22nd June 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
After making a real impression off the bench in Switzerland's opening two fixtures, against Albania and Romania, Switzerland coach, Vladimir Petkovic, rightly rewarded Breel Embolo with a start against France.
Replacing Haris Seferovic, who was underwhelming in those aforementioned matches, the 19-year-old sensation put in an admirable shift against the experienced, battle hardened French backline. While France's two centre-backs, Adil Rami and Laurent Koscielny, did their utmost to make life as difficult as possible for him, Embolo stuck to his task manfully and enjoyed plenty of promising moments himself.
Testing himself against such elite players undoubtedly served as a brilliant yet challenging learning experience for Embolo. "It wasn't easy against the French defence," he said.
"But we're at the top level of European football here. It will do me good. I'm 19 and I don't hide."
While this was by no means a perfect display from the FC Basel attacker, with him enduring some issues executing his passes and his propensity to take the odd sloppy first touch occasionally rearing its ugly head. Importantly, there was, however, still many scintillating glimpses of his tremendous capabilities.
The gifted yet incredibly raw starlet's blistering pace, agility and unpredictabe dribbling style regularly had an unsettling effect on Didier Deschamps' men. But undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of his showing came by way of his crafty movement and positioning.
Despite varying his mode of attack nicely across the frontline, his desire to target Rami and slightly left of centre areas was undisputedly where he enjoyed the most success. This tactic had great intelligence attached to it, for he knew he could exploit the right sided central defender's lack of pace to embark on darting runs in behind, and into the channels, knowing he wouldn't be caught.
Before making his runs down the left, Embolo would ensure French right-back, Bacary Sagna, had been drawn to mark his opponent, Admir Mehmedi, so there were vast spaces behind Sagna to utilise. Aside from giving himself freedom to receive possession, Embolo's nifty movement also opened up huge gaps in the centre for the likes of Blerim Dzemaili and Xherdan Shaqiri to capitalise on due to Rami being pulled out wide to track him.
The Cameroon born man's effort couldn't be faulted on the defensive end either, where his relentless desire to win the ball back shone. He pressed with intensity and did all he could do disrupt France's rhythm when they were passing out from the back. Standing a lofty 186cms tall and possessing a mightily powerful leap, Embolo was also a great weapon when Switzerland were defending set pieces. Completing three clearances, one tackle and winning four aerial duels suitably depicted his strong defensive output.
Upon being substituted on 74 minutes, Embolo would've felt a palpable sense of satisfaction with his body of work on the big stage, even though he would've been slightly disappointed by his few errors.
Moving forward in the tournament, there's every reason to suggest the Swiss whizzkid should continue to have a real impact. Whether starting games or featuring as a substitute, his explosive set of attributes will always see him pose a real source of menace to any backline. Indeed, he gives the men in red and white a real X factor they otherwise don't have.
Basel youth coach, Werner Mogg, recently commented on how highly he rates the prodigy, saying: "One thing I can say today is from a footballing talent perspective, Breel moves in a sphere with Ivan Rakitic, Xherdan Shaqiri and Fabian Frei.
"He has an incredible physique, is fast, big and dynamic. Even when he appeared here in is first session in 2010 - he had forgotten his boots - it was clear to me that he would play sooner or later for the first team."
Swiss teammate, Fabian Frei, then glowingly added: "He is a sensation. He works hard and can play in several positions.
"He'll run hard up and down the flanks. But also, playing centrally, he can shield the ball. He's so strong it's impossible to knock him off the ball."
At just 19 and already so gifted, there is still, however, plenty of refining and improvement he can make to his game, which is why choosing the right club to play for next season is imperative for his progression.
"When a young player develops so rapidly, it always involves dangers," insisted Basel's sporting director, Georg Heitz. "It is important that the right people are now around Breel to assist him."
Encouragingly, Embolo demonstrated maturity that belies his tender years when responding to the speculation surrounding his future and his €30 million price tag. "I am not worthy of such numbers being suggested. In the end, I am simply Breel," he humbly stated.
"It's nice knowing people are learning about you. And I do ask my teammates about these things. But nothing really changes."
With Manchester United reportedly keen on bringing him to Old Trafford and the likes of RB Leipzig and Wolfsburg also monitoring his situation, his final decision will be a fascinating one. Hopefully the level headed youngster makes a thoughtful, well calculated choice that's best for his development.
If he does so and guarantees himself regular minutes next season, the inordinately talented Embolo might just develop into one of the finest and most exciting exponents around of the beautiful game, sooner rather than later.
Whether he does or doesn't remains to be seen, but it'll certainly be intriguing to follow his progress to find out.
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Switzerland's wildly gifted 19-year-old sensation, Breel Embolo
22nd June 2016. By Edward Stratmann.