For much of last season, one of the great inevitabilities of African football was that Serge Aurier would make a major summer move.
For large parts of the campaign, it looked like Arsenal would be his destination, per the Daily Mail's Matthew Morlidge.
Serendipity appeared to be bringing the Ivory Coast international to the Emirates Stadium. First he had replaced former Gunners defender Emmanuel Eboue with the Elephants, than he was to replace want-away Bacary Sagna in North London.
However, Arsene Wenger’s decision to replace Sagna with Mathieu Debuchy unexpectedly closed off that particular avenue.
Before too long, Paris Saint-Germain had made an approach for the player. Aurier ditched his Arsenal kit and reaffirmed his Parisian roots.
On July 23, PSG confirmed the transfer. Aurier joined the French champions on loan for the coming season with an “agreed option to buy.”
Upon his arrival at the club, PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi outlined why the domestic giants had recruited Aurier, via the club’s Official website: "Serge Aurier, one of the most promising young players in world football, courted by the biggest clubs, has chosen Paris Saint-Germain to continue to shine on the European stage. We are delighted to welcome this young player into our team."
The player, for his part, expressed delight at the move, stating:
To play for Paris Saint-Germain, with the exceptional players this club has, is a dream come true. I will give my maximum to help the club reach the summits. After taking part in the World Cup for the first time, I am having a fantastic summer. I would like to thank the club for the confidence they have shown in me.
While the defender appears to be ecstatic with the outcome, PSG should be equally pleased. They have acquired a fine talent and one who, certainly in my mind, is set for a huge season and a terrific career.
Initially, let me begin to justify that statement by comparing Aurier to the man he is replacing at the Parc des Princes, French international Christophe Jallet.
This handy graphic from WhoScored.com sums up the Ivorian’s superiority. Indeed, Aurier leads the way in both goals and assists (six each to Jallet’s zero), tackles per game (2.8 to Jallet’s 2.6) and accurate crossing (1.1 to Jallet’s 0.9).
Admittedly, Aurier played over twice as much as his predecessor, explaining perhaps the greater goals and assists figures, but it’s important to note that he was featuring in a greatly inferior team; Toulouse finished the season in ninth place, a massive 40 points behind PSG.
Jallet, who moved to Olympique Lyonnais this summer, is not a feeble player by any means. He was described by Carlo Ancelotti, via Goal.com, as a consistent, tactically astute, dynamic and concentrated operator.
Yet he is eclipsed by Aurier.
But what of Gregory van der Wiel, Jallet’s former rival for the right-back slot and the man who Laurent Blanc chose to start in that position in PSG’s first league game of the season against Stade de Reims?
Despite not having always had it easy at Paris, Van der Wiel is a competent full-back and someone who will look to challenge Aurier’s place in the team. While the Dutchman didn’t score in Ligue 1 last season, he managed four assists in his 24 league starts, comparable figures to Aurier’s six in 34.
His passing was more precise than Aurier’s; he completed 89.3 percent of his passes attempted, compared to the West African’s 76.9 percent. While Van der Wiel averaged fewer key passes per game, his long balls were more effective, and he attempted more passes per match than his new rival.
With Paris looking to go far in the Champions League, however, and keen to break some more records in Ligue 1, both men should get the opportunity to impress.
Aurier should emerge on top, however.
The defender contributes more than just his mere stats would let on.
The Ouragahio-born youngster is an incredibly versatile operator and, be it this season or in the future, he will surely prove his worth for the capital club in various different positions.
Last season, for example, he proved himself to be comfortable as a right-back in a 4-4-2, or as a centre-back (on either the right or the left) in a 3-5-2 formation. Similarly, he also thrived in a more advanced role, operating as a right wing-back in a 3-5-2.
During the World Cup, he once again demonstrated his predilection for consistently adopting advanced positions down the right flank, positions from which he can be a devastating operator.
Admittedly, he’s nowhere near being an elite operator at centre-back at the moment, and ultimately, while this is a nice opportunity to have, Aurier’s unlikely to find himself operating in this position too often for Blanc.
First of all, there is PSG’s fine stable of (mostly Brazilian) centre-backs, then there is Aurier’s height, which could well be exposed against the more physically capable forwards of Ligue 1. Finally, despite his composure, awareness and speed, all of which are valuable qualities in central defenders, there is a sense that pushing Aurier away from the flanks negates the devastation he can cause from wide areas.
Nonetheless, it’s important to acknowledge both the value of Aurier’s versatility for the future of Paris Saint-Germain and the fact that his time at centre-back only enhances the impressive offensive statistics he managed last season.
At the World Cup, the defender demonstrated during the Ivory Coast’s three Group C matches just how effective he can be on the flanks.
Most eye-catching was his exceptional crossing ability. Aurier completed 1.3 crosses per match, averaged 1.3 key pass and provided two assists, both from pinpoint crosses. How the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani (malaise notwithstanding) appreciate such confident, constant service.
Secondly, Aurier proved himself to be an energetic and relentless operator. Excellent fitness is an important quality in a modern full-back, particularly one stationed behind an inside forward, rather than another winger.
With Ezequiel Lavezzi or Lucas Moura likely to play ahead of him this season, and both keen to cut inside, Aurier will be charged with dominating the right flank. This means acknowledging his defensive duties, but also providing width, providing service and offering a decoy service to the Argentine or Brazilian internationals.
Fortunately, Aurier has the lungs and the intelligence to manage these responsibilities.
Beyond these two features, there is also Aurier’s athleticism. Despite being only 5'9", the right-back scored headers last season against Marseille (in a 2-2 draw) and against Stade de Reims in a 3-2 victory.
On both occasions, the Ivorian demonstrated his agility and flexibility, as well as his invaluable habit of being in the right place at the right time. While he doesn’t often find himself in the box, it’s encouraging to know that when he does happen to approach the opposition’s goal, he’s capable of finding the back of the net and of making the most of the opportunities that come his way.
As this article has outlined, Aurier brings a myriad of qualities to the French capital. Based on last season, he appears to be a significant upgrade on the club’s right-back options over 2013-14, but is also capable of bringing his impressive physical, technical and tactical qualities to influence other areas of the pitch.
Naturally, it is not a given that the Ivorian can instantaneously transfer his Toulouse form to the Parc des Princes, but all signs indicate that the West African is set for a huge season.
All Statistics via WhoScored.com