Les Bleus are spoilt for choice when it comes to young potential. From superstar Eduardo Camavinga (18 years old) to Leicester regular Wesley Fofana (20), Lyon’s Rayan Cherki (17) to the electric Isaac Lihadji (18), and even the recent burst onto the scene by Wolves left-wing back Rayan Aït-Nouri (19)- the future of the French national team looks brighter than ever. But there’s a player who has gone somewhat under the radar by football fans alike; Manu Koné of Toulouse.
Having received interest from Manchester United, Leeds United, and AC Milan in the January transfer window — the Rossoneri even having a €5,000,000 bid turned down — it was Bundesliga side Borussia Mönchengladbach that won the race to the 19-year-old’s signature, with a reported €9,000,000 offer having been accepted. He is set to spend the rest of this season back on loan at Toulouse.
Manu Koné: His Past
Emmanuel Kouadio “Manu” Koné was born on May 17th, 2001, in Colombes, 6.6 miles northwest of Paris, France- only a few months before fellow Frenchman Zinedine Zidane moved to Real Madrid for a world-record fee of €77.5 million.
Manu Koné started playing for a youth side in nearby Villeneuve La Garenne before being offered a place in the Paris FC Youth set up, where he spent three years until he was released.
After a year-long spell in the sixth tier of French football, Toulouse took the then 15-year-old 400 miles south on a free transfer in the summer of 2016. This would prove to be a brilliant piece of recruitment, and by a club who are so well known for nurturing top talent; with an impressive portfolio that includes the likes of Moussa Sissoko (Spurs), Étienne Capoue (Villarreal), Alban Lafont (FC Nantes) and Jean-Clair Todibo (OGC Nice, on loan from FC Barcelona).
After residing in the Violets’ youth ranks for two years, he was promoted to the second team, around the same time he received his first France U18 cap (he has since been capped by the U19s), and also made a single senior appearance in the 2018/19 Ligue 1 season. It wasn’t until the start of 2020, however, that the French outfit would see the true emergence of the young midfielder.
Manu Koné ended up making 15 appearances last year; 13 in the league and 2 in the cup where he scored against current Ligue 1 high-fliers, Olympique Lyon. This season, Manu has played 27 times for Toulouse in the second division, putting in performances that clearly caught the eye of some of Europe’s elite clubs.
Manu Koné: His Present
Koné is most comfortable in the middle of the pitch, where he is often deployed as a number 8- although occasionally instructed to stay deeper than the midfield line, to pose as more of a number 6 with additional defensive duties. A life-long Toulouse fan explained to me:
He is a box-to-box midfielder. He brings athleticism, vision and passing.Twitter: @ToulouseFC_Esp
His defensive intelligence transcends his age- particularly proficient at sticking in a foot in an attempt to win back possession- which is evident by his 1.8 successful tackles per game, joint second highest of any player at the club this season.
His ball-winning ability is terrific and, once he’s on the ball, tends to shoot pinpoint passes diagonally to his wingers, or drive play up the pitch and pose as an attacking threat. Amazingly, he has recorded the 4th most successful dribbles per game in the whole league, with an astounding 72% completion rate- far higher than all those that rank above him. He is extremely strong for a teenager- standing at over 6’1”- aiding him in retaining the ball and dominating other players in the challenge.
His defensive and passing ability is similar to that of fellow Toulouse graduate and ex-Premier League midfielder Étienne Capoue; naturally using his octopus-like legs to wrap around players and turnover possession, before finding a teammate much further up the pitch with ease. Considering the length of many of his passes, a completion rate of 84% so far this campaign- the highest at the club- is wildly impressive.
Much like Pogba, Manu Koné is skillful and comfortable with the ball at his feet; especially valuable for a player who can fit into defensive midfield as well as playing a more balanced role. His work rate is unrivaled, and he has demonstrated how much power he can get behind his shots- often posing a threat if given too much time on the edge of the box.
However, many are concerned with his lack of discipline, often committing silly, unnecessary fouls despite being so able to win the ball effectively- seemingly losing his head rather easily. Along with this, some have complained about his tendency to hold on to the ball for too long.
For me, he has a problem which is that he drives too much [with] the ball when he has the option to pass.Twitter: @ToulouseFC_Esp
Manu Koné’s Future
After a drop in form over the Christmas period, Manu Koné has earned his place back in the squad; becoming a stalwart since the beginning of February.
So, how will the German club suit Manu Koné? Well, for starters, the Bundesliga has proven to be a highly effective place for foreign young players to prove their worth. Jadon Sancho, Erling Haaland, Alphonso Davies, Giovanni Reyna, ex-Birmingham City star Jude Bellingham, and so on. The list is endless. But will Manu Koné get regular playing time like the rest of these inclusions? I asked Borussia Mönchengladbach fan Nicklas on Twitter, and he responded:
[He is the] Perfect potential replacement for Neuhaus when he leaves. Probably a super sub at first but will definitely make his way into the first team eventually.Twitter: @BMGnik_LFC
Toulouse have once again proven they have some of the best youth recruitment in France, and Manu Koné has the potential to go far. He clearly still has work to do on his game, but a deal of under €10,000,000 could turn out to be a masterstroke by Gladbach in years to come. He is certainly someone to keep an eye on.
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