Le50 2016: Georges-Kevin Nkoudou – Olympique de Marseille
Marseille fans have not had much to cheer them this season, but a bright spot has been the performance of young winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. Bought from Nantes for only €1.5m in the summer of 2015, he has brought pace, tenacity – and the feeling that he’s actually trying – to a team struggling on so many levels.
Nkoudou’s record with Nantes was one of promise, having been at the club since the age of 16, and OM bought potential, rather than a finished product. However, while his Nantes goal and assist numbers might have been modest – one each in the Coupe de la Ligue in 2013/14, two each in the league in 2014/15 – they were often crucial to the result. This tendency has continued, as the numbers have increased, his goal-scoring tally now in double figures for all competitions. In the Europa league, he notched four goals and two assists, making a contribution in each of the five group games he played and decisive in two, both in the difficult environment of the Velodrome, scoring the winner against Braga, and scoring and assisting against Groningen.
In the league, his contributions have been decisive for the result in five matches, for three wins and two draws – the first the winner against his old club, as OM beat Nantes 1-0 in game 12, a low long-range shot after drifting in from the right. From his celebration, it was not a bittersweet moment but one of pure chest-beating joy. This was the start of a wonderful November for Nkoudou, as he was the first player to take OM’s Olympien du mois award from Lassana Diarra, with five goals and two assists in six matches. The OM fans have been frustrated with many of their players this season, but Nkoudou’s visible enthusiasm and endeavour have largely protected him from this.
His performance against Montpellier in early February was particularly characteristic; with Michy suspended and new recruit Stephen Fletcher not yet ‘operational’, OM were reduced to playing young Antoine Rabillard up-front and there was a distinct lack of forward thrust everywhere but on the left wing. Over there, Nkoudou concentrated on spinning defenders around and putting in crosses, before finally taking matters into his own hands, pouncing on a loose ball after a one-two with Romain Alessandrini to score the only goal. He was voted man of the match by readers of L’Equipe’s MBM with 57% of over 10.000 votes cast.
As well as his club form, there is another aspect to consider: Euro 2016 will almost certainly be a step too far too soon, but World Cup 2018 is a definite possibility. While at Nantes, Nkoudou made half a dozen appearances for the national team at U17, U19 and U20 level, scoring his first goal en bleu – the winner – against the Czech Republic in October 2014. He then made the step up to les Espoirs, including three in qualification for the Euros, scoring the equaliser against Macedonia in Skopje. Nkoudou should be confident of playing a part in the remaining three group games when qualifying resumes this autumn, France currently topping the group.
Things may become complicated for Nkoudou in the medium term: given OM’s financial situation, and the prospect of making a big profit on a young player who has more than shown his worth this season, rumours are already circulating about a move in the summer, with Manchester United, Liverpool and West Ham having all apparently scouted him. After one start in the first ten league games, he has now established himself as a starter at Marseille, and it would seem best for his development not to go for a big money move where his playing time might be limited – but that decision could be largely out of his hands.