The dilemma wonder kids face at major clubs is whether to stay and fight for a place in the first-team or go elsewhere to continue their development.
Christopher Nkunku made his debut for Paris Saint-Germain on December 8, 2015, against Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Champions League. It was 24 days after his 18th birthday. Nkunku joined the club’s academy in 2010 and eventually became a reliable squad player who was willing to do whatever it takes to help the Parisians succeed. During his time at the French capital, the youngster received 11 winner’s medals including three Ligue 1 titles. However, due to the presence of players like Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, Angel Di Maria and Edison Cavani, the forward line was crowded. In midfield, Marco Verratti, Julian Draxler, Marquinhos and the legendary Dani Alves were Thomas Tuchel’s main choices.
In the summer of 2019, Nkunku decides to leave PSG and join RB Leipzig for a fee of $14 million. Other academy products such as Moussa Diaby, Adrien Rabiot and U.S. international Timothy Weah also choose to leave Paris for an opportunity to maximize their potential elsewhere. Nkunku instantly becomes an impact player at his new club. Under the tutelage of Julian Nagelsmann, the Frenchman facilitates attacks all over the pitch and scores five goals in addition to 13 assists in his debut Bundesliga campaign, which is good for fourth most in the league. Leipzig ironically lost to PSG in the round of 16 in the Champions League they go on to reach the final for the first time in club history.
The following season, more is asked of Nkunku after forward Timo Werner departs for Chelsea. Unfortunately, he is unable to replicate his form of the previous season as he contributes 6 goals and 6 assists in the league. Nagelsmann leaves for Bayern Munich and takes captain Marcel Sabitzer with him along with center-back Dayot Upamecano. Jesse Marsch became the new head coach at Leipzig and his tactics unlock Nkunku.
“Two or three years ago, I was a box-to-box midfielder, I didn’t have this physique. I didn’t imagine this, but I have always wanted to become the best version of myself,” said the forward/attacking midfielder to Bundesliga.com.
Due to his tactical versatility and work rate, Marsch decides to play Nkunku as a number 10, a winger on both sides, in a front two with Andre Silva and occasionally alone leading the forward line as a striker.
His breakout performance is in a 6-3 defeat to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in the Champions League at the Etihad Stadium. Nkunku scores a hat-trick and displays his pace, technique, control of the ball in tight areas and vision to create chances for himself and others. Due to the club’s poor form in the Bundesliga, Marsch is replaced by Domenico Tedesco. Even though Marsch didn’t get the time to turn things around, he laid the groundwork to show how to get the best out of Nkunku.
According to Squawka, Christopher Nkunku has been directly involved in 36 goals in 38 games across all competitions for RB Leipzig this season. In 27 league appearances, the fulcrum of the Red Bulls’ attack has 15 goals and 9 assists, both career highs. RB Leipzig were knocked out of the group stage of the Champions League, but Nkunku is still the fifth leading scorer of the competition with 7 goals. Due to his phenomenal season, he is called up to the French National Team for the first time.
“He has excellent statistics. He started as more of a wide player, but today he’s much more central, acting as a striker or second striker for Leipzig. He has a lot more freedom and he’s closer to the goal, which has made him much more decisive. So of course, we’ll try to use him in a similar way,” said Les Blues head coach Didier Deschamps on his plans for the Lagny-sur-Marne native.
Nkunku made his debut against Ivory Coast. The 24-year-old starts the match and plays in a front two with Olivier Giroud. Nkunku wears number 12, which was famous by France’s all-time leading goal scorer Thierry Henry. The Red Bull almost scored his first goal for Les Bleus on a free kick cross from Antoine Griezmann, but his header was too high. The two-time Bundesliga Player of the Month was solid in his first match. He dropped in midfield to carry the ball into the final third and made decisive passes to teammates on the flanks to create chances.
Overall, Nkunku made the right decision to leave PSG for RB Leipzig and he is reaping the benefits of his determination and hard work. Currently, the Red Bulls are fourth place in the Bundesliga and face serious competition to hold onto their place as they are tied with Freiburg on 45 points. Hoffenheim is in sixth with 44 points and FC Koln isn’t too far behind with 40 points. In the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League, RB Leipzig will face Serie A side Atalanta in an exciting encounter between two teams who love to attack.
This summer, many clubs will inquire for Nkunku’s services. He has a rumored release clause of $68 million. Hopefully, he continues to make the right choices and his trajectory continues to rise.
Photo credit: picture alliance / Contributor
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