Europe’s most prestigious competition, the UEFA Champions League never shy away from unleashing new talents about whom hardly anyone bothered to follow.

Until and unless Ajax stunned Real Madrid and Juventus in that dramatic season of 2018-19, none would have come to know how good Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech, and Donny van de Beek were! Neither anyone would have come to know how Hansi Flick had transformed Bayern Munich into a ruthless German Machine nor would anyone have known about the RB Leipzig of Julen Naglesmann and their exciting players: Timo Werner, and Dayot Upamecano.

The gem of Leipzig –  Werner has flown to Stamford Bridge, while the big clubs like Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Bayern Munich, and Real Madrid are keeping a close eye on Upamecano –  the unlikely star of this season.

Born in France, Upamecano is of Bissau-Guinean descent.

He played for the France under-16 team that finished third in the 2014 Aegean Cup. He played in three of his country’s four games and was named the best defender of the competition. He subsequently moved up to the France under-17 squad, making his debut in a European Championship qualifier against Cyprus in 2014.

France won the 2015 UEFA European Under-17 Championship, with Upamecano playing in all six of his country’s matches and being named in the team of the tournament. He made his debut for France under-18 in a 0–0 friendly draw with United States under-18 in 2015.

He is eligible to play for Guinea-Bissau and for France.

Now, Upamecano has been included in the French national side, which would face Sweden and Croatia in the UEFA Nations League. Lyon midfielder Houssem Aouar and Rennes’ rising star Eduardo Camavinga have been called up as well.

Upamecano is a product of the youth team of Valenciennes FC.

Upamecano, however, was the saviour of that club desperately in need of a paycheque to keep them afloat, and according to one of his coaches at the time, Olivier Bijotat, he still retains many of the attributes that made him stand out as a 15-year-old.

“He’s been driven by his desire to win the ball back. He’s kept the same freshness. He always tries to get himself into an advantageous situation,” he told Voix du Nord. “Except now he’s done it in the quarter-finals of the Champions League against Atletico, a team never easy to play.”

After attracting the attention of a number of major European clubs, including Manchester United, he joined Red Bull Salzburg in July 2015 for a reported fee of €2.2 million.

He was an unused substitute in Red Bull’s UEFA Champions League game against Malmö FF on 29 July 2015. He made his professional debut for Red Bull’s farm team, FC Liefering, two days later, in a 2–1 league win against St. Polten.

In 2017, Upamecano joined RB Leipzig on a four-and-half-year deal, for a reported €10 million fee.

He was shortlisted for the 2018 Golden Boy award.

His talent transformed into deeds in the Champions League of 2019-20.

In the quarterfinals against Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, who stunned Liverpool in the Round of 16, Upamecano was at his defensive best.

Tyler Adams’ late strike sealed the win for Leipzig – but the name on everyone’s lips was Upamecano.

The 21-year-old put in a dominant display in central defence and showed off the perfect blend of skill and strength when dealing with Atletico’s forwards. Diego Costa was kept quiet while Alvaro Morata’s introduction also didn’t faze Upamecano.

The world watched Upamecano’s performance in awe and the majority thinks the lad is destined for greatness.

BT Sport pundits Jermaine Jenas and Rio Ferdinand praised the talented Frenchman following Leipzig’s win.

Jenas said, “When you look at Upamecano going up against Diego Costa today, it was like no point Costa even being there. “

“It looks so easy to him the game. He looks like he is playing with his mates and that’s when you know you’ve got a good player.”

At half-time, Ferdinand said Upamecano ‘manhandled’ the Spaniard who had a very frustrating night as Atletico crashed out.

Ferdinand added after the game, “Upamecano was the best player tonight he was formidable on the pitch.”

In the semifinal against PSG, Neymar outsmarted him, by forcing him to come out of his position, which did cost Leipzig the game, but the 21-year-old has made an impact in Europe and throughout the world this season.

Upamecano is strongly built. His physique helps him a lot to neutralize the best of forwards. When played a pure centre-back, he hardly gives them breathing space and if applied as a man-marker, he would remind everyone of the great Claudio Gentile – there is no respite.

Nord stated, “Today he has everything, a mixture of power and incomparable technical quality. When he arrived at Valenciennes, he had his athletic strength but wasted a lot of balls. He was already a great defender, so we weren’t afraid to offer him midfield or attacking exercises so he became more fluid, to allow him to get to the heart of the game and see more of the balls.”

“It was easy because he’s very demanding on himself. If you give him five training sessions a day, he’ll be out on the field five times.”

Upamecano is 21 and would develop more in the future. His skills bear high value for any team. No wonder Manchester United are after him because he would fix the loopholes at the back. Although Upamecano signed a new deal with Leipzig in July, there exists in his contract an exit clause of €50 million (£45m/$59m).

Harry Maguire might have been bought in the summer of 2019 for a world-record fee of £80 million, but Man United are still in search of a partner that is of suitable standing to the England international.

Victor Lindelof has been the main partner alongside Maguire this season, but Solskjaer has identified that if he is to challenge for the major honours in the next campaign, he will need a sturdy defender that is reliable and effective and Upamecano might be the answer.

But whether Manchester United would be financially that stable to buy Upamecano after signing Donny van de Beek remains a matter of discussion.

If Solskjaer can sell Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, Man United’s board would be more welcoming to the idea of trying to persuade Leipzig to part ways potentially a year earlier than expected with Upamecano. It will likely take a bid of around €50 million in order for this deal to come to fruition.

And if Manchester United cannot fulfill the Upamecano project, then, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, and PSG would advance.

Upamecano –a center-back is enjoying the limelight, but he knows very well, he needs to maintain the consistency.

 

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