Xabi Alonso is thrilling fans with Bayer Leverkusen’s innovative brand of attacking football — much of which hinges on his wing-backs.
On the left, Alex Grimaldo showcases his penchant for wonder goals and deadly set-piece delivery.
But the real box-office event is found on the right, where Jeremie Frimpong functions as a de facto tearaway winger, bursting into the box to score goals, torching full-backs with his speed and dribbling, and providing a contrasting creative outlet to Grimaldo, but one that is equally effective.
Who is Jeremie Frimpong?
- Age: 23
- Position: RWB / RB
- Career path: Manchester City academy (2010 – 2019) > Celtic (2019 – 2021 > Bayer Leverkusen (2021 -)
Frimpong came up in Manchester City’s academy but his senior career began with a Man of the Match cup display at Celtic, joining aged 18 after watching peers have their dreams of professional football careers crushed.
“I know what it’s like to be told you won’t become a professional footballer,” Frimpong told reporters during the January launch of the Pathways project. “I have plenty of people around me to whom this has happened. To be told that as a child is the worst thing there is.”
“I feel clubs abandon you after that. They don’t help you. As a kid, it’s too much to go through that alone. I know you have a family, but sometimes that’s not enough.”
This is @JeremieFrimpong's career so far:
◉ 172 games
◉ 33 assists
◉ 21 goals
◉ 3 trophies
◉ 2 x Bundesliga Team of the Season
But the path that led there has very little chance of success…
That's why he is launching Project Pathways: 🇬🇭 🇳🇱 🏴 🇩🇪
— Squawka (@Squawka) January 3, 2024
Pathways provides specialised programs for “youth players who did not make it to professional footballer,” Frimpong explained.
“There are other things you can do. You can become whoever you want to become. And Pathways is a guide to help you do that. We try to help by facilitating equipment and resources. We will be there to help.”
I learned from those before me, trying to achieve my dreams to support those who helped me. Now it’s right to use football to help others. With https://t.co/yQSzZc0ebd I want to help young players to explore other opportunities and learn skill sets if football doesn’t work out. pic.twitter.com/UqoHdyvOok
— Jeremie Frimpong (@JeremieFrimpong) January 3, 2024
Concerns over his size help explain why Frimpong had to leave City to find regular football (Pep Guardiola has, even while praising him, echoed similar concerns in in the case of Rico Lewis).
Fortunately Celtic were able to see past this.
“[Frimpong] is deceptive,” said Neil Lennon, Celtic manager when Frimpong joined. “He’s small but he’s so powerful, good on the ball and quite different from a lot of full-backs out there.
“He came in and he just blew us all away with his pace and his quality – and his enthusiasm. He’s got a very infectious personality. He’s a lovely boy but he could be quite naughty at times too.”
At Bayer Leverkusen, Frimpong is becoming one of the most exciting names in German football.
“He has a very big impact on our game,” Leverkusen boss Alonso said of Frimpong after he was called up to the Netherlands’ provisional squad for the 2022 World Cup. “He is a very good player, but for me is even a special player.”
The buzz will soon sweep through fans of English football, with the January transfer window just getting underway. So what’s so special about Frimpong?
Frimpong’s main strengths
Pace: Frimpong has recorded the fifth-fastest sprint speed in the Bundesliga this season (35.96KM/PH). For context, Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies — nicknamed ‘Roadrunner’ – is just ahead with a fractionally faster speed of 36.02KM/PH.
Dribbling: Frimpong tops the entire Bundesliga when it comes to progressive carries (89) and carries into the opposition box (38). He averages 1.8 successful dribbles per 90 minutes in the Bundesliga this season; only Wirtz (3.3) and Boniface (2.9) have more for Leverkusen. One of the most striking things while watching him is the speed with which he changes angle and direction.
Movement and finishing: Across all of Europe’s top seven leagues, no defender* has scored more goals this season than Frimpong. His shot map demonstrates how, for certain moments in games (albeit often during counter-attacks), he operates almost like a fox-in-the-box striker. In this season’s Bundesliga, all but one of his goals came from inside the six-yard box.
“I feel like ever since I’ve come here, I’ve always had chances,” Frimpong said earlier in 2023. “I always get into the box. It was just about working on finishing, and I still have a lot of work to do. But I’ve just been getting the chances more often.”
Creativity: Only Florian Wirtz (37) has created more chances in open play this Bundesliga season than Frimpong (28), who has six assists — the most of any defender across Europe’s top five leagues bar Kieran Trippier. One of Frimpong’s most common routes to creating chances comes from driving toward the byline and playing cut-backs.
Pressing: Frimpong has won possession in the attacking third on more occasions than any other defender in the Bundesliga (12). He is also Leverkusen’s second-highest performer when it comes to blocks with 20, all of which have been executed to stop passes rather than shots or crosses.
*Frimpong is a wing-back who often essentially functions as part of Leverkusen’s forward line (see below).
What next for Frimpong?
[Frimpong] is someone who reminds me of Trent Alexander Arnold, because he is primarily an attacking full-back and sometimes he forgets that he needs to defend as well…
But the way he’s playing, bravely going up the pitch, attacking, running, assisting and scoring goals, it’s a joy for me to watch, to be honest.
– ex-Leverkusen striker Dimitar Berbatov to Stats Perform last April.
It’s worth noting that Berbatov’s assessment about remembering to defend was made partly in jest. Some might point to Frimpong’s lack of defensive output as area for development, but Alonso’s system is tailored to given Frimpong offensive freedom. His ability to defend is tested less often than Grimaldo on the left.
Certainly this becomes a bigger talking point were Frimpong to move to a team that plays a back-four. It is safe to assume there would also be some decline in attacking output at least.
In any case, it isn’t a question for now. Frimpong is not expected to leave Leverkusen this January. His focus will be on winning a first-ever Bundesliga title for a team cruelly nicknamed ‘Neverkusen’, and making Netherlands’ squad for Euro 2024.
But you can expect him to be at the heart of many legitimate transfer stories this summer. According to journalist Fabrizio Romano, a relatively modest release clause of €40million kicks in this June.
Previously, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Manchester United were linked with the player.
More recently it was reported Arsenal are the most serious contenders for his signature. The right-back position is one where signing a player of Frimpong’s game-changing attacking quality could genuinely elevate the team — especially with Ben White playing through injury this season.
Comparing Frimpong and White based on this season makes little sense, given the difference in starting positions and where they tend to pick up the ball. However, the visualisation above does capture how tactically interesting it would be to see Arteta’s Arsenal side — perhaps defending champions themselves come summer 2024 — line up with one of the European football’s most offensively thrilling right-backs.