Manchester United fans are eager to find out more about FC Basel attacker Breel Embolo having been linked strongly with a move for him last week.
With that in mind, The Peoples Person’s Ravi Gill had a chat with Oliver Zesiger, the Swiss Super League Researcher for Football Manager, to find more about the 19-year-old who may well be calling Old Trafford home next season.
Who is Breel Embolo?
Breel Embolo is a 19-year old Swiss/Cameroonian. He was born in Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon, and moved to Switzerland when he was six. He plays as forward for FC Basel and his best position is on the right wing as he is a right footed player. He does also play well as a central striker.
Embolo played for local teams in Basel like Nordstern or Old Boys Basel. He joined FC Basel in 2010 at the age of 13. Three years later he signed his first professional contract and trained with the first-team from time to time, while playing with the U18s.
His senior debut came on 16 March 2014 in a Super League game against FC Aarau. Embolo, 17 at that time, also scored his first goal as a professional in the same match. From there on he featured more or less regularly before becoming a full time first-team member. He has been a starter since the 2014/15 season.
When did you first come across Embolo? What were your first impressions of the player?
As a researcher for Football Manager who does a whole league you read a lot of local newspaper and online articles to get a grip on who’s talented. I’ve known about him for a few years, shortly before he signed his first contract as a professional. When FC Basel announced they signed him at the age of 16 I was sure he was going a huge talent.
How would you describe Embolo’s playing style? Which areas of the game does he really excel at? Which areas need some work?
He is a very athletic forward. Comparisons with a young Didier Drogba come to mind. He has pace, is strong and has excellent technique which helps him skip past defenders with ease but what really makes him valuable is his work rate. Embolo tries to win almost every ball back, even if this means going deep to chase it.
Something which you notice with Embolo is that he draws quite a lot of fouls due to his ability to dribble and do the unexpected. Take Switzerland’s Euro 2016 opener against Albania where two players picked up yellow cards when trying to contain him. He is also capable of scoring and assisting as his 31 goals and 22 assists in 90 matches for the Basel first team shows.
There aren’t any glaring weaknesses for Embolo but his decision-making is one area he needs to improve. Sometimes he dribbles too much when a pass to an open teammate would’ve been better and has a tendency to not keep the ball close to his feet when dribbling. This means he then has to chase down the ball, which he does successfully more often than not but he shouldn’t have to recover so often.
Another weakness is his lack of concentration at times. I remember him missing an open goal with the ball at his feet in a league match, just because he took too long to get a shot off. There are some tactical flaws but other than that he doesn’t have many glaring weaknesses and none he couldn’t work on or will improve with experience.
What did you make of Embolo’s performance for FC Basel during the 2015/2016 season?
He enjoyed a strong start to the season, scoring two and assisting on another in a match against Lucerne on Match-day four. He also scored in the Champions League qualification phase against Maccabi Tel Aviv. He did have a drought around the winter break but scored on November 18 against Grasshoppers. Unfortunately, he failed to score another goal until 3 April against Young Boys.
At times it looked like the pressure is getting to him but that wasn’t really the case. He played well in the last games of the season until an injury ended it early for him. Overall he scored 13 goals and assisted nine in 40 matches which is a great return for a 19-year-old.
He also made headlines by admitting that he touched the ball last when the referee gave a corner for Basel in a heated match against rivals Grasshoppers. The ref took back the decision and thanked Embolo for his honesty. He likes to play football the proper way. Here’s a video of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOEZyyzFk9A
Scouts say that although Embolo is a natural striker but he can also play on the right wing. How do you assess Embolo’s performance on the wing? Do you think his future lies on the right hand side?
I think the winger-role suits him because he often finds more space to dribble or for his runs. As a striker he has a defender in his back or in front of him which makes it difficult to play to his strengths. Whereas, on the wing he can put the ball past the full back and overtake him with his acceleration. While I think his future lies on the right hand side he will also be played as a main striker due to his physical strength. He should do fine in both roles.
Do you liken Embolo to any established player playing in one of Europe’s top five leagues?
As I said, the closest and most accurate comparison would be a young Didier Drogba around the time Drogba was at Marseille.
Reports are surfacing in Switzerland that Jose Mourinho is keen to bring the young forward to Manchester United. What kind of fee will it take to pry Embolo from Basel? Do you think he is ready for a move to the Premier League?
In winter of this season, Wolfsburg bid €27m for him. Basel didn’t want to sell in winter and Embolo himself admitted that it was too early to leave. I think around £15-20m should be enough to get a yes from Basel as they have a policy of not getting in a player’s way if he wants to leave.
Reading recent interviews with Embolo, he makes it clear he’ll leave this summer. His preferred destination is the Bundesliga because he said that he doesn’t want to play in the best league in the world yet, even if it’s his boyhood dream to play in the Premier League. I do believe he’s ready for a move to the Bundesliga but the Premier League, and especially a massive club like United, would come too early. He’s a year away from being ready.
I’m also questioning if Mourinho is the right manager for him at this time. José has had a difficult relationship with younger players at his previous clubs. If I were him, I’d move to the Bundesliga first and if he develops well, a move to the Premier League is almost a certainty. But for now, he absolutely must get as much playing time as possible and I’m sceptical if he would get it at United.
And finally, how good do you think Embolo can be?
It’s always hard to judge potential because a lot can and will happen. When Xherdan Shaqiri left Basel I thought he would become a fantastic player. He didn’t get the playing time he needed at Bayern or Inter but he’s still young and could become the player I envisioned him to be.
With Embolo it’s a bit different. He is a smart guy and he should know what’s best for him. If he stays injury-free and he gets enough match practice, I can see him becoming a very good first team, borderline world class player. Not Messi world class but in the range of peak Didier Drogba (there he is again) at Chelsea. Right now, there are many ifs and whens and many of those depend on his next move.
Thank you to Oliver Zesiger for taking the time to answer some questions from us on Embolo.