Euro 2016 Player Preview: Samuel Umtiti
A look at Samuel Umtiti, the new face of the French backline.
Over the years, Ligue 1 ( The French League ) has produced dozens of talented French-African players. From footballing greats like Zinedine Zidane and Thierry Henry to the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eden Hazard, Ligue 1 is definitely not short of young talent. The 22-year-old Cameroon-born defender Samuel Umtiti is one of those talented French-Africans who have made their mark on the big stage at a very young age.
After a heart-breaking month (May) when Umtiti was placed in the French reserves list for the Euros, he was given a second opportunity and was included in the 23-man French squad when veteran defender Jeremy Mathieu was ruled out of a tournament with a knee injury. Umtiti must make most of his second chance and prove to Didier Deschamps (national team coach ) that he is there to stay in the long run.
Umtiti and Lyon go way back; 2001 to be precise. Umtiti impressed the Lyon scouts and joined their youth academy at the tender age of 8. He spent nine years with the youth team and impressed the likes of Remi Garde (2011-12 Lyon coach), Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc. He even captained ‘Les Gones B’ (Lyon B) for two seasons and ended up beeing drafted into the senior team in the 2011-12 Ligue 1 season, where he chalked up 18 appearances across all competitions.
He has further made 149 appearances for the club and has ended up scoring 5 goals in the process. He has already made a big impression on the Spurs fans as he scored a tremendous volley against the North-London club in a Europa League game.
Umtiti has made a combined total of 47 appearances for the French youth teams, going from the U-17 squad right to the U-21. He, in fact, has even captained the French U-21 side for 3 games, scoring in one of the games. He has not yet made an appearance for the senior national team, but will be looking forward to make an impression in the European Championships being held in his home country.
Position: Centre Back (CB) , Left Back (LB)
Style of Play: A young, strong and attacking center half who thrives on positional play. Loves to do the attacking bits which include key passes, crosses, and the occasional long-range shooting.
Strengths: Standing at 5 ft 11 inches, his height is not ideal for a center half. But, he makes up for his height in many other aspects of the game. Pretty rare for a center half, Umtiti is an exceptional dribbler. He has got good pace and loves to dribble past the opposition strikers instead of the old-school clearing the ball to safety.
For a 22-year-old, Umtiti possesses immense upper body strength and can hold onto the ball with authority. Sam is a very good passer. His passing accuracy of 87.2% in the 2015-16 Ligue 1 season is miles ahead of any other defender and also beats the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa and Mathieu Valbuena. Umtiti is also strong aerially and averages at about 3.2 aerial duels won per game
Weakness: Umtiti is not the greatest in tackling. He is reckless with his challenges and often ends up being booked. He lacks in communicating with his team-mates and is often, lost when there are new tactics made at half time.
Career High: Being selected for the European Championships held in his home country, France. Scoring a cracking volley against Tottenham in a 2013 Europa League game which outshone a magical Gareth Bale goal.
Career Low: Not being a part of the original 23-man squad for the 2016 European Championships.
Quotes: “ Samuel is the glue which binds the entire defence together” , club captain and fellow defender Christophe Jallet speaks very highly on the young center half.
In the past couple of years, the young Frenchman has been linked with the likes of Tottenham and Newcastle (very much expected!) . After a tremendous 2015-16 season for Lyon, Sam Umtiti is a highly wanted man. Available for $22.2 million, from Barcelona to West Ham, many clubs want the services of the versatile center half.
France were handed a relatively easy draw comprising of Switzerland, Romania and Albania. Many expect France to top the group with relative ease. With the knockout stages being a tough challenge, Les Bleus manager Didier Deschamps must try to find the formula for a winning combination in the group stages itself. With the versatility of Samuel Umtiti, France are definitely one of the top contenders to lift the coveted European Championship trophy.