As is typically true throughout the ceremony when a club unveils its new signing, the most fascinating factor mentioned when Barcelona paraded Jules Kounde at their coaching floor on Monday was not uttered by the participant. Instead, it was mentioned about him.
It got here when Mateu Alemany, Barcelona’s new director of soccer and “get-it-done” man who ensures the club’s dealings at the moment are strong, clever and strategic, insisted on going again to the query as to why the €55 million defender wasn’t t already a Chelsea participant. Alemany emphasised that he’d a number of occasions advised Kounde (by way of his agent Jonathan Kebe) that “… if you’d like issues sorted out shortly, then take one of these different large affords you have acquired, however cease calling me as a result of I’ ve acquired no information …”
Barca’s consultant was emphasizing how brutally sophisticated it has been for the club to barter the financial “levers,” with Sixth Street and Socios.com, price a number of hundred million euros, which have left the club liquid and hungry to spend. He seemed out into the massed ranks of media to search out Kede, who was seated there with some of Kounde’s household, and requested: “What was it, Jonathan? Did you cellphone me each single day, or solely each two days, for the final two months?”
Alemany made crystal clear that Kounde had chosen Barcelona as his vacation spot over two months in the past and regardless of weeks of the club being unable to offer him any hope or encouragement, the 23-year-old had stubbornly resisted Chelsea and waited patiently for the inexperienced gentle from Camp Nou. Under regular circumstances, a France worldwide like Kounde would by now be a pillar of Chelsea’s rebuild following Roman Abramovich’s departure. But he wished to remain in LaLiga, he wished to hitch Barcelona and, above all, he wished to play for Xavi.
In Kounde, the Catalan coach has grabbed a significantly gifted defender who: is aware of LaLiga inside out; suits his new club’s taking part in philosophy to perfection; can play in a few positions relying on formation; has damaged the pattern of younger, wonderful LaLiga footballers who’ve been unable to withstand the name of the Premier league, and whose agent has simply accomplished a fabulous €80m deal to take Aurelien Tchouameni to Real Madrid.
It is a win for the club and the coach, but additionally for LaLiga. No success for one other Premier League predator this time.
I’ve met and interviewed Kounde a few occasions, and he is fairly the character. For instance, it won’t be a worldwide expression, however in the United Kingdom we grew up with “hard-men” footballers being described with the phrase “he’d slide sort out his grandmother if it helped his workforce win.”
Step ahead, Kounde … nicely, nearly. He’s beforehand admitted to Onze Mundial in his native France: “My mum needed to put up with a lot once I went by a troublesome section as a child. My native workforce was a bit of a catastrophe, we misplaced a lot, and I could not ‘t tolerate that. It drove me loopy and after a unhealthy sport, I’d be a nightmare at residence. I’d be in a foul temper all weekend: atrocious conduct. I acquired into such a rage that I ended up kicking my poor mum.
“Eventually she sought skilled recommendation and the physician advised her ‘do it again to him. If he kicks you, kick him again. He’ll quickly settle down!’ That interval did not final lengthy, however it wasn’t nice at the time.”
These days, Kounde is removed from a hothead. Take observe that regardless of being a quick, aggressive, “see-the-ball-win-the-ball” sort of participant, he is been booked a mere 26 occasions in 227 club and worldwide matches. Few lunges and nearly zero dissent; his misjudgments are uncommon. That’s a correctly outstanding stat. Nevertheless, Barcelona followers will recall that one of his two purple playing cards in Spain was for chucking the ball at Jordi Alba throughout a heated and very bodily 1-1 attract Sevilla, when the left-back elbowed and shoulder-barged him twice in brief Succession.
It’s a “rating” that ought to now be shortly sorted. Alba loves a gritty competitor … simply so long as they’re sporting the identical coloration shirt as him.
Kounde’s different purple card? When Espanyol’s Javi Puado man-handled and tugged him again 4 occasions over 15 meters and Kounde tried to push him off. It was a terribly delicate expulsion, however on every event, it confirmed a little remnant of the child who used to kick his mum’s shins.
The defender lastly determined that sufficient was sufficient at Sevilla again in April when Los Rojiblancos, 2-0 up at the break towards eventual champions Madrid, collapsed to an ultra-dramatic 3-2 defeat in added time. Kounde hammered his workforce for having “tossed a good first half in the bin” and criticized Sevilla’s “lack of character and persona” in the second half. Harsh phrases, even when correct, however career-changing. It was time to go.
This is a man who is usually serene, enjoyable, interested in life, multilingual and completely obsessive about music partly due to the father he barely knew being a gifted drummer. “My mum purchased me a little drum equipment that… how do I put it… was extra of a toy. I bear in mind spending a lot time with it. It drove my mum barely loopy as a result of it was actually noisy and I used to be consistently taking part in it. I believe that this 12 months, or subsequent, I’ll begin taking piano classes as a result of my mom performed the piano and it is a stylish instrument.”
Don’t be fooled by Kounde, although: he is cultured, however robust, particularly if he detects below-par requirements or attitudes. It’s a trait that was hammered into him. He’s beforehand defined the place this demand got here from: “Joining Bordeaux [Kounde’s first senior club] was robust at first — me being shy and withdrawn did not assist. My coach, Jean-Luc Dogon, labored actually laborious to get me to open up and carry extra aggression to my sport. I’m actually grateful to him.”
Various coaches at Bordeaux solid the man that Barcelona simply introduced in. “Jocelyn Gourvennec was a laborious man,” mentioned Kounde. “I’d miss one go whereas a teammate would miss two or three, however Gourvennec would come down on me like a ton of bricks and let the different man off. It felt very unfair at the time, however it undoubtedly left me with a robust work ethic plus a dedication by no means to take my foot off the gasoline.”
I used to be working for LaLiga TV with Chelsea, Uruguay and Real Zaragoza legend Gustavo Poyet, himself a former Bordeaux coach, the day that Sevilla signed Kounde. Off-camera, Gus instantly advised me: “Fantastic child, he simply likes to go for adventures up the pitch, however so long as he continues along with his perspective and his willingness to defend in addition to assault, he’ll grow to be a fabulous participant .” He was proper.
Kounde recollects that spell: “Gustavo actually believed in me and gave me big confidence in my very own talents. He wished us to like every thing about soccer, to take dangers, play creatively and get pleasure from being half of a group. Maybe the greatest coach I ever had!”
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What’s subsequent for Kounde is a interval of experimentation and, in a sense, a survival of the fittest. Over their previous few matches, the 23-year-old hasn’t been an computerized selection for Didier Deschamps’ sensible France aspect, a minimum of not when Les Bleus play 4 at the again. But final 12 months, taking part in 90 minutes in the Nations League semifinal win over Belgium and remaining victory over Spain in a three-man again line, Kounde was Deschamps’ first selection.
Xavi, theoretically, now has to decide on between Gerard Pique, Eric Garcia, Ronald Araujo, Andreas Christensen, Frenkie de Jong (assuming he stays, anyway) and Kounde over who begins at center-back. It guarantees to be a battle royale simply to get a beginning place. Will it’s 4 at the again (so solely two central defenders)? Or is Xavi planning a 3-4-3 wherein Kounde profiles as the excellent wing-back/centre-back amalgam demanded by that formation?
Once once more, this child’s path to success will rely nearly as a lot on his laborious yards in France as it’s going to on his maturation at Sevilla.
“Breaking by, I used to be used at right-back when I’d beforehand at all times performed as a central defender,” he as soon as mentioned. “At first, I used to be a complete catastrophe. I bear in mind tortuous coaching periods practising crosses to the forwards, with me sending the ball throughout the place. I’d find yourself crossing it behind them or making it too low or too excessive — it was catastrophic! I used to go residence totally depressing.”
Take observe: he is solely given 4 assists all through his whole club profession, however he is scored 13 occasions.
Last time Barcelona signed a 20-something, music-loving, exuberantly gifted, right-sided defender from Sevilla and left Chelsea with out a man they thought they’d satisfied to return to London, it was Dani Alves 16 years in the past. It’s a lot to stay as much as, however equally, it is one thing for Kounde to goal at. Doubt him in the event you select, however get able to eat your phrases.