Dayot Upamecano and the Tom Brady principle
Google the name Dayot Upamecano this morning and look at the first suggestions
After watching the French man spend 90 minutes destroying any joy and interest Diego Costa and Llorente might've had for that Champions League quarter-final, everyone's seen enough. The only thing anyone wants to know now is where he's going next.
Red Bull Leipzig swept in when he was just 18, forking out £9m to take him from Austria but, three years on, they're in possession of one of the most prized assets in world football and they have him until 2023, too.
If they sell him, they stand to make a fortune. If they don't sell him - because RB Leipzig do not need to sell anyone - then they can just continue doing what they're doing, competing in the upper echelons of the Bundesliga and contesting Champions League semi-finals. And doing it with Dayot Upamecano at the heart of it.
"He's got all the credentials you'd look for in the modern game." 🙌
"It's not the norm for a centre-half to be playing balls like that." 🔥@rioferdy5 and @jjenas8 on why Dayot Upamecano is spoken about in such glowing terms...#Club2020 pic.twitter.com/D3C4JQVuVS
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) August 13, 2020
When the money is flung around the Premier League like it is, it can always be sobering when a player like Upamecano and all his composure appears before a wider audience and the contemplation that follows is that he was going for £2m five years ago.
But five years ago, no-one was thinking about 2020, they were worried about the next game. That's why Aston Villa bought Joleon Lescott for the same price, threw Micah Richards on top and got relegated anyway. That's why City spent £30m more on Nicolas Otamendi. United were too busy chasing Memphis Depay that summer, knowing that they could just overspend in a few years anyway if their defensive worries worsened. Not that it would help.
These players are always out there and Upamecano, still just 21, was out there for anyone with an eye to see.
Here's the thing though. If you glance through the Bundesliga stats for 2019/20, you won't see the French man top any of the polls after playing 28 of Leipzig's 34 games en route to third place.
Duels won: 297 (39th)
Aerial duels won: 66 (48th)
He's further down the list in sprints and intensive runs because Upamecano's best attribute is that he's good at football. They used to say Rio Ferdinand never got his shorts dirty. It's pointless comparing recoveries, yards covered and last-ditch tackles because the best defenders don't always need to resort to that. They play with better heads on their shoulders and they manage the game from there.
Scouts used to overlook Tom Brady because he was slow. He wasn't strong. He didn't have a zip in his passes. What was he good at? He was good at football.
The wrinkle? Upamecano is good at football but he's also all those other things. He is fast and strong - so was Rio. He's aggressive and full-hearted - all the best of them are. Because he's not topping charts doesn't mean those attributes aren't there. It means he's playing football and it means there's more to this game than physicality.
He's also entrusted to be a focal point from which Leipzig launch attacks. In fact, the only stat he's broken the top 10 in the Bundesliga this season is possessions. Julien Nagelsmann gets his defender on the ball and he either drives out with it or he picks passes that takes men out of the game.
Football is a game where imbalances created lead to goals. If you beat a man, the thing can open up. If you draw two of them and release someone else, it opens up. If you're stronger, faster, more skilful, you can cause that imbalance. If you see things happening before they happen, you'll get through.
Upamecano has that ability to put his team into platforms where they can create chances. He also has that ability to snuff the same thing out at the other end because his head and his positioning are heartbreaking components for opposition attackers.
He's not leading the way in terms of hard stats but, then, this isn't baseball, is it? Football is a game comprised of open skills, it doesn't stop and start after one move or one play with one very clear end product. The only thing anyone watching that game last night and watching Upamecano this season will know is that, at 21, he already looks like the finished product.
That product, though, will cost a lot now. But it will be worth it.