Le50 2017 – Christopher Nkunku
Much has been said about the transfer policy of Paris Saint-Germain and the way in which it has sometimes hindered the development of the team’s academy players. Those moving away have included former captain Mamadou Sakho, Kingsley Coman, and most recently Youssouf Sabaly making his move to Bordeaux permanent. Others have broken through not just to the first team but to the France squad, such as Presnel Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot. One player whose position needs to be clarified soon – for the sake of the club and the player himself – has flown under the radar a little: Christopher Nkunku.
Still just 19, the versatile midfielder has never failed to impress, even if he has been used sparingly. Right-footed, and with a fantastic dead ball delivery, when with Paris Saint-Germain’s first team this year, Nkunku has most often spelled for Marco Verratti as the right-sided central midfielder in a 4-3-3, but has also played on the left side of attack and on the left side of central midfield with France’s youth sides.
With an impressive goal-scoring record (ten across all competitions for both the reserves and senior side), the temptation might be to evoke another central midfielder whose attacking prowess has caught the eye of many, Corentin Tolisso. While their raw numbers do bear some similarity, much of Tolisso’s effectiveness stems from his physical size and aerial ability. Nkunku isn’t exactly lightweight, but at 5’ 10” and maybe 70kg, he simply isn’t going to affect a match in the way Tolisso can.
Rather, he excels at linking play through a range of passing, short and long, while still displaying the right amount of combativeness in the tackle. Despite his small size, Nkunku is never afraid to challenge for a loose ball or charge down a bigger player, bringing the same motor, vision, and range of passing as his teammate Verratti, but perhaps without the penchant for bookings.
Nkunku still has some rough edges to his game, though: he is sometimes guilty of being a overly reliant on his right foot, and similarly can be too ambitious with the ball at his feet, leading to foolish losses of possession. His positional nous also could do with some improvement but part of that is down to the variety of positions he has played with the senior side, and with maturity and a consistent role in the squad, his development should continue apace.
Already a regular with the U20s, Nkunku’s goals over the coming months should be to make the bench regularly for the senior side, and to earn his first cap with the U21s as they seek to rebound from a disappointing pair of European Championship qualifying campaigns. If these aims are reached, Nkunku’s development will be in a good place, allowing him to improve without the hype that has surrounded the likes of Rabiot and Augustin.