Footballer Christopher Nkunku: The changing frontier

When RB Leipzig won the club’s first title on May 21, 2022, it didn’t take long for football to take a back seat. Images remembered from the 2022 cup final show soda cans that were knocked over in the DFB Cup. The words that have stuck are those of then-general manager Oliver Mintzlaff, who called out to Leipzig supporters from a party truck at the time: “Anyone who still hasn’t understood that we are an asset to the German football, we don’t want to help anymore.”

One of the protagonists who have made games involving Leipzig an enrichment for the Bundesliga in recent years was surprisingly unfocused. It would also have been inappropriate for Christopher Nkunku to position himself as manager of a Leipzig team on Instagram or other platforms after winning the cup. The 25-year-old is a quiet observer, a calm person. At the Leipzig Party in Berlin in May, he sat away from the hustle and bustle for a long time while others celebrated on stage to loud music, according to those present. Football pitches, not club celebrations, are Nkunku’s stages, and he plays them better than anyone in Leipzig – perhaps better than any other player in Germany.

No Bundesliga player can match Nkunku’s phenomenal stats

Nkunku was six votes ahead of Robert Lewandowski in the 2021/22 Player of the Season election, which the baby foot held in June. The representativeness of these individual titles in football is debatable, but the choice was based on considerable facts, especially if you extend them until the end of the year: 35 goals and 20 assists in 52 competitive games, c This is Nkunku’s record for this calendar year. . No Bundesliga player comes close to these statistics, but hardly any international competitors either, which is why the really legitimate question for the individual title is: how did Nkunku end up in 25th place during the election of the world footballer?

More big appearances on the international stage might have been needed, something Nkunku was denied not only in Leipzig’s sometimes heartbreaking preliminary matches in the Champions League, but also in the World Cup: a torn ligament in his knee left prevented a trip to the World Cup. Qatar Cup, where the France team played in the World Cup final with Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani, one from Gladbach and one from Frankfurt – but not from Leipzig.

Too small, too fragile – that was the verdict of the young Frenchman

A setback that Nkunku can handle, as he has shown throughout his career. As a teenager, he was told he was too “small and fragile”, Nkunku told the Spring The Team in one of his rare interviews. Others may have quit afterwards, but he took it as motivation to keep working on himself: “That’s my goal: to prove to myself that I can raise my level. It would be a mistake. to blame others.”

It would have been entirely possible at the time, when he had to alternate between the U19 team and the Paris Saint-Germain first team for a year instead of receiving assignments at the top level. Nkunku left Paris in 2019 for a transfer fee of 13 million euros to Leipzig, he took with him the wishes of then coach Thomas Tuchel. Tuchel promoted Nkunku but the biggest development came at the new workplace thanks to the meticulousness of Julian Nagelsmann, who recognized the Frenchman as more than just a central midfielder. The video analyzes with Nagelsmann were of an extremely high standard, Nkunku said: “He said to me, okay, you were in a good position, but the best position was two meters to the right.”

While the club went through a difficult phase under Nagelsmann’s successor Jesse Marsch, Nkunku thrived because Marsch named him striker, the position he has played at Leipzig since then and may have more influence than before – regardless of the manager. Marsch, Domenico Tedesco and Marco Rose all used different personnel, but always with a clear focus on creating space for Nkunku in attack. He adapted his style of play – and his body. Strength training for more assertiveness, for example, was a staple: “It’s no coincidence,” he said, “I worked for that” — for goals like 1-1 in the cup final, which Nkunku did not score with a fine foot, but with an instinctive nine at the far post.

With power and will: In the DFB Cup final against SC Freiburg, Christopher Nkunku rushes to equalize 1-1.

(Photo: Laci Pereny/Imago)

Leipzig is “more than a transit station”, Nkunku once said. His reserved manner at celebrations should not be confused with a lack of gratitude. Leipzig and the Bundesliga have given him the means to become one of the best players in Europe – however: apart from Munich, they don’t play permanently in Germany.

According to transfer expert Fabrizio Romano, the same goes for Nkunku. He says contracts between Nkunku, his agent Pini Zahavi and Chelsea FC have already been negotiated for the upcoming season, only official transfer confirmation is still pending. The London football site has by no means worked for all Bundesliga players. Timo Werner can tell Leipzig how difficult Stamford Bridge can prove to be for newcomers.

However, Nkunku has often adapted to a new environment or a new position in his career, which he considers to be the story of his career: “When I stop, I want to be able to say to myself: OK , nothing to regret, I pushed all my limits.”

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