Real Madrid have a new midfielder lined up and those who have followed his progress closely believe he can become one of the best in the world. Aurelien Tchouameni is that good.
Robert Moreno knows that better than most. He is the coach who helped to bring him to Monaco and now jokes that he wants to see a percentage of the deal. “They are talking €80m so I will be waiting for a thank-you message,” Moreno tells Sky Sports.
“He has become one of the best midfielders in France.
Aurelien Tchouameni fact-file:
Career history: Bordeaux 2018-2020, Monaco 2020-2022
International debut: September 2021
“He has become the player we expected.”
During this in-depth interview, Moreno, the former Spain national team coach, will explain the insights and the data that led to Tchouameni signing for Monaco, the qualities that set him apart and the missteps along the way that the youngster soon learned from.
It is a tale that includes lessons from Cesc Fabregas as Tchouameni discovers more about the game – and his own game. And it is a story that, because of the 22-year-old Tchouameni’s crystal-clear vision for his own career, is only just getting started.
As a teenager, Tchouameni had already make the breakthrough at Bordeaux. That was what alerted Monaco to his potential when they were looking for a new midfielder in the January transfer window in 2020. Moreno had just been appointed as their new head coach.
“They did not have a sporting director at the time,” explains Moreno. With Michael Emenalo having left and Paul Mitchell yet to be appointed, the club needed more input from the coach. “I told them it would be difficult to analyse the market but I took it on.”
Two areas to strengthen were quickly identified, one of them being the centre of midfield. Fabregas and Adrien Silva brought experience but youth was needed too. Tiemoue Bakayoko was only on loan from Chelsea. “We lacked something in that position.”
With the help of Adrien Tarascon, brought in from PSV by Moreno because of his expertise with big data, chief scout Massimiliano Notari arrived at a list of 100 names. “I started to watch videos and ask around and we got to a shortlist of four,” says Moreno.
From beyond France, there was Slavia Prague’s Tomas Soucek and America’s Guido Rodriguez, now at West Ham and Real Betis respectively. From the internal market, they identified Youssouf Fofana from Strasbourg and Tchouameni. Both were signed.
“What I liked about Aurelien is that we had information he had his own personal coach to help him. This gives to you a message he has a willingness to improve himself and become a big player. This was the first thing for me that was important.
“After that, I had a call with him to discuss not just football but his feelings and what he wanted for the future. I got the impression that even though he was barely 20 years old, he was extra focused on becoming a big player. He had a clear path for his career.”
At the time, his dream was the Premier League after proving himself at Monaco. Spain was not discussed. But there was a clarity to his thinking, a drive to reach his goals. “This willingness to improve, this focus,” says Moreno. “It is the first thing you look for.”
He adds: “I have coached at Barcelona, with Spain and Monaco, and when players reach that level, they usually have this quality. If they don’t, they don’t reach that level. This is the reality. It is still difficult, but if you are willing and have the ability you have a chance.”
Tchouameni has since developed into a formidable midfielder, making far more interceptions than any other player in France this past season. But what did the data say about him back then? For Moreno, it was different qualities that stood out.
“Even though we were analysing him as a holding midfield player, we could see he had the capability to be a box-to-box midfielder. One thing that is not clear at first is that he plays a lot of passes that beat the lines. The data helped us to notice this.
“You need passes that break lines in that role. In England, you see a playmaker as a No 10, but in Spain the holding midfielder helps the team move from one side to the other, like Sergio Busquets. The rhythm of Aurelien’s passing, its speed, was impressive.
“The other thing with him is his ability to drive with the ball and beat the lines that way because he is a player who can give the pass or drive with it. That is rare. You could see he was a strong player, but the data showed the metres that he covered.”
That is not to say that Tchouameni was already the complete player – a point that was illustrated on his home debut for Monaco against Angers. He came on for Fabregas just before the hour mark with his team one goal up and determined to hold the lead.
“After losing three in a row, it was an important match for us to break this feeling. The first time he touched the ball he gave a pass back to the defender without analysing what was going on. We lost the ball and they had a chance. It was almost a goal.
“He looked at me with his two hands praying. He was looking to the bench as if to say, ‘Sorry Mister, I am not going to do it again.’ But this is normal with young players. You have to be prepared for them to make mistakes. It is an investment that requires patience.”
Another example of Tchouameni’s need to improve came in training. Fabregas recounted the tale in a recent coaching conference, discussing how, as an ‘old dog’, he was able to win the ball off his midfield colleagues repeatedly because they did not scan properly.
They would scan, see that Fabregas was not there, and then he would sprint and nick the ball away. Fabregas noted that after one particular session, Moreno soon made it a priority for Tchouameni not only to learn this ability to win the ball but also to protect it too.
“Aurelien did not have the capacity at that time to position his body so that he did not lose the ball. He lost a lot of balls when he was playing with his back to goal. His peripheral vision was not good at that moment. We started working on that.
“Cesc was always first to the ball with Tchouameni and was able to win the ball from him in training. That was about scanning and the position of the body. We worked on that in training sessions. Not only to keep the ball but position yourself for the next pass.
“I explained to him that if you are going to control the ball and not have any information about what is around you then it is difficult to make the best decisions. You need to look around before receiving not when you receive the ball.
“There are examples like Xavi and Busquets. If you count how many times they looked around during a match, it was incredible. It was 300 to 400 times. People say that Xavi and Busquets always made the right decision. It is because they knew what was around them.
“I said, ‘Aurelien, if you want to be a better player you have to control what is going on around you.’ We worked on that peripheral vision, individual sessions with him, Fofana and Aleksandr Golovin. If you do not have the information you will make mistakes.”
What sets Tchouameni apart is how quickly he learned.
“We worked on it for a bit and he really improved in just two or three weeks,” says Moreno, still impressed. “That was amazing. You realise you are working with a top player when they learn something in two or three training sessions and start to do it in matches.”
There are still aspects for him to work on.
“He scored eight goals in 95 matches for Monaco. That is the one thing that he can still improve because he can shoot from long distance and has the ability to arrive in the opposition box. He can win headers and he has the intelligence to analyse situations.
“I don’t know why he has it in his mind to stay there as a holding midfielder. He needs to trust in himself that he can arrive in the box because he has the quality to score goals.”
Do not be surprised if that is a skill that he develops too.
“Tchouameni is a different player because he understands football. When you talk with him, you realise this. There are those players who just play. Players who can’t explain what they do. He is always analysing what is going on and what is going to happen.
“That is why I think he is one of the biggest talents. He is strong but technical. He is a complete player. I think he will keep improving. He could stay at Real Madrid for years and go on to become one of the best midfielders in the world for the next decade.”