Tottenham are hoping Jules Kounde is the answer to their search for a centre-back — but they face stiff competition to sign the Sevilla star.
The 22-year-old Frenchman is one of Europe’s most in-demand defenders, with Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea also reportedly battling it out for his signature.
As the race to secure Kounde intensifies, we investigate why the biggest clubs around are desperate to snap him up this summer.
Sevilla have always balanced the books through player trading and few in the business are better at turning a profit in the transfer market than sporting director Monchi.
Like many European clubs, Sevilla have been hit hard by the global pandemic and the pressure for them to sell is more intense than ever.
That means they are likely to allow Kounde to leave for less than his £68million buyout clause — though their reported asking price of more than £50m would still represent a significant outlay in the current economic climate.
Despite his youth, Kounde has already proven he can perform consistently at an elite level for both Bordeaux and Sevilla.
After making a surprise breakthrough into Les Girondins’ first team amid an injury crisis, his performances saw him become a mainstay before joining Sevilla for £21m in July 2019.
The Andalusians’ defensive record over that period speaks for itself. Only Real Madrid and city rivals Atletico conceded fewer goals in both 2019-20 and 2020-21, with Kounde at the heart of a backline that kept 17 clean sheets in each of those two seasons.
Combinations are key
Kounde is not the most physically imposing centre-back and stands at just 5ft 11in.
But the key to his success so far has been teaming him with the right defensive partner.
Diego Carlos’ brawn and aerial ability is balanced by Kounde’s speed and intelligent reading of the game at Sevilla, so his suitors will have to be mindful of how he will fit in.
It is easy to imagine the France international partnering with Harry Maguire at Manchester United, while he has all the attributes to play on the right side of a back three under Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea.
On the ball
Elite clubs require their centre-backs to be comfortable in possession and Kounde is no exception in that regard.
Only 13 players in the whole of LaLiga attempted more passes than the Parisian defender (71.28) per 90 minutes last term and he ranked 12th for passes completed (64.23 per 90).
His 90.11% passing accuracy is impressive in itself but Kounde’s real strength lies in his ability to carry the ball out from the back and progress play.
This is reflected in his 0.85 progressive carries per 90, which is in the 98th percentile when compared with other central defenders across Europe’s top five leagues last season.
Former Sevilla captain Pablo Alfaro best summed up why the big guns are so keen to sign Kounde when speaking about him last season.
He said: "The most important virtue in a footballer is intelligence and the capacity to adapt — and Kounde has that in spades.
"With his technical and physical qualities, he fits perfectly with our current globalised football.”
Those attributes have put him at the top of Tottenham’s list — but Kounde would reportedly prefer to test himself in the Champions League in 2021-22.
That would leave Real and the Premier League’s biggest sides fighting for one of the game’s hottest prospects.
Whichever team succeeds will be signing a first-class centre-back with the potential to become one of the world’s best defenders.