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Schalke sign Swiss star: Breel Embolo scout report

Liam Flin
933   //    27 Jun 2016, 16:38 IST
Embolo will ply his trade in the Bundesliga with Schalke next season.

Switzerland may have been booted out of Euro 2016 as they lost on penalties against Poland yet many will still remain envious of the Swiss contingent not necessarily for individual performances at the tournament itself, but for the array of young talent the group is home to. One name attracting media attention of late is 19-year-old Breel Donald Embolo, who has just put pen-to-paper on five-year contract for Schalke, signing for £20 million. Here’s the lowdown on the fearsome forward...

Background Made Basic

Embolo was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon and relocated to Switzerland at the age of six, choosing to represent the latter at international level subject to many a squabble between the two nations over his international eligibility; Breel only received his official Swiss passport in December 2014.

After playing for Basel-based outfits Nordstern and BSC Old Boys at youth level for a combined four years, Embolo made the switch to the city’s primary club and won the coveted ‘Young Player of the Year’ award in 2013, after he lifted the Swiss Championship twice with Basel U16s.

Barnstorming Basel

Since being given his run-out in first-team football, Embolo has hardly put a foot wrong. The 19-year-old striker amassed over 60 appearances for the club – an astounding achievement for his age – during which he scored 21 goals, two of which came in the 2015/16 Europa League season and another one in the UEFA Champions League in two seasons ago. That goal against PFC Ludogorets Razgrad made the Man United target the sixth youngest goalscorer in the competition’s history.

Breel’s debut in the Europa League came in 2013 against Salzburg and he immediately impressed with his performance. His winding runs and ice-cold composure set the league on fire and big clubs quickly came knocking, not least when the Swiss Champions shunned a remarkable €27 million offer from Wolfsburg back in January. Embolo himself claimed that he was not worth such a fee and needed more time in Basel before contemplating such a big switch – I know, he’s a sensible young lad, isn’t he?

So what’s he like on the pitch?

It’s fair to say Euro 2016 concealed any of Breel’s brisk qualities but heightened his weaknesses. During the tournament, he made four appearances, was on the pitch for a total of 192 minutes, but failed to register a single goal or assist. Even worse, he had a 0% shot accuracy and created just one chance across the entirety of the competition. His game time was limited though and three of his four showings did come from the bench. 

Domestically, it’s been a completely different story. For Basel, Embolo prefers to top the tree in the main forward’s position but is often limited to a wider role, potentially in a 4-4-2 or 4-1-2-1-2 set-up, due to his impressive versatility.

Embolo’s physical attributes are well above par for someone his age and he enjoys a tussle in the air, utilising his muscular, imposing frame and his towering height of 6’ 1”. Such strength does little to minimise the forward’s speed in the final third, for he is also renowned for being a great asset on the counter attack. In fact, his game up-top is focused around running in behind defenders and he is able to curve his runs and times advances to perfection more than most. 

One of the most surprising aspects of his game is his reserved mentality; despite being swarmed by the media prior to his Schalke switch, his feet are firmly on the ground and he never gets ahead of himself which is unusual for a youngster. Embolo played many matches in the middle of the pitch at youth level and so has close control and a sense of calmness  in possession, forcing comparisons to N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba. 

While he can be electric with a clinical eye for goal going forwards, Embolo is also rather cautious in his approach to a match which can be both a testament to his great maturity but also a hindrance, as his refusal to attempt the spectacular often means he goes through goalless spells and can drift without purpose in some matches. Some may be surprised to know that he played a part in France at all given his minimal impact.

Although not the archaetype young footballer, there are some traits of Embolo’s style that do not surprise. For instance, his consistency dangerously fluctuates to a level where one match he’s replicating the rise of Lionel Messi and the next he flops like Nicklas Bendtner. When his team are under the cosh, he is not averse to cracking under the pressure and goes hiding for large parts of the game.

As for the future...

Clubs circled like sharks for the Cameroon-born forward’s signature before Germans Schalke made the move. José Mourinho was particualarly keen on implimenting his services in a front-line already comprised of young Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but United stalled with any advances, while Arsenal were another side rumoured to be in the mix. 

The Gelsenkirchen club will do Embolo the world of good, if you consider their fantastic record with developing young talent. Julian Draxler rose to fame in their company, while Leroy Sané, Leon Goreztka and Max Meyer are also flourishing in their ranks.

Embolo will provide serious competition for the likes of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Max Choupo-Mouting, but his diverse nature means nobody can truly guess where he’ll fit in; he may spearhead the line for a handful of matches, while he could be stuck out on the flank against sterner opposition to shake up the full-backs.

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Liam Flin
Writer for the Racing Post
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