Le50 2016: Almamy Touré – AS Monaco
Considering that he had been compared numerous times already to Lilian Thuram, it seemed almost inevitable that Almamy Touré should mimic France’s record cap-holder’s most celebrated match.
In Monaco’s 3-3 draw at Marseille in November 2015, Touré stole the show, scoring an excellent double from right back. His first was nothing spectacular, diverting home a free kick when left unmarked, but his second made everyone sit up and take notice. Meeting a Steve Mandanda clearance just inside his own half with sublime control, he brought the ball forward, beat two opponents with strength and speed, laid the ball off to Guido Carrillo and continued his run. Receiving the return pass wide on the right he feigned to shoot but then cut inside, leaving an embarrassed Karim Rekik on the floor, dummied to shoot again, caressed the ball with the sole of his foot to buy an extra split-second, and then slotted home inside Mandanda’s near post. Asked later about the goal, Touré coolly replied: “in the moment I didn’t think about it, it came naturally… I was lucid”.
As eye-catching as the goal was, it was not the first time that the 19-year-old Malian had shown off his talent in a big match, as Arsenal fans can confirm.
Having seen him come through the Monaco youth ranks, Leonardo Jardim handed Touré his first team debut in February 2014 in a Coupe de France tie against Rennes. Nine minutes in, Touré had already scored his first professional goal, heading home from a corner. The following week he made his first Ligue 1 appearance, coming on as a substitute for Layvin Kurzawa at Nice and helping to preserve a clean sheet.
Those two performances impressed Jardim enough that, five days later, he surprisingly named Touré in the starting line-up for the Champions League tie at the Emirates Stadium. Far from overawed, not only did Touré excel in a shock 3-1 win; it was his dispossession of Danny Welbeck that began the move for Geoffrey Kondogbia’s opener. The following week he started the match against PSG as Monaco again kept a clean sheet, and days later he scored his first league goal, showing great composure and quick feet in a crowded area to make space and shoot against Evian.
That summer Touré signed his first professional contract, sweetly saying: “that the club is showing confidence in me warms my heart”. He added: “it is now up to me to work and to perform in training and in matches”. And the hard work that he put in was rewarded with a regular place in the first team squad, featuring in ten of the first 17 matches of this season, before sustaining a tibia injury that has kept him out for two months, and on the bench since.
In his game time, however, Touré has shown what a class act he could become. Like Thuram, he is a centre back at heart, currently plying his trade at right back (he can also play the holding midfield role). With his strength and height, he is surely destined to move to the centre with time. For now, he has impressed on the flank, showing great heading and tackling ability and a willingness to push forward to support the attack, either with his impressive crossing range or his eye for goal: a return of five goals and two assists in only 21 first team appearances says it all. His speed also allows him to recover quickly if his team loses possession.
He is by no means the finished article: as well as his brace in the 3-3 draw with Marseille, he was also arguably responsible for two of OM’s goals through ball-watching; likewise the following week when he allowed Ronny Rodelin to score a late equaliser for Caen, after his cross had created Carrillo’s opener. Three bookings in his ten matches this season also suggests that he may need to rein in his aggression a little. But the potential is clear to see and it is no wonder that two more of Thuram’s former clubs, Juventus and Barcelona (as well as Arsenal), have already shown interest.
In the meantime, France continue to struggle to find a world-class right back. And Touré has recently applied for French citizenship. Just saying…