Nikolas N'Koulou 21 Defender Marseille
There seems to be two templates that the modern defender must choose between to make it at the highest level in football. The first is in the silky, elegant mould; a defender who could have quite as easily made it in midfield, gliding over the turf and with an eye for a pass. The second is the intelligent but physical type; good positional sense but more importantly imposing enough to dominate weaker strikers. It’s fair to say Nikolas N’Koulou falls into the second category, but he needs to develop the intelligence of the first to win battles rather than just rely on his bulk.
Relegated last year with Monaco, N’Koulou still did enough to almost earn a move to Arsenal and actually earn a move to Marseille. There’s more to his game than physicality and if he can develop a bit more finesse to match the muscle, we could be looking at a top defender. Established as one of Cameroon’s first choice centre-backs and ever present in the country’s poor showing at the 2010 World Cup, more big game experience with Marseille should aid his development.
The yardstick for defenders on this list has to be each other, and compared to a Sakho or Kjaer, N’Koulou is not in the same class. In time he may well prove to be somewhere near but we can’t help but feel he may well have already shown himself to be a decent defender and that might be about it. As stated elsewhere on this list, that in itself is no bad thing, but it’s not really great either is it?
“Big physical centre-back can be quite clumsy at times. Good in the air, tries to play with the ball at his feet, perhaps too often” – Andrew Gibney (French Football Weekly)
“Relegated with Monaco, only to join Marseille on four-year deal. Shaky start to OM career but time is on his side” – Tom Williams (European football reporter for Agence France-Presse)
D Impossible to mark you higher after the relegation, this might be as good as things get.