Today, Africa’s brightest young defender—and arguably its brightest prospect—Serge Aurier is biding his time at Toulouse, on the brink of a transfer to one of Europe’s major clubs [via Joe Krishnan of The Independent].
Once upon a time, Kevin Constant was in a not too dissimilar position.
Admittedly, during his TFC days, as a young professional, the Frejus-born player didn’t court quite the attention that Aurier does. However, that’s not to say that Constant wasn’t well regarded, he was, after all, a France U-17 international, having made three appearances for the team in 2004.
While Aurier should go onto great things, Constant’s career has meandered since his initial breakthrough on the banks of the Garonne. He was sold to Ligue 2 side Chateauroux, then moved to Italy, to Chievo, initially on loan, then, in the summer of 2011, permanently.
Milan only approached the West African due to an injury to Sulley Muntari, as confirmed by Adriano Galliani [Gazzetta dello Sport, via ESPN FC]:
In agreement with our coach, we have decided to get him [Constant] once we found out about Muntari's injury. Muntari has had an ugly injury. I have never had a player that tore his cruciate (ligaments) during the holidays.
He has found stability at the San Siro, but is unfortunately indicative of a kind of player who features for Milan these days who, in another era, would have got nowhere near the first team.
It’s fair to say that Constant has stalled somewhat in Lombardy.
Looking back to the 2012-13 season, the Guinean’s first in black and red, Constant established himself as a solid defender who effectively protected the left-flank.
One of his stand-out performances was against Juventus in Milan’s 1-0 victory in November 2012. It was the second time the Old Lady had lost in Serie A under Antonio Conte, and while victory owed a lot to the fine work of Riccardo Montolivo and the disciplined play of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Constant also played a crucial role.
Charged with negotiating the energetic and often devastatingly effective Mauricio Isla, but also conscious of the fact that the left-sided forward Stephen El Shaarawy was doing little in the way of tracking back, and the dangerous movement of Mirko Vucinic, Constant delivered an excellent performance.
Michael Cox of ZonalMarking.net outlined the defender’s key contributions: “On the left, Kevin Constant didn’t give Isla any time to cross – he blocked more crosses than any other player in a single game in Europe’s major five leagues this season, a rather obscure but nevertheless telling statistic.
“The full-backs had to be clever with their positioning – not giving the Juve wing-backs time on the ball, but not leaving the centre-backs exposed two-versus-two”
Not acknowledged by Cox, but also an intriguing window into Constant’s qualities, is that, apart from Montolivo, there was no one else who completed more successful dribbles in the match, for either side [via Whoscored.com].
Some months later, against Barcelona, Constant played a similarly effective role in a match described by Cox as “arguably the most convincing defeat of Barcelona since the current era started in 2008.”
Up against Pedro Rodriguez, and charged with monitoring the wide man’s direct runs and intelligent movement, Constant again rose to the occasion.
Cox wrote, “Pedro was simply nullified by Constant, who had the pace and concentration to track his runs from outside to in.” His performance was about more than that though, he demonstrated a honed anticipation, excellent marking skills and also the discipline to remain on top of his man for the duration of the contest.
In the second leg against Barcelona it was a different story, however, as Constant was troubled by the presence of Dani Alves who stretched the play effectively and, along with Jordi Alba on the opposite flank, contributed to Milan’s demolition.
Many a fine defender has been outdone by Alves and Barcelona, but on this occasion, Constant was complicit in his own downfall. Matt Monaghan of BBC Sport noted, of David Villa’s 55th-minute goal, “The goal owed much to left-back Kevin Constant's rash attempt to intercept the pass before it reached the striker.”
In this fixture, as with Milan’s 1-0 defeat to Juventus a month later, Constant’s conservative approach arguably cost his team. In the modern game, the duel between full-backs is so important, that should one cede the initiative to another (as Constant did against Alves and, arguably, Stephen Lichtensteiner) then his team can find themselves on the back foot.
Admittedly, Constant hasn’t always been a left-back, and indeed, it wasn’t in this position that he first made his encouraging steps in Serie A. During his time at Chievo, he often played in the centre of midfield, featuring as a box-to-box operator who brought hard work and drive to the middle of the park.
Perhaps Massimiliano Allegri’s assertion that Constant’s qualities could be used at left-back was understandable. Certainly, his early showings, as outlined above, seem to indicate this, but over the last 18 months things haven’t been so impressive and the Guinean has struggled to build on his early progress.
Last season, Constant made the headlines after being the subject of reprehensible racist abuse while playing against Atalanta. Unfortunately, he made few other contributions of note in a disappointing season for the Rossoneri as the Italian giants finished in lowly eighth.
The incident at Atalanta also affected his relationship with Milan and the left-back was criticised for taking matters into his own hands.
Damiano Tommasi, the president of the Italian Footballers Association, reminded Constant of the protocol in place for players in such situations: “I spoke to Constant and showed him I have solidarity with him but I also reminded him that there is a code of conduct that has to be respected,” Tommasi told reporters, as noted by Forza Italian Football.
Rayner notes that “the deal is likely to appeal to Constant” as the defender seeks to get some separation from Milan and Italian football, “Constant will almost certainly be interested in leaving Milan, where his performances were criticised last season.”
Following Allegri’s strained relationship with Silvio Berlusconi and his departure last season, then the bungled appointment of Clarence Seedorf, the last campaign was a write-off for Milan.
There is an “end of an era” feel about the club, with Pippo Inzaghi entering to take the reigns and, likely, to shape the club and the squad as he sees fit. Inzaghi will likely look to introduce some of his charges from the youth squad into the team and move on some dead wood to finance some new acquisitions.
Kaka and Urby Emanuelson have already departed, while Robinho has been told that he can leave the club [via Mark Doyle, Goal.com]. Adil Rami, Jeremy Menez and Alex have already arrived, with others likely to follow.
At 27, and with his progress stuttering, the time may well be right for Constant to call time on his career at Milan. As the club seek to move in a new direction, expected the faded old guard to be moved on or fazed out—should a deal from Newcastle materialise, then Constant would do well to take his talents to the Premier Leauge.