Man United target Breel Embolo an impressive talent at Basel
Breel Embolo is one of the most highly rated young players in world football, and recent reports suggest that Manchester United have added their name to the long list of clubs who are keeping a close eye on the development of the FC Basel and Switzerland striker.
Embolo was born in Yaounde, Cameroon but moved to Basel with his mother and brother at the age of 6, playing youth football for the Nordstern and Old Boys clubs before joining FC Basel at 13. He was part of the side that won back-to-back national titles at U16 level and then quickly moved up through the U18 and U21 ranks to make a brief first-team debut as a 17-year-old in a Europa League tie at home to Salzburg in March 2014.
His league debut followed a few days later and he marked the occasion with a goal within five minutes of coming onto the pitch as a substitute in a 5-0 home win versus Aarau. Embolo remained with the first-team squad for the remainder of the campaign, but it was under the guidance of Paulo Sousa last season when he really broke through, with 39 appearances and 16 goals in all competitions and a few promising showings in the Champions League.
The 18-year-old, who was named the Swiss Super League rookie of the year, has carried that form in the early part of the current campaign under new coach Urs Fischer. He has eight goals and five assists in all competitions and is already starting to receive special treatment from his opponents; he drew red cards from both Gonzalo Rodriguez and Facundo Roncaglia over the course of Basel's two Europa League meetings with Fiorentina.
Cameroon made a big effort to persuade Embolo to represent them at the international level, but he instead chose Switzerland after receiving his citizenship last December. He made his debut in March, provided the assist for Xherdan Shaqiri's late winner in his first competitive appearance away to Lithuania in June and then scored in his first start in a 7-0 win over San Marino. His next target is a place in the squad for Euro 2016.
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Embolo is an athletically built striker with strong upper-body strength, an explosive burst of acceleration and quick feet in tight areas; his direct and penetrative dribbling causes regular danger. He has a very solid goal return throughout his short career to date but often seems happier involving himself in the approach play than in providing the final touch. He might well morph into more of a wide forward or second striker as his career develops.
- Very strong physical attributes
- A powerful, rapid and direct dribbler
- Quite intelligent in his movements
- Not a natural finisher
- Needs to get his head up quicker in possession
Tackling: Happy to put his foot in when appropriate and certainly strong and quick enough to come out on top when defenders try to take him on.
Marking: Very rarely given direct marking duties but does a good job of closing down defenders and spaces when asked to do so.
Heading: Standing at over 6 foot tall and with good strength and a solid leap on him, he does provide a threat in the air, although his lack of good heading technique leaves him unable to regularly take full advantage of his capabilities.
Close control: The quality of his first touch varies, but he is capable of shifting the ball very quickly from foot to foot once it is under his control. Allied to his supreme upper-body strength and powerful acceleration, that ability can make him very difficult to halt.
Passing: Lays the ball off well with his back to goal or on headed knockouts, displaying good awareness of the positioning of those in and around him. He does, however, need to get his head up quicker when receiving the ball when facing goal, as he tends to first try and take on an opponent before taking stock of the play ahead of him. If he is able to create space with a dribble, he usually picks the right passing option thereafter.
Positioning: Willing to take on the responsibility of acting as his side's back-to-goal reference point up front and enduring the concomitant knocks from opposing defenders, but often looks more comfortable working in the three-quarter spaces just off the front when a traditional No. 9 is employed alongside him. His pace makes him a potent threat in behind.
Crossing: Far from a prolific crosser of the ball but usually seeks to fire low deliveries across the face of goal when he finds himself appropriately placed.
Finishing: Capable of generating plenty of power in his shots, but the quality of his placement varies. A decent, instinctive finisher, but seems to lack a bit of confidence in his ability to find the back of the net when given time to pick his spot. Takes the large majority of his shots from inside the area.
What the experts say
Former Basel striker Marco Streller: "Breel has all the attributes he needs to become a world-class striker."
Former Basel midfielder Fabian Frei: "I like him as a person as much as I do as a player. His feet will stay on the ground -- he won't be shooting from 50 metres to score the goal of the season. You can give him good advice and he is ready to take it without getting angry."
Embolo's agent is Erdin Shaqiri, brother of his Swiss international colleague and former Basel player Xherdan, who is currently at Stoke.
Embolo might only be 18, but he has already made 75 appearances at club level and earned himself senior national team caps for Switzerland. Barcelona and Manchester United have both had him scouted this season, while Wolfsburg made an approach over the summer and have since continued to track his progress. Arsenal, Juventus and Tottenham Hotspur all have been linked to a player for whom Basel are likely to seek at least €25 million.
The young forward looks to have an exceedingly bright future ahead of him. It is a promising sign that he seems unaffected by the interest surrounding him and is simply content to get further minutes under his belt and continue his development. Basel provide him with the platform to learn and improve at a continental level, and he can afford to sit tight and consider all of his options before deciding upon his next move.
Big things are expected of Embolo, and while he is still an inconsistent performer in need of more experience, all current evidence suggests that he has the necessary on and off-pitch qualities to eventually reach the top echelons of the game.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.