Scouting Reports

City Watch Scouting Report: Aymeric Laporte (Athletic Bilbao)

Many proclaimed 2016 the worst year in living memory for a plethora of different reasons, reasons we don’t need to elaborate upon. Yet for Manchester City, who won the race for Pep Guardiola and the Capital One Cup, all in all, not so bad. Furthermore, in the summer window, City made great strides to reinvigorate what was an ageing squad. Gündoğan came first in June, then Nolito, followed by Leroy Sané, Gabby Jesus, John Stones and finally Claudio Bravo. Yet for many this was not enough, especially in the defensive areas. City pursued two more defenders, both of whom said ‘no’ to the chance of joining Pep’s Blues. Leonardo Bonucci, probably one of the best centre-backs in world football, and the focus of our attentions today, Aymeric Laporte. Yet, it’s 2017 and despite everything that happened between City and Laporte last summer, Simon Mullock of the Mirror broke last month that City were planning on going in for Aymeric again this summer, with Pep valuing him at a ‘higher value for money’ deal than supposed target Virgil van Dijk. So, don’t readjust your mind, its spring 2017 and we hope you enjoy City Watch’s Aymeric Laporte scout report!

Background

Born on the 27th of May 1994 in Aquitaine, the historic region of France which borders both the Pyrenees and by extension Spain, Aymeric Laporte is a left-footed centre-back for Spanish club Athletic Bilbao. Professionally, Laporte has only played for Bilbao. As you may know, Bilbao have the age-old unwritten rule that they can only sign Basque players, an interesting Football Manager challenge if nothing else. This means that players who put on the shirt of Athletic must come from the Basque Country or have Basque in the blood, even if the rule isn’t written in any books: any President of the club could go out and sign any player, yet none ever have. Laporte applies to the second part of this ‘rule’, his great-grandparents are Basque. To confuse matters more, Laporte has played for the French national team on all levels except senior, meaning that he is still eligible to play for Spain. In all likelihood he’d have been called up to the French squad for the Euros last summer, yet he missed the tournament due to fracturing his tibia, an injury he sustained whilst playing for France u21s in March against Scotland. Since then, Spain manager Julien Lopetegui has asked Laporte to make himself available for Spanish selection. However, in an interview in 2012 with Foot Mercato, Laporte said he ‘had no doubts’ when choosing between France and Spain, yet perhaps him failing to make a first team appearance for France since the interview (conducted when he was 18) has pushed him to make a decision: France have El Clásico pair Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti as a future centre-half pairing for Laporte to contend with.

He officially joined Bilbao in 2010 when he was 16, and was attracting attention from both Arsenal and Paris St. Germain by the time he was 17. In 2011/12, he played 33 games for Athletic’s farm team, CD Basconia. He obviously impressed as by November 2012, he’d made his first team debut: but not before playing 8 games for Athletic’s second team at the beginning of 2012/13. His first team debut for Athletic Bilbao was in the Europa League against Israeli outfit Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmoni in a 2-0 away win, quickly followed by 90 minutes in the 0-0 home draw with Sparta Praha. He made his first La Liga appearance as a substitute in the 89th minute against Celta Vigo, helping to see out a 1:0 win. From here on out Laporte went from strength to strength, finishing the 2012/13 season with 15 La Liga appearances. In 2013/14 however, he managed an outstanding 35 appearances, racking up 2,948 minutes, helping Athletic finish 4th, meaning they’d play in the 2014/15 edition of the Champions League play-offs. He was also voted into the heavily-Atletico Madrid based La Liga Team of the 2013/14 season, WhoScored gave him a 7.20 rating for his efforts in the 2013/14 La Liga season. In 2014/15, Aymeric managed 2,960 minutes for which he achieved a 7.19 rating. It was this season Laporte debuted in the Champions League, however despite playing five of the group stage games, Athletic finished 3rd in their group, and were knocked out by Torino in the subsequent Europa League 32. These two brilliant seasons for a player so young obviously attracted attention from Europe’s elite, and by April 2015, City were linked to Laporte alongside Barcelona and Real Madrid. A move didn’t materialise in a summer which brought Otamendi, and City continued to be linked with Laporte throughout 2015/16, especially when Pep Guardiola was announced. Before his injury in March 2016, Laporte managed to make 25 La Liga appearances and 9 appearances in the Europa League, before Athletic’s eventual elimination by Spanish rivals and eventual winners Sevilla. His injury ruled him out of contention for Didier Deschamps’ 2016 Euros squad, and many City fans cynically suggested that as soon as he was linked with City he was doomed: see Ilkay and Leroy for evidence of this particular curse. Aymeric was linked with City throughout summer 2016, with both SPORT and AS, alongside every British paper, had asserted City had essentially signed Laporte. Fans rejoiced. Even Twitter god Di Marzio said we’d got our man.

Aaaaaaaaand on the 13th of June, 2016, the obvious happened. Aymeric Laporte had signed a new deal with Athletic Bilbao, proclaiming staying at Athletic was ‘the best thing for him’. A few weeks later he admitted he was ‘flattered’ by Pep’s and City’s interest but felt the pros of staying outweighed the cons. So no move away yet, City got big Johnny Stones and we all tried to move on from Laporte. Which was easier in the first few months of the season where City looked brilliant, but by December, City had begun to leak serious levels of goals and people were contemplating the individual abilities our defenders. Kolarov’s early season form had meant he’d gone from Wolverines’ adamantium to damp cotton candy. Kompany had stayed on the side lines, and despite some good performances, John Stones hasn’t been perfect. Otamendi divides people, some love his metal, whilst others bemoan his pointless lunges. City were first linked back with Laporte when he himself said that ‘he’d study any forthcoming offers for him’. Then, at the beginning of January, Simon Mullock of the Mirror claimed that Pep wasn’t going to bid for Virgil van Dijk because he was waiting for summer, where he could pick up Laporte for the price of £55m. Yet, this season his performances have again been lower than levels of those in his breakthrough years, if we take WhoScored to be gospel: in his 19 appearances in La Liga this season, he’s ascertained an average of 6.84.

Stats

All stats are taken from this season from La Liga and the Premier League respectively.

Laporte has an 82% pass completion rate, compared to Stones’ 91% and Otamendi’s 86%. This may look fairly low, but will be slightly exonerated by the next stat. Either way, it would undoubtedly go up under a Pep Guardiola possession system.

Aymeric’s average pass length is 23m, compared to Otamendi’s 19.15m and Stones’ 18.7m. This means that Laporte’s game revolves less around circulating the ball round the defence, including between themselves and the goalkeepers, and more about trying to slice open midfields or defences with long balls. Because Laporte plays a higher percentage of long and therefore ‘risky’ passes, they have a greater chance of being unsuccessful, which has driven down his pass completion rate.

Laporte makes 0.05 defensive errors per game, which is equal to Otamendi’s score, but John Stones scores a high 0.17. This obviously illuminates the fact that Laporte (and Otamendi) are far less error prone than Stones.

Admittedly these stats don’t show some wonderful centre-half that’s going to come in and suddenly we’re never going to concede a goal ever again. But, even though City seem to have been linked with him since 1995, Laporte is still only 22. Think Raheem last season, to Raheem this season. A world-class coach (although Ernesto Valverde is far, far, far (!) from a poor manager) and perhaps in this case world class players could help Laporte develop.

Style

As you (hopefully) read in the Ederson scout report, I mentioned that one style of play in football eventually gives way to another. The traditional centre-half, strong, bustling with a no-nonsense attitude has begun to give way for a new breed of defender. The ‘kick it into row Z’ mind-set is just as ingrained into the English football fan consciousness as penalty woes. The crippling fear I get whenever John Stones looks around to see who’s available when there’s a striker within a 5 meter radius of him, even if almost all of the time it’s okay. Crazy that these new dawns of footballing style happen with Pep Guardiola around! Some may argue that Stones’ traditional partner this year, Nico, is a classic example of the old guard. Rough, tough tackling and would lunge at his elderly gran if she was in possession. I don’t think it would be unfair to call Laporte an abridgement between old and new. Aymeric is equally proficient at standing up attackers and cropping them when needed. This would mean that Laporte would be playable alongside either of Otamendi or Stones, and that’s before we even think about Kompany. Attacking wise (Crazy that we’re thinking about the attacking attributes of a defender, but I guess these are new times), Laporte certainly can pick a pass. On numerous occasions for Bilbao he marches forward, as we see John and Nico do on occasion: this certainly would catch Pep’s eye, given his love of players who can take levels of opposition defence out of the game just by enduring with the ball.

City?

Manchester City have conceded 29 league goals in 25 games. To compare, Chelsea and Tottenham have conceded 18 each, United 21, Middlesbrough and Everton 27, Arsenal 28. This makes them the 7th best defence in terms of goals conceded, whereas we’re the 4th highest scoring attack. This is without Gabby Jesus, too. Ask any City fan, right now (and has been the case for a little while now), our defence is where we’re lacking. We probably need at the very least three this summer, and the spectre of Kolarov at centre back next year haunts me. John Stones undoubtedly will be City captain one day. Otamendi has just turned 29, but I’d guess unless he gets sold (he was recently linked with Real Madrid), he could spend 2 more seasons at the top. Then we reach perhaps the big question. Vincent Kompany. I don’t need to elaborate on his situation for very long, but for now all we can hope is that he gets some game time in the last few months of the season without major incident. I have no doubt his ability is still there: it’s just a case of being fit for long enough to get the best out of it. I also have no doubts that Aymeric Laporte would fit into a Pep City side, given the style of his play and the fact he’s left-footed: none of our other *actual* centre backs are.

Summary

My rating: 9 out of 10. As I’ve mentioned, Laporte has a high release clause and it’s very unlikely that Athletic would need to sell him for any less than the €55 million reported fee. City could have a defensive duo that cost over €100 million – how they’d laugh every time we conceded. But away from cheap shots, City do need a new centre back. Laporte could provide, like Stones, a good decade at City. No one would laugh then! Furthermore, we’d be paying for potential: Laporte certainly has bags of it. The question would be however, due to the poor/average season he’s enduring, is he worth the €55 million? Pep seems to think so, as he neglected to sign Van Dijk in January. If Pep has his heart set on Laporte, and if Pep thinks he’s good enough, then…

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