Le50 2017 – Joris Gnagnon
A year on from the emergence of Ousmane Dembele, Rennes are once again in possession of a young player with huge potential. Step forward 20-year-old centre back Joris Gnagnon. His growth over such a brief period of time has been nothing more than sensational and less than a year after establishing himself as a first team player, the fact that some of the biggest European teams are showing interest, speaks volumes.
Gnagnon was brought up in the eastern suburbs of Paris and was still playing for his local amateur side Montfermeil at the age of 17. His coach there was former Rennes scout Valere Laurent and it was presumably with his blessing that he made the move to the Breton side in 2014. After a lengthy spell on the sidelines through a knee injury, Gnagnon returned to play a key part in the Rennes side which made it to the semi-finals of the 2015 Coupe Gambardella.
It was under former Rennes coaches Philippe Montanier and then Rolland Courbis that Gnagnon experienced his initial taste of first-team action. However it took the arrival of Christian Gourcuff, together with a lengthy run of injuries to several teammates, for Gnagnon to have an extended run in the team. Since then he hasn’t looked back as he has very quickly become Rennes’ standout defender. Come the end of the season, no other centre back had matched his number of appearances and many Rennes fans had him down as player of the season by some distance. Whilst perhaps not playing in as glamorous a position as Dembele, his run from nowhere to essential player is startlingly similar to the Borussia Dortmund winger.
Whilst a little on the short side for a centre back, Gnagnon is still strong in the air. His well-built physique deceives many as despite this he is surprisingly quick and of course incredibly tough. With a footballing brain far beyond his years, he can identify danger early and position himself and others accordingly. There are few defenders in Ligue 1 who are as fierce, hard, yet fair in the tackle as Gnagnon. Gourcuff has been delighted with his progress, stating “he puts his physique to good use. However his reading of the game and technique mean he is capable of bringing the ball out of the defence. For me he’s an ideal defender”.
Gnagnon is mentally strong too and has previously spoken of his desire to “give 200 per cent whatever happens, even if it means getting cramp. I never let up. I always give everything for the team which I hope helps them”. This was perhaps evidenced in its most graphic form in the game against Saint-Etienne back in April 2017. Despite two heavy knocks to the head and a huge bump clearly visible on the side of his head, Gnagnon was simply bandaged up before wanting to get back onto the pitch.
Despite having previously played for the French youth teams, Gnagnon has now declared his loyalty to the country of his parents, the Ivory Coast. His immediate drafting into their very next squad only further demonstrated how far Gnagnon has come.
To add to this and despite his rapid rise, Gnagnon has managed to keep incredibly focussed and has yet to really let everything get to him, as he spoke about earlier in the year, saying “whilst everything has happened very quickly, I just keep my head down. I’m really happy but I’m staying grounded”. These words will come as huge comfort to Gourcuff who has shown great faith in the young defender since drafting him into the side. The Rennes coach has been glowing in his praise of the player: “when it came, he seized his chance and as he’s improving all the time, he will have a big future”.
In that line from Gourcuff is perhaps a slight glimpse into Gnagnon’s only real weakness – from the club’s point of view anyway – and that’s the fact that he is still developing. With time on his side and providing he continues to get the opportunities, he is only going to get better. Rennes already turned down a €10m offer from Sevilla for the player back in January 2017. However with the likes of Marseille, Monaco, Chelsea and Tottenham all now monitoring him, those bids will only get bigger.