Name: Nicolas N’Koulou
International Caps: 48
There isn’t much solidity about the Cameroonian World Cup squad at this moment in time. In-fighting, and politics regarding players’ bonuses have hampered their preparation to the 2014 World Cup. But when they line-up tonight in Natal to face Mexico, Arsenal fans should be on the lookout for Nicolas N’Koulou – the only measure of solidity in a fragile Cameroon side.
The 24-year-old has been a key member of the national side since the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He has amassed nearly 50 caps at a relatively tender age, and is a dominant figure at the back, both for club and country. For the past two seasons he has been hotly tipped to join Arsenal, and was thought to be on Wenger’s radar in January before the Gunners’ boss backed out of a move.
N’Koulou has had his fair share of transfer talk in recent seasons. And as the chasm between Paris St Germain and Monaco, and the rest of Ligue 1 becomes even more gargantuan, there is a sense that N’Koulou may have finally outgrown the club he has been so loyal to in recent seasons.
N’Koulou’s defensive statistics (according to Squawka) outstrip that of his Marseille teammates. He was ever-present for the French side this season, appearing in 37 of their 38 league matches. In these matches, he won 67 per cent of his individual duels, including three-quarters of his aerial battles and his tackles. Despite standing at just 1.8 metres tall, he is a formidable opponent in aerial battles, which is testament to his athleticism and determination.
Despite a poor season, by both his and Marseille’s standards, N’Koulou remains a highly-coveted player across Europe. He combines his ball-playing qualities with his sheer pace and athleticism, making him almost the complete package in terms of centre-backs. His value is thought to range somewhere in the region of £8-12 million, which would be an absolute steal for a player of his age and quality, whilst also being well within Arsene Wenger’s price-range.
Cameroon face a tricky task qualifying from Group A, but certainly not one that is beyond them if they get their act together. N’Koulou’s contribution this summer will be central to how much success they have. His partnership with Aurelien Chedjou is one of few genuine positives in Cameroon’s side. If they manage to progress beyond the groups, N’Koulou will likely have had a big say in this.