22 Defender Paris Saint Germain Côte d'Ivoire
2014 has been...
The year Serge Aurier didn’t find his way to Arsenal after all. It’s also been a difficult year to briefly summarise, because it’s had a successful face and less impressive innards. Aurier continued to show good form for Toulouse in Ligue 1 into the new year and throughout the back end of last season, earning himself both a big move to the French champions and a place in Côte d'Ivoire’s line-up for the World Cup in Brazil.
But perhaps the flying Ivorian right back has been cursed by his words earlier in the year. “I respect France,” he said. “But I would feel I’ve betrayed Toulouse if I stayed in Ligue 1.”
In July he moved to Paris Saint-Germain on a season’s loan, a thinly-veiled deferment of payment for the purposes of not falling further foul of Financial Fair Play rules. The Gunners supposedly did make a bid before signing Mathieu Debuchy, but stay in Ligue 1 Aurier did.
He had a reasonably solid World Cup prior to his move. A couple of assists against Japan and a composed display against Colombia showed that he could be relied upon as a supply route even at international level. Ivory Coast’s dramatic exit denied him a chance to make a name for himself in the latter rounds, but collectively they weren’t up to the job against Greece, Aurier included.
Nevertheless, after yet more flirting with Arsenal, Aurier signed for PSG. It’s fair to say that things haven’t really gone his way since.
In September he suffered a fit on international duty after a clash of heads. The resulting breather, brief and unfortunate though it was, won’t have done him too much harm beyond the original injury. His early performances for PSG were heavily criticised, not least September’s mistake against his old club, and he’s struggled to replicate the form that attracted the Parisian club’s admiring gaze in the first place.
Defensively Aurier is reliable and rather unspectacular, by no means a disaster but hardly perfect either. But he’s a very modern full back in the sense that he is really more of an attacker, so the defending isn’t much of an issue anyway.
On the attack and at his best, Aurier’s positively pulsating. He crosses very well for the most part and loves attacking the back post with power and a big leap when the ball comes in from the other side. That’s where he sometimes looks like a traditional, old-fashioned winger, along with his rangy runs in from the right flank.
There’s a big difference too, however, and it was more in evidence in the colours of Toulouse than in the capital. Aurier scores goals and finishes well, often from the genuine centre forward position that he loved to occupy when TFC were on the attack with remarkable regularity. Six goals in 2013/14 wouldn’t have been seen as a disappointment for many nominal right backs, but for Aurier it could and should have been a few more.
When his team attacks in numbers, Aurier is unorthodox to say the least. Positioning means nothing, movement everything, and he’s difficult to deal with as a result. Otherwise, his game is largely about power and energy and he has both in extraordinary abundance.
For all those reasons opponents and critics will write Aurier off at their own risk. There’s a reason he’s been named by some observers as the best young defender in France and we’ve already seen what he can do. His challenge is to settle into his new surroundings, pin down a place for PSG and start making his mark in one of France’s top teams and, indeed, in the Champions League.
Gregory van der Wiel offers significant opposition for the right back spot and PSG don’t play with the kind of width in the middle third that would even allow Aurier to adapt his more instinctive game as a winger. Higher up, the width is provided by Lucas Moura, amongst others, and a converted Aurier isn’t going to pass muster in that regard either.
So, it might come to pass that the Ivorian machine’s move to Paris has yet more to it than meets even the enlightened eye. Without an impact soon, Aurier could be seen as an experiment that didn’t come off and moved on accordingly. North London, anyone?
"Never ending running ability. Perfect attributes for a wing-back. Move to PSG was well deserved, will take patience for him to become a starter." - Andrew Gibney
"No defender provided more assists at the World Cup than Serge Aurier (2)." - OptaJoe
C- Making strides and will soon find his feet at PSG
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