Kurt Zouma: Why Saint-Etienne's Defensive Prodigy Can Thrive At Manchester United...
One of the good surprises of the French season so far is the sight of AS Saint-Etienne sitting right at the top, amongst title favorites composed of Lyon, Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain. Their main achievement to date happened a few months ago when they became the first team to force the almighty PSG to concede a home defeat. These results are obviously due to their Gabonese gem namely Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but also to their new found defence.
Among the regular starters in their backline, is an eighteen year-old player who caught the eye of many scouts for his regular top level performances. Interestingly enough, Kurt Zouma was born in Lyon, Saint-Etienne's rival city, but wasn't detected by the local club's radar. Aged 13, he joined a national youth academy based in Dijon, a short stroll north of his native land. Following his two years there, a trainee contract was quickly offered to him following the advice of Saint-Etienne's local scout Joël Guitay.
Within the "verts" youth system, he progressively climbed the footballer's ideal scale: called into the U17 national side before joining the U19 equivalent, he reached the youth French cup final in 2011 (lost on penalties to Monaco), before a series of injuries in the local backline provoked his first spell in professional football, aged 16.
Shortly beforehand, he signed his first professional contract linking him to the club until the summer of 2014. His coach said then: "He is precocious; he is a force of nature, a big baby. Physically he is ahead of others, very strong for his age. He is a good jumper, he is fast, solid on his legs and adapts himself very easily to a new environment." The kid is not just a muscle man, he also displays great leadership qualities and a perfect attitude on and off the pitch.
In the late summer of 2011, he seized the opportunity offered to him when he strung together half a dozen games as a starter in the centre back position. He even had the chance to score his first professional goal in November 2011 against Nice. Even if he took a smaller part in the rest of the season, when the club's injury room got empty, his performances did not go unnoticed by the touring scouts from many European super powers. Aware of this, the club management offered him a extension to his current deal, which he accepted, deal running until June 2016.
Despite this long term engagement, Kurt remains a target for many top level European teams. During the 2012 winter market, Manchester City officials made an offer €12m to ASSE, accompanied by a €200k monthly salary to enroll the youngster. The offer was declined by both the player and his employer with a statement saying Kurt would like to grow up here in Saint-Etienne.
A year and almost 30 games later, the question is back with this time with Manchester United joining Manchester City in spying very regularly on his performances. Both Manchester sides are said to be neck and neck in the race to sign him despite his managers claiming that he will not leave before the end of the season. Always looking forward, these two teams would happilly welcome a skilful defender who can play at every position of the backline. The two Premier League title contenders seem to be the most pressing teams, but the race for Zouma is still wide open as Chelsea and Bayern Munich emissaries have recently been seen in the refurbished stand of Geoffroy Guichard.
Kurt Zouma is a rare gem, and he's nowhere close to fulfilling his potential. Still, with just eighteen months to run on his current contract, it is decision time for Les Verts as to whether they want to cash in soon, or run the risk of losing him for free.