Kurt Zouma 19 Defender Saint-Etienne France
2013 has been…
Prematurely ended. Kurt Zouma picked up a ten-match ban in November for the tackle that inflicted a double leg break on Sochaux’s Thomas Guerbert. The suspension was unsurprising, given the precedents, but the challenge itself was more unfortunate than vicious. It was clumsy and reckless, certainly over-exuberant, but not malicious in the least. In France, though, the consequences are clear and Zouma is now sidelined until the new year.
It was a bitter conclusion to a year in which the Lyon-born central defender has been on the up and up. At 19 years of age, Zouma shows remarkable maturity in his displays and this has been recognised by France coach Didier Deschamps. After suggesting that Zouma could one day captain Les Bleus, Deschamps gave the Saint-Etienne youngster his first senior national team call-up in October, though he didn’t play.
Having debuted for ASSE in 2011, Zouma has gradually grown into one of Christophe Galtier’s first choice central defenders. There, he’s a composed ball-playing defender. He doesn’t panic and loves being in position, taking his time to find a simple pass; he doesn’t opt for the spectacular very often.
Calmness and confidence ooze through his game. He tackles well and has good positioning and excellent awareness, knowing when to get rid of the ball. Nevertheless, he can be undone. While he is tall and has a big leap – making him a towering aerial presence more often than not – there are some situations in which he would be expected to do better, notably when he’s beaten in the air under a high ball.
Every now and then he finds himself out of position through his youthful eagerness to go and hunt the ball, even when it’s not required. Fortunately, he has fantastic defensive speed once his long legs get going and it tends to be game over for attackers who go up against him for pure pace or upper body strength. His knack for getting himself between the ball and his opponent is useful too.
Sometimes it seems as if Zouma’s covering for others is better than his own decisions. He reads threats well and has the mobility and instinct to take responsibility for them at close quarters. A tendency to be a little aggressive has not, up until the game against Sochaux, been too much of a problem. We can only hope that Guerbert recovers quickly and that Zouma has learned a lesson about the damage that an uncontrolled lunge for the ball can do.
He’s also been deployed at left back this season, a position that manifestly is not his best, but he has the attributes to cover any weaknesses. He’s still relaxed in possession and prefers to keep it simple, and, while certainly not a flying full back in the attacking sense, he holds the position well when a less mature player might be dragged into the central space that he’s more familiar with.
Any whiff of versatility will soon be forgotten. Zouma is a centre back and has all the makings of a very, very good one. ASSE’s League Cup win in 2013 was the first of more than a few trophies the young Frenchman will win in his career, and he might just lift one or two of them himself, such is his strength of character even now. He doesn’t mind a confrontation or a moan at the referee.
A national team debut is inevitable, and a good international career is likely to follow. Zouma has represented France at every youth level from Under-16 to Under-21, and is clearly the jewel of the FFF’s collective eye, Deschamps included.
If Zouma can ease himself back into the Saint-Etienne team next year and rediscover his form, his early career loyalty might be tested sooner rather than later. Links to Liverpool, Chelsea, Atlético Madrid and pre-chaos Anzhi in the summer were met with comments about not wanting to leave, the smart move for a player of Zouma’s age. However, Manchester City rumours emerged soon after the transfer window closed and the player’s 21st birthday now seems unlikely to take place in green.
"Future France captain and centre-back. Already made Deschamps squad. Marvellous physical presence, whole-hearted defender. 10-game ban hopefully won't affect his progress. Most exciting youngster in France." Andrew Gibney, French Football Weekly
"Kurt Zouma is the youngest player to have made over 100 clearances in Europe's big five leagues so far in 2013/14." - Opta
C+ A trophy, a starting spot and a national team call-up