come.
What is his Style of Play?
I will base my analysis on Dayot’s style of play in an affirmation made by himself: “I look up to the way Raphäel Varane plays, but I do not try to imitate him, every player is different.” This sentence is able to capture three key components of Upamecano’s game.
The first two are inherently linked to the reference to Varane. Not strictly to the French star’s style of play but to the principles he embodies as a modern centre-back: (i) the composure, presence and determination that every fan likes to see in every player but especially in a centre-back, never giving up on one play, aggressive and strong in one-on-one duels and always performing in the 90 minutes; and also (ii) the agility and speed that the modern centre-back shows and that every coach likes to possess in his side. In fact Upamecano is able to join this two factors in his style of play, starting in his physical and technical qualities that result in a tactical ease to perform outstandingly as an efficient and offensively involved centre-back or even as a defensive midfielder (role he many times played in RB Salzburg) able to offer his physical prowess to the center of the pitch’s battle, being simultaneously a wall and creator for the team.
The third and last component of Upamecano’s style of play is its particular uniqueness. As the young player said, he looks up to Varane, but he does not try to imitate him. In fact, Dayot Upamecano does not try to imitate any player and he has a particular style of play that only a few players are able to implement. It is incredible and quite pleasant to see him play, as he displays the same ease at stopping the opposition’s plays as he starts fast breakthroughs in their midfield, always with the ball alongside him and dribbling his way out of the many dangerous situations that stand in front of him. Of course, this is a risky style that might compromise his team, but also a very exciting one to watch, as Upamecano has already developed it, achieving a high rate of success.
What are his Strengths?
Upamecano presents all the features one might use to define a centre-back. As we mentioned above his physique helps him to impose himself against adversaries and enhances his solid tackling and interception capabilities. All of this is further boosted by a very decent heading game, not that much in impulsion terms but in strict heading technique. The French prodigy is able to ally this with an impressive maturity and tactical intelligence considering we are talking about a 18-year old. Of course this aspect was submitted to a great test with the move to Bundesliga (and we will talk about it in the section below), but Upamecano is most certainly able to predict the opposition’s movements and act on it, blocking a great deal of plays due to it.
But there are a series of qualities that set him apart from the usual defender. Dayot shows an amazing technique for a player in his position in the field and that reflects itself on his bold style of play described above. He is superbly quick, mainly with the ball controlled; shows magnificent dribbling skills (and I am not overdoing it with the adjectives) and also a fairly ample passing capacity having made a few assists while in Salzburg. He also possesses great stamina and ball control that provide him with the ability to create plays by himself from the back, helping his team’s build-up phase.
What are his Weaknesses?
With all due respect for RB Salzburg and the Austrian football, the transition to Leipzig made some of Upamecano’s flaws more evident, as the Bundesliga demands more from every player and the irreverence of the French defender cannot remain unspoiled and has to be worked in a way that does not compromise the stability of his team. Dayot himself said, “It is not easy to play against so many older players, they have the physique, the experience and the ‘perversion'”.
Thus, my opinion is that Upamecano would gain a lot if he was able to polish his naïveté into a healthy freshness and creativity. He has to realize that he cannot engage in so many alone attempts to go through the opposition’s first line of pressure and discover new ways of playing collectively. He also needs to improve his tactical positioning, mainly in defensive transitions, when he is often rendered in disadvantage with balls in behind him. Of course, his pace helps him most of the time to supress this frailty, but it nevertheless exists and must be tackled.
With a stable contract at RB Leipzig (until 2021) and a first period of adaptation to Bundesliga already fulfilled, Dayot Upamecano has a great chance to continue his rise to stardom, playing for one of the most exciting sides of Europe, a team that bets on young talents and gives them space to flourish. It is just a matter of seizing the great opportunity he has been given.
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