Aurelien Tchouameni is Real Madrid’s latest Galactico, meaning Florentino Perez got his hands on a world-class French sensation after all.
The ex-Monaco man is one of the game’s best all-round defensive midfielders, capable of breaking up play, dictating the tempo and instigating attacking moves.
Simply put: he can do it all!
Of course, the European champions are able to get their hands on a player of Tchouameni’s quality because they are one of the richest clubs in the world.
Not all are blessed with pockets as deep as the Pacific.
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So, Tchouameni is off the shopping list this summer for anyone who isn’t a Champions League winner, but that doesn’t mean similar players aren’t available.
The Frenchman is the gold standard, but we’ve used his profile to identify several alternatives who could offer stylistic similarities – and they probably won’t cost you £85m either.
But, before we begin, it’s important to understand Tchouameni’s current playing style.
Tchouameni: A Swiss army knife
The 22-year-old is a do-it-all midfielder who is best known for his defensive qualities, a lung-busting tenacity and a physical presence that allows him to dominate the centre circle — both on the floor and aerially.
It will come as no surprise that he made more interceptions than any other midfielder in Europe’s top five leagues last season (101), while only Sergio Busquets (179) won possession in the middle third more times than him (170). El Clasico should be tasty next season!
Tchouameni also won the sixth-most duels among central and defensive midfielders (260), adding further weight to his reputation as a ball-destroyer, but he also ranked eighth for completed passes into the opposition half (229), sitting just below new teammate Toni Kroos (241) and Joshua Kimmich (231).
So there you have it, a 6ft 2in Frenchman who can break up play like a refined hatchet-man, but also has the progressive scope to get his head up and play advanced passes up the pitch. We did say he could do it all.
You won’t find another identical to him, but we’ve dusted off our scouting caps to find some pretty good alternatives. Let’s look at the candidates.
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We’ll stay in France while we’re here. Perez could have saved himself a few bob if he cast a wider net, as there are some pretty solid Tchouameni impersonators out there.
Benjamin Andre has all the defensive qualities to match Tchouameni, finishing Ligue 1 last season with the second-most ball recoveries of any central or defensive midfielder (296), the most duels won (297), the most tackles (123) and the most aerial duels won (97).
But, he’s 31 and largely lacks the attacking attributes that would make him an all-rounder, similar to Tchouameni. So how about 22-year-old Lens midfielder Cheick Oumar Doucoure? He ranked second behind only Tchouameni (101) for interceptions in Ligue 1 last season by those same parameters (68), but created nearly double the number of chances of Real Madrid’s new maestro (41 to 21). That’s the sort of versatility we’re after here.
The above scatter graph illustrates Doucoure’s standing among central and defensive midfielders in Ligue 1 last season; he’s certainly holding his own among the very best in the division. When you couple in the fact he created the fifth-most chances (41), and you start to understand the full scope of his midfield repertoire.
Back to Benjamin Andre, and his 20-year-old Lille team-mate Amadou Onana wouldn’t be a bad shout either. The recently-capped Belgium international is a 6ft 5in brick wall.
Among midfielders who played over 30 times in Ligue 1 in 2021/22, Onana was dribbled past by an opponent the least (seven), and while he may also lack the required attacking output to match Tchouameni, his age, height and defensive edge make him a decent alternative.
If we do want a heavier attacking emphasis then Khephren Thuram is your man. Son of the legendary Lilian, Nice’s 6ft 4in juggernaut ticks a lot of boxes. He falls short slightly from a defensive perspective, but attacking wise the towering midfielder holds his own.
Among central midfielders who attempted at least 40 take-ons in Ligue 1 last season, Thuram had the best success rate (74.4%), completing 32 of his 43. A remarkable feat when you consider his size.
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Give him a few training sessions with Casemiro and I’m sure his defensive numbers would bump up.
We all know everyone loves a wonderkid, so don’t sleep on 18-year-old Lucas Gourna-Douath. If he were Brazilian, Perez would have already offered £60m for him. Among midfield teenagers in Europe’s top five leagues last season, only Jude Bellingham (178) and Pape Sarr (171) registered more ball recoveries than him (157).
If N’Golo Kante has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need to be a physical Adonis to defensively dominate a match. Enzo Le Fee is only 5ft 7in, but the pint-sized No. 10 ranked in the top 10 in Ligue 1 last season for tackles (70), duels won (182) and take-ons (94) among midfielders.
Now that is the sort of all-round ability we can get behind.
When Tchouameni’s name floats about, it’s likely you’ll have heard Ibrahim Sangare in a similar conversation, but let’s move away from the PSV man and zero in on a less-familiar Eredivisie name: Ramiz Zerrouki.
The Twente midfielder is stylistically comparable with Tchouameni, having ranked in the top 10 of the Eredivisie last season among midfielders for tackles (79), final-third entries (238) and aerial duels won (56). The Amsterdammer is Tchouameni lite.
Having hailed from the Ajax academy, it’s no wonder Zerrouki has the ball-playing attributes to stand out in the middle of the pitch, but a refined physical edge makes him more than just a metronomic tempo-setter.
Anton Stach was one of the best defensive midfielders in the Bundesliga last season and has been with Germany for this month’s Nations League games, Hansi Flick is clearly a fan. Mainz’s 6ft 4in anchorman ranked in the top 10 of the Bundesliga last term for shots (49), aerial duels won (54) and interceptions (51) among central and defensive midfielders.
Djibril Sow produced similar numbers as Eintracht Frankfurt won the Europa League, winning possession in the middle third more times than any other midfielder in the competition (50) and registering the most ball recoveries (86). If The Eagles ran into trouble, Sow was there to dig them out. He’ll be in the Champions League next season as a result.
If we head over to sunnier climes, or more specifically, where Tchouameni will be playing next season, there are a number of players who boast a similar profile to him.
Mikel Merino is probably the standout player in this regard. The former Dortmund and Newcastle man is a statistical god. Among midfielders in La Liga last season, he ranked first for ball recoveries (287), ahead of second-placed Busquets (281), and duels won (275), while he also ranked second for possessions won in the middle third (160) and aerial duels won (113) – and even fourth for final third entries (290), just a place below Kroos (323).
He even made his mark in the Premier League despite his short existence on Tyneside. Since Virgil van Dijk joined Liverpool in 2018, he’s only been dribbled past by an opponent 13 times, one of those was by Merino.
At 6ft 2in, the Spaniard has a similar frame to Tchouameni, but if you’re looking for a similar age profile instead, then Merino’s 23-year-old Sociedad team-mate Martin Zubimendi could certainly do a job. The one-capped Spain international may be under 6ft but he still placed fifth for aerial duels won in La Liga last season (63), while also ranking second for interceptions (49) among midfielders.
Looking at a final few names, Sporting’s 21-year-old midfielder Manuel Ugarte is offering Uruguay hope beyond just Darwin Nunez. Among midfielders with at least 900 minutes in the Portuguese top flight last season, Ugarte ranked first for interceptions per 90 (2.37), ball recoveries per 90 (9.49) and possessions won in the middle third per 90 (6.05).
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In Serie A, Walace ranked first for ball recoveries among midfielders (285), third for interceptions (54) and seventh for final third entries (268), finishing ahead of the likes of Nicolo Barella (263), Manuel Locatelli (209) and Sandro Tonali (207) for the latter stat — Tchouameni would have done well to replicate that in Italy.