There may be no football being played right now because of the coronavirus pandemic – but that doesn’t mean the sport has stopped entirely.
Clubs are continuing to work behind the scenes and identifying transfer targets remains a key priority, even if we don’t know when the transfer window will finally reopen.
Samuel Umtiti is sure to be at the centre of a transfer tug of war when the window opens again amid interest from a number of Premier League clubs.
Barcelona appear to have made the decision to sell the World Cup-winning central defender they signed four years ago, and rumours concerning Umtiti have been circling for the past few months.
He’s a well-known defender in the world of football and people are sure to take notice when Umtiti is linked to Premier League clubs, but how much do you really know about the Barca star?
To help you out, talkSPORT.com has taken an in-depth look at Umtiti and provided all the need to know information, below…
Samuel Umtiti – the key information
- Full name: Samuel Yves Umtiti
- Date of birth: November 14, 1993 (age 26)
- Place of birth: Yaounde, Cameroon
- Current team: Barcelona (114 apps / 2 goals)
- International team: France (31 apps / 4 goals)
- Honours: Coupe de France (x1), Trophee des Champions (x1), LaLiga (x2), Copa del Rey (x2), Supercopa de Espana (x2), FIFA World Cup (x1)
The story so far
Not too long ago, Samuel Umtiti was the talk of the town.
He hit his peak in the summer of 2018, when the centre-back was a key player for France as they won the World Cup.
This success on the global stage came after an excellent season at club level, with Umtiti making 40 appearances for a Barcelona side which completed the league and cup double in Spain.
He was a certified first-choice centre-back for Barca alongside Gerard Pique, earning rave reviews and being touted as having the potential to become one of the best defenders of his generation.
However, Clement Lenglet arrived at Camp Nou that summer – three days before Umtiti played in the World Cup final, in fact – and began the season alongside Pique as Ernesto Valverde’s first-choice centre-back.
This competition for game time, combined with a series of injury problems, has resulted in Umtiti falling from household name to something of an also-ran – all by the age of 26.
He played only 15 times for Barca last season and had reached 16 club appearances in 2019/20 before football was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, leading to suggestions the Catalans may axe Umtiti when the transfer window finally reopens.
What’s the gossip?
So, if Umtiti is going to leave Barcelona… just where will he end up?
Long has the defender been linked with a transfer to England, and there is no change to this despite his recently fading reputation.
Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are all said to be eyeing up the 26-year-old with all three Premier League clubs seeking defensive reinforcements before the start of the new football season.
Manchester United have been long-term admirers of Umtiti’s and were looking at him while he still played for Lyon, and the Mirror claim they and Arsenal have been offered the chance to sign the France ace.
The Express have reported Chelsea’s summer interest and also claim Barca could cash in on Umtiti for just £26million.
A £35m asking price has also been mentioned over recent months, but it appears the Catalans are willing to accept a much lower fee just to finally get Umtiti off their books.
Just what kind of player is he?
Given Umtiti’s recent struggles, to determine his true quality we must look back in time.
And there is no better time to look than February 2018, when Umtiti was enjoying the strongest form of his career.
After playing the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 Copa del Rey semi-final defeat of Valencia, Umtiti’s performance was widely lauded; Mundo Deportivo wrote that ‘Big Sam’ – as he is known – ‘has become a perfect successor to Carles Puyol’.
Being granted this praise was no mean feat, given Puyol is regarded as one of Spain and Barcelona’s finest ever defenders.
Nonetheless, the comparison with Puyol does not extend into Umtiti’s actual play style; sure, he is physically impressive and shares a similar athleticism to the Camp Nou legend, but Barca’s current star is much more composed and calm in the backline compared to Puyol, who was well known for his over the top and emotional style of play.
Having such a calming presence at the heart of the defence even played into Gerard Pique’s hands, as it allowed him to display all his attacking flair knowing Umtiti was marshalling the backline at all times.
This is not to say Umtiti is nothing more than a no-nonsense defender, a relic from a different generation; his ability on the ball is impressive and his fine passing is excellent for launching attacks. He is also tactically proficient in both attack and defence, and his reading of the game is second to none – a true modern-day centre-half.
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What the experts are saying
Ernesto Valverde, former Barcelona manager: “Umtiti? We do not worry about what others do, but he is clearly a great defender who we want to have for a long time. We are happy with him, we think he is happy in Barcelona and wants to stay, and it does not matter what a clause is if he does not want to leave. Release clauses in Spain work this way and often can create difficulties, we are calm.”
Didier Deschamps, France manager: “I’m not surprised by Sam. What he’s doing with us is what he was doing before. He knows I have confidence in him. Some players aren’t mature at 30, some are mature at 20 — and he’s in the latter category. He deserves all the praise. He has the force of character and the force of personality that you need.”
Bruno Genesio, Umtiti’s former manager at Lyon: “We are all proud because he is happy with his evolution. We knew his potential and we knew he could reach a very high level, and he demonstrates it with one of the biggest clubs in the world, where he won a star and the recognition of the public of Barcelona.”
Where would he best fit and which club should he join?
One of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s big successes at Man United is the brilliant work he has done on the Red Devils’ defence.
The signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka last summer have played a key role in United conceding only 30 goals in their 29 Premier League games this season, with only three teams having better defensive records than the Red Devils in England’s top flight throughout 2019/20.
There would have to be a slight restructure to fit Umtiti into the starting XI, however.
Maguire would have to shift over to the right side of central defence as Umtiti is a natural left-footed left-sided player, but it’s hard to imagine Maguire being frustrated by this decision; in fact, Umtiti’s desire to remain back would allow the England international to go on the marauding runs he so loves, much in the same way Pique does with Barcelona.
Much like Maguire would benefit by Umtiti’s arrival at Man United, one of Arsenal’s defenders would similarly love it if the Gunners captured him – David Luiz.
Luiz is perhaps the most attacking central defender in the Premier League, but his forward-thinking approach to the game often costs Arsenal as much as it benefits them.
But with a calm and composed Umtiti remaining back at all times, Luiz will be able to charge up the pitch relatively risk free knowing he has a reliable safety net behind him.
Umtiti will have his work cut out in Mikel Arteta’s line-up, however, as full-backs Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin also love getting into attacking zones; it is likely he would spend large portions of games as the only Arsenal outfield player in their half of the pitch – and there would be much pressure on him not to mess up if an opponent counter-attacks.
Luckily for Umtiti, he has spent his entire Barcelona career in a similar situation, so adapting to the Gunners set-up should be a relative breeze.
Frank Lampard has rotated between a four-at-the-back and three-at-the-back system relatively frequently in 2019/20, and Umtiti has experience of playing in both set-ups for Barcelona.
In the four-man system both centre-backs stay back relatively frequently to cover for the very attacking full-backs, while two of the three centre-backs have more freedom in the three-at-the-back system.
Umtiti, as a natural left-footed player, would take up the left-sided centre-back position which means he covers both the centre and left of the pitch; he is perfectly suited to this role seeing as he is just as capable a left-back as a centre-back and has played in the full-back position many times throughout his career.
This is excellent news for Lampard seeing as he has always had to field a right-footed defender on the left this season as none of Chelsea’s senior centre-backs are natural left-footers.
This would allow Fikayo Tomori and Kurt Zouma to move either to the centre or the right of the pitch, which should be more natural positions for them. Add in Andreas Christensen and Antonio Rudiger – unless one of these centre-backs is sold which is surely on the cards if Umtiti is signed – and Chelsea have a quite formidable defensive unit.