Jules Kounde is not especially tall, not hugely physically imposing and he has very little experience at the very highest level.
And on Wednesday night in the Champions League — playing in his first ever knockout tie in Europe’s premier competition — he was given the runaround by two erstwhile Manchester United transfer targets.
Kounde’s Sevilla lost 3-2 at home to a Borussia Dortmund side, who were inspired by Erling Haaland (two goals) and Jadon Sancho (an assist and a Man Of The Match performance). A Dortmund side who have been struggling somewhat in the Bundesliga this season, amid uncertainty over the futures of Haaland and Sancho.
It wasn’t the ideal introduction to the very elite level of European football for Kounde and his teammates.
But don’t be fooled. Kounde is the real deal. Why else would Real Madrid and Manchester City both make a play for his signature in the summer just gone, when the Frenchman was only 21 and had just one season of football for an elite team under his belt?
Brave and adventurous, and blessed with decent recovery pace, Kounde is a very modern centre-back more of Eric Bailly’s ilk than Victor Lindelof’s.
Speaking in 2018 after breaking through into Bordeaux’s defence as a teenager, Kounde explained how his height (around 5ft 10in) had not limited his ceiling as a centre-back.
“I have always tried to ignore the fact that size can be a barrier in this position,” said Kounde, who has also played in midfield, such is his versatility and overall skill as a footballer.
But it’s at centre-back where the Frenchman wants to play, and has shone in recent years.
He added: “For many, especially recruiters, tall players are required in central defence. Size is just a detail for me, it’s a very small aspect of the game and the job.
“My small size is therefore no problem for me. With the coach, we have a good relationship. He trusts me and gives me a lot of freedom, especially in the relaunch with the ball. We discuss a lot and that allows me to be efficient.”
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Manchester United’s European campaign resumes this week as they travel to Turin to take on Real Sociedad in the first leg of the Europa League last 32.
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Kounde would tick a lot of boxes for United, who are rightly searching for the ideal centre-back partner for Harry Maguire.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has had a lot of trust in the Maguire-Lindelof axis at the back, and loves his fellow Scandinavian who is cool on the ball, but Lindelof lacks some physical attributes, Bailly has fitness issues and Axel Tuanzebe is yet to prove himself as a ready-made first-teamer. Kounde would plug the gap perfectly.
He’s never had a major injury. playing pretty much consistently for three-and-half straight seasons, and has adapted each time he’s been asked to rise to a new level in his career.
Okay, his debut in the Champions League group stages did not quite go to plan, but he helped Sevilla accrue 13 points to qualify through the group stage. And again, there is no smoke without fire and the transfer interest in Kounde tells its own story.
Dayot Upamecano was a player United liked before he decided to switch from RB Leipzig to Bayern Munich. There are others on their wish-list.
But with City getting their centre-backs last summer — a major factor in their probable reclamation of the title — the main competition from Kounde could come from Spain’s megaclubs.
Again, that should not deter United; it should merely tell them that they have found their centre-back target.