In depth

Transfer talks: is Umtiti Barça material?

Blaugranas are said to be willing to pay 25 M€ for the French centre-back

Transfer talks: is Umtiti Barça material?
Transfer talks: is Umtiti Barça material?

Blaugranas are said to be willing to pay 25 M€ for the French centre-back

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He is one of the most anticipated talents in France, even though it cost Didier Deschamps a few injuries before including him in France's squad for the Euro 2016. Samuel Umtiti might become a Blaugrana this summer if Olympique Lyon's president Jean-Michel Aulas decides to accept Barça's offer of 25 M€ for the International centre-back. Some of the young French talents had no problem switching from a struggling Ligue 1 to the dominant La Liga (Varane being one example), but coming to Barça is a big move that is sometimes hard to live up to.

Is Samuel Umtiti really a good choice for Luis Enrique and the Blaugranas? Here are some clues.

An early gem

He is one of the base men of Lyon's youth takeover. He first played with the first team in the 2011/12 season, alongside players like Hugo Lloris, Lisandro López, Miralem Pjanic or Kim Källström. He participated in OL's European campaign in 2012/2013, tasting for the first time Europa League football, aged only 19. That year, he even scored a screamer at White Hart Lane against Tottenham, a goal to remember as he smashed a half-volley from just inside the box in the opposite right-upper corner. During that season, he became a regular starter for Lyon as he played 26 games in Ligue 1 (25 as a starter), and 6 games in the Europa Leaug (5 as a starter).

Symbolising Lyon's young talent, Umtiti kept on improving and, although he started as a left-back, he progressively joined the centre of the defence to provide a great technical clearance and an incredible calmness even in very heated moments. 

He still hasn't played a single minute for France

This is one strong upset in a career otherwise very well launched. According to many specialists in France, Samuel Umtiti should have had played for France already, but Didier Deschamps didn't want to change too much his back four, sticking to the Varane-Koscielny duo in centre-back positions and veteran Patrice Evra as a left-back. He even preferred players like Mangala or Sakho, in spite of their average performances.

Still solid with Lyon and back at his best after an injury in the beginning of the season, Umtiti has done a great season and largely contributed to OL's second place in the French Ligue 1, behind the untouchable PSG. His absence was obvious as neither of the options Hubert Fournier opted for worked, whether it was Bakary Koné, Jérémy Morel, midfielder Maxime Gonalons or Yanga-Mbiwa. The club even went through its worst streak of the season, as they conceded 1 draw and 5 losses in six games. As soon as he got back, after the winter transfer window, he got the win with the 'Gones' in Lyon's brand new stadium, for the opener against Troyes.

These performances didn't get him the right to defend France's colours, although Deschamps and his team only played friendlies, while preparing for the Euro 2016. Some of his defenders even claimed he should be chosen over Jérémy Mathieu, whose profile is similar and who was preferred, according to some, because he signed for such a big club as Barça.

A quiet strength

He might not be the most spectacular, nor the noisiest on the pitch, but Samuel Umtiti does his job really well, with elegance, rigor and passion. He just missed out on the Ligue 1's team of season because of PSG's record-breaking season. Overall, he is a technically skilled, quick defender and tough to beat. Very intelligent, he adapts very well and is very eager to keep improving. This is why he listens carefully to what his older teammates might have to say, and why he could skyrocket if he joined Barça. Just like Raphaël Varane, he appeared on the national stage pretty early and stood out by his peaceful character, and some very good performances. 

This season, he has been ranked 12th by the French newspaper L'Equipe in the list of the best player of the season, which is calculated with the average of ratings made by the newspaper all along the season. With an average of 5.67 out of 10, he ranked behind Serge Aurier, Maxwell (PSG- and the surprising Romain Saiss (Angers), the others being midfielders or forwards. With Champion's League experience, and already over 130 games in Ligue 1, he has much experience and background. Probably enough for a move to La Liga. If the price of 25 M€ seems slightly exagerated, it is pretty normal considering the market's inflation. If not ready to be a starter yet for Barça, Umtiti would be a great addition to Barça's squad.