Scout Report: Denis Zakaria - the man to fluster French hopes?
Can the Swiss youngster set the cat amongst the pigeons at the Euros?
While the confirmation of the final Euro squads traditionally sees the young fat trimmed away, there are in fact some youthful gems who have survived the chop this time round and are readying themselves to make a shock impact in France this summer. Amongst them is 19-year-old Denis Zakaria, the Swiss midfielder who made the cut following a fine campaign with BSC Young Boys.
Zakaria was born and raised in Switzerland to parents of Congolese descent and was snapped up by Young Boys from Servette in July last year. Despite being uncapped for his national side, Denis still got the nod ahead of the experienced veteran Gokhan Inler and will battle a plethora of top names to cement a place in the first eleven. Granit Xhaka, Valon Behrami and Gelson Fernandes are just some of the other holding midfielders Denis will be up against, but what makes the youngster stand out from the rest?
Strengths and Weaknesses
With interest having already been shown from Red Bull Leipzig, Bayer Leverkusen, Manchester City and Southampton, it is evident that Zakaria could bolster the meanest of midfields. Towering above most in his position at 6’ 3”, the 19-year-old has an imposing aerial presence, as epitomised by his headed goal against St. Gallen in the Swiss Super League last November - his first for the club.
He certainly has a refreshing spring in his step and would prove a danger from set pieces. That said, the youngster is not the stockiest either and perhaps needs to bulk out a bit before he can give Yaya Toure a run for his money.
As a boy, Zakaria claims to have been inspired by Patrick Viera’s swashbuckling presence in the heart of a formidable Arsenal midfield, while the aesthetics of FC Barcelona’s play has rendered the Spaniard’s his favourite club side.
In a footballing world where all players have a tendency to push forwards, clubs can rely on Zakaria to anchor down the holding role and focus on his defensive duties, given that he started his career by playing at the heart of the back line. With this in mind, ahead of the Euros, he could forge a solid partnership with new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka, who likes to drop into a more advanced role on occasion.
It is certainly a weird one to be discussing the impact of one so young, especially when his experience is just as meagre. Uncapped for his national side, Zakaria has put on a shirt for the Switzerland U19s on five occasions, scoring for them once so far.
Only recently has he caught the eye of the Swiss media, having been given an opportunity at the core of one the nation’s most recognisable outfits. He is steadily progressing but pundits, as always, desire more goals from a player in his position and believe his game requires more than just an athletic leap and good eye for a pass to be successful.
It could be hard enough for Zakaria to even register an appearance with the aforementioned midfield challengers involved, but if ever there was a stage for a young midfield dynamo to romantically make his mark, this summer's Euros could be the place.
Switzerland will face hosts France, as well as Romania and Albania in Group A. Combing electric enthusiasm with unprecedented endurance, Zakaria will most likely be introduced as a substitute, if he appears at all, in the bigger games. Against France, he could be given the opportunity to square up against one of his idols Paul Pogba.
The other two members of Group A, however, have fragile midfields and so Vladimir Petkovic could be tempted to deploy Zakaria as a gamble to ruffle some feathers. He has a crunching tackle in him and will throw himself forward for last ditch corners and free-kicks so could prove a very valuable asset in the tournament.
The chances are, barring any Albanian astonishment or rude awakening from the Romanians, Switzerland will progress comfortably to the knockout phases, where tired legs and potential injuries could further enhance Zakaria's chances of a first cap. Dzemaili and Behrami are coming off the back of lengthy seasons and are no spring chickens, so could be rested to open the door for the Young Boys midfielder.
As for the future...?
This summer's outing could go one of three ways; it could be the springboard Zakaria needs to announce himself at the highest level, make no impact whatsoever or minimise his status. One thing is for certain though; Zakaria has the mental capacity to cope with any of the three.
My interest in the youngster was fuelled by an interview he did following his signing for Young Boys last year, in which he came across as intellectual and mature. To me, it seems he has both the versatility and professional persona to adapt to any new situation and, although he deems the wave of foreign interest as flattering, he is loyal and focused on his role in the hub of Young Boys midfield and on the upcoming excursion to France with the national side.