Who is Samuel Umtiti?
Samuel Umtiti is now at FC Barcelona, as the 22-year-old Cameroon born central defender was signed by the Catalan outfit for 25 million Euros. While the price is certainly not unreasonable, given the context of the massive English and Chinese transfer fees of the last few years, it sure raised a few eyebrows given the jump from Lyon to FCB. In this article, we’ll take a closer analytical look at Umtiti, the fourth highest rated central defender in Ligue 1, assess his strengths and weakness and examine where he will fit into Luis Enrique’s squad.
A star is born at Euro 2016
In case you missed the Euros this summer, Umtiti, featured for France in the latter stages of the tournament; starting the last three games versus Iceland, Germany and Portugal respectively. Despite his difficulties in the final with Portugal’s Éder, his performances were quite impressive, and one had to wonder why he needed the absences of several others CBs (Sakho, Varane and Mathieu) to get a very late call-up. After all, based on the Euro performances and his last couple of Ligue 1 seasons, there is increasing evidence that he is at least as good if not better than Adil Rami, Jeremy Mathieu, or Mamadou Sakho. Here you can observe his flawless passing against Iceland,
and see that he was above an astonishing 95% for the tournament!
Comparison to his peers
So, as you can see from above, passing is clearly a strength for Umtiti, who has not only got a high pass completion rate for his career at 85%, but is actually a heavy volume passer, attempting close to 65 per game. So, as the picture from www.whoscored.com below shows, he is one of the premier ball-playing defenders in France, but what about in a broader sense?
Well, in the context of the top five European leagues, his 1876 passes are 19th among all defenders per Squawka.com.
The comparison by Squawka, in which I ran Umtiti’s numbers against two world-class defenders in Thiago Silva, Gerard Pique, and two prospects of similar value, Aymeric Laporte (25m) and Antonio Rüdiger (12m on Transfermarkt, but Chelsea were told to raise their 20m Euro offer, despite the player suffering a brutal ACL tear at the Euros) rates him very favorably:
Umtiti is second (mostly to Thiago Silva) in total score, defense, forward passes, interceptions and clearances and third in tackles won and lost, attacking score, pass completion, fouls committed and yellow cards earned. On top of that he actually is the best out of these five players with a 64.31 duel percentage and has earned the most fouls with 31
In summary, those are some gaudy numbers, and certainly evidence that Umtiti leads the class of the best young central defensive prospects, and Barcelona were absolutely right in paying 25m for him.
Strength and Weaknesses
From those aforementioned passing numbers, we can state with confidence that Umtiti is not only an exceptionally accurate and willing distributor, but a very strong tackler. While Umtiti, at 181cms (5ft 11 inches) and 75kg (166lbs), lacks the prototypical size for a central defender, he makes up for it with a rugged determinism and great understanding of the game, one that he has been able to hone since making his debut at Lyon at age 19. In addition to allowing opponents to get past him just 0.3 times per match in the 2015/16 season, he was also very strong in the air with 3.2 aerials won.
In terms of weaknesses, there would be a couple to mention: while he has great numbers, there is some doubt about the quality of Ligue 1, as Lyon one had one of the wackiest seasons in recent memory. Furthermore, while the French league has a reputation of a physical one, and La Liga arguably does not, one has to wonder how Umtiti will deal with stronger players, if Éder was able to cause so much trouble for him in the Euro final. While, it’s never a good idea to draw long-term conclusions based on just one game, it was certainly a cause for concern if and when he will have to battle the likes of Real’s Karim Benzema, Alvaro Morata, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Atletico’s mix of Torres, Borja Baston and maybe Diego Costa (if the rumors of his requested return prove to be true) while Aduriz, Cedric Bakambu, Negredo and Soldado can still be tough opponents on their days.
How does he fit in at Barca?
As far as the fit at Barcelona, Umtiti should clearly replace Javier Mascherano (who has been playing admirably out of position for years and has been linked with Juventus all summer, but has recently extended for three more years.) and slot in next to Gerard Pique in the heart of the defense. It will be interesting to see how he interacts with Pique, as ironically, despite giving 12 cms to the Spaniard, Umtiti will be the much better player in the air. While Pique is usually a very reliable defender when it comes to his positioning, Umtiti can complement his rare on the ball mistakes. For Barcelona, the signing should fix a long-standing void left by Carles Puyol’s retirement, as the potential replacements (Mathieu, Vermaelen and Bartra) have all been unable to fill those giant shoes. Umtiti is a high character guy(read this piece on his leadership) and his humility (former Lyon and Barca star, the beloved Eric Abidal raves about him) should mesh well with Barca’s overall philsophy.
In the end, getting a 22-year-old borderline star of a tough-tackling, tactically and positional astute, ball-playing center back for 25 million is a steal for Barca. Given his breakout Euro campaign, and his release clause having stood at 60 million, it might just prove to be grand larceny in a couple of years.
Finally, here are some of Umtiti’s highlights to whet your appetite for next season!