Manchester United Transfer Rumors: Scouting Saint-Etienne Defender Kurt Zouma

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentJanuary 29, 2013

Manchester United Transfer Rumors: Scouting Saint-Etienne Defender Kurt Zouma

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    If you’re a Manchester United supporter, you may know of Saint-Étienne centre-back Kurt Zouma, but if you’re not too familiar with him, then you should read this article. 

    According to Mark Ogden at The Telegraph, Sir Alex Ferguson will sign the 18-year-old French youth international in the summer.

    Should United sign Zouma?

    Feel free to comment below with your thoughts. 

What You Need to Know About Kurt Zouma

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    Who is Kurt Zouma?

    French CB, Age: 18, 6'2" (1.88 m), 187 lbs (85 kg)

    This is an excerpt from Andrew Gibney's brilliant profile of Kurt last year (via French Football Weekly):

    Since the season began Zouma had been sporting the infamous No. 33 shirt. The number given to players that haven’t been registered within the squad and usually coming in as part of the youth team. 

    Coach Galtier had previously said they reason Zouma’s name was not on the shirt was for his own protection. The longer Galtier could keep Zouma out of the spotlight the better chance Saint-Étienne have of keeping the defender in the famous green jersey.

    In his short first team career Zouma has already scored two goals and impressed all in attendance, it seems the cat is truly out of the bag. The raw power and pace that he possesses made it very hard for anyone to get past the huge defender.

    Saint-Étienne will hope, like Sakho, that Zouma is still gracing the Stade Geoffrey Guichard in five years’ time. If Manchester United or City have anything to do with it, that could be a distant dream for Les Verts.

    The careers of Idriss Saadi, Benjamin Lardon, Yoann Andreu and Maodomalick Faye didn't kick on after donning the No. 33 shirt—Zouma broke the trend.

    The big defender was a starter for Patrick Gonfalone's French contingent at the 2011 Euro U-17 Championships.

    Though, UEFA's Technical Team omitted Kurt from the tournament select squad, instead choosing other centre-backs like Nathaniel Chalobah (England), Nicolai Johannesen (Denmark), Terence Kongolo (Netherlands) and Frederik Holst (Denmark). 

    When Zouma started alongside captain Raphael Calvet at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, just like at the Euros, the Saint-Étienne defender was overlooked by the Technical Study Group, who identified teammates Yassine Benzia, Abdallah Yaisien and Adrien Tameze as "outstanding players."

    In the two most scouted youth tournaments, the technical committees of FIFA and UEFA did not single out Kurt for praise—that should give you some pause for thought. 

    In 2001, the hapless Barcelona president Joan Gaspart gave the go-ahead for a €17 million transfer of Monaco's Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year Philippe Christanval. 

    BBC Sport did a bio of Christanval for the 2002 FIFA World Cup: 

    Christanval has been a towering presence since making his debut for French side Monaco in 1997.

    And such was his impact that AC Milan, Inter and Barcelona were all lining up for his signature.

    The 23-year-old has since lived up to the interest with a series of mature displays for both Barça and France.

    Roger Lemerre has already singled him out as the future of France's central defence and the World Cup could provide the perfect springboard.

    Joan would later find out about Philippe's concentration problems the hard way.

    Eight years later, as William Gallas and Éric Abidal attempted to shut out the vuvuzela-infested atmosphere, Christanval was at home—instead of playing in a World Cup game against Uruguay in front of 64,000 people—he had hang up his boots.  

    It's a fickle world for up and coming centre-backs joining foreign leagues with expectations to be elite. 

    Barça were adamant that Dmytro Chygrynskiy would fare better than Christanval—so adamant, the Blaugrana paid Shakhtar Donetsk €25 million. The Catalonian club sold him a season later. 

    Valérien Ismaël, Crystal Palace's record signing in 1998, said hello and bye in the same year

    Manchester City knew Stefan Savić needed time to adjust, he had been named in the Serbian SuperLiga Team of the Year the season before, but they didn't envision him transforming into the Montenegrin Titus Bramble.

    Benfica have all but given up on Sidnei. 

    Chelsea management expected resolute performances from David Luiz, only to be left frustrated by his unique approach to defending i.e. playing as a quasi-No. 10 or imitating Cristiano Ronaldo's stepovers.

    What about former Bayern Munich player Breno? He's in jail

    So, before you jump on the Kurt Zouma bandwagon, read this slide again.

Kurt Zouma's Playing Style

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    You'd be forgiven for stereotyping Kurt Zouma as a rambunctious and full-throttled defender. 

    He isn't a destroyer like Inter Milan's Andrea Ranocchia, who throws himself into tackles. 

    The Italian bounced back from a sub-par season to lead Europe's elite leagues in tackles per game for centre-backs (4.2).

    In comparison, Kurt averages 0.6 tackles per game, as he is more safe and calculated. 

    This is why he has a 83 percent tackling percentage whilst Andrea is at 63.

    That's generally always the trend when comparing tackling percentages between reactive and proactive centre-backs (Marquinhos is a rare exception).

    Simon Kuper had a discussion with Chelsea director of football operations Mike Forde about the validity of tackles per game for defenders (via The Financial Times):

    There was the awkward issue of the great Italian defender Paolo Maldini. “He made one tackle every two games,” Forde noted ruefully. Maldini positioned himself so well that he didn’t need to tackle. That rather argued against judging defenders on their number of tackles, the way Ferguson had when he sold Stam.

    In Ryan Giggs' autobiography, he observed how Jaap Stam operated: 

    Just before he joined us, we'd seen pictures of him on the cover of a magazine, where he looked massive.

    I was sure that he was too big and muscular to be quick enough, but I was wrong about that.

    He was quick all right. After just a few games we knew we'd signed a great player. Once his pace took him into the channel ahead of an attacking player, they had no chance. He was so strong that it was always going to be a mismatch.

    Zouma has that freakish athleticism to overawe nimble forwards. 

    Well, Gary Cahill averages 1.2 tackles per game, and has the same conservative approach to defending—what's the difference between him and Kurt? 

    Gary's positioning is woeful in a conventional back four hence why he looks out of depth against world-class forwards like Falcao and Zlatan Ibrahimović.

    Play the Englishman in a deep defence where the mentality is to survive and it enhances all his best attributes: blocking the ball, last-ditched tackles and being patient. 

    The irony of Cahill's signing was that André Villas-Boas bought him to play the high line—Gary led the league in offsides won per game (1.9). 

    Also, he isn't a freight-train like Zouma, so that's another major difference. 

    Can you tell me about Kurt's passing?

    It's good.

    He has the second-best passing completion percentage on the team (87.1; second to Jérémy Clément's 87.8). 

    But, when the large majority of passes are low-risk, you'd expect Zouma to complete a minimum of 85 percent of his passes. 

    His long-passing percentage is 65.7, which isn't good enough, though don't loose sleep over it because you'd surmise he'll improve his accuracy as he gets older.

    Is Kurt a "can't-miss prospect"? 


    If Manchester United are looking to sign a centre-back, Marquinhos of Roma should be their No. 1 centre-back on the big-board. 

    Buying a CB with world-class upside is all well and good but United's primary objective in the summer is to secure the signing of a commanding midfielder like PSV's Kevin Strootman or Sebastian Rode from Eintracht Frankfurt


    League Only TPG IPG T% HW% FPG P% LP%
    Angelo Ogbonna (24) 2.1  3.0 70  54 0.7  93.5  86.0 
    Jonny Evans (25) 1.8 1.5 74 52 0.6 89.2 66.7
    Kurt Zouma (18) 0.6 1.1 83 80 0.7 87.1 65.7 
    Marquinhos (18) 2.0 3.1 94  53  0.8  89.6  74.1 
    Mats Hummels (24) 2.8 2.9 80 58 0.4 83.2 65.8
    Nemanja Vidić (31) 1.3  1.1  75  69  1.1  85.8  57.4 
    Rio Ferdinand (34) 1.5 1.7 78 56 0.4 90.7 75.4


    (age); TPG = tackles per game; IPG = interceptions per game; T% = tackling percentage; HW% = headers won percentage; FPG = fouls per game; P% = passing percentage; LP% = long-passing percentage



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