The Frenchman was in high demand but opted to join Julian Nagelsmann’s Leipzig project for €13 million, where he’s shone ever since.
Enjoying a stellar breakout season at the Bundesliga club, Nkunku has played 22 league games, scoring four and creating 12, placing him third in the assist charts behind Bayern Munich forward Thomas Muller and Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.
Born in the same Paris suburb as Paul Pogba, the comparisons have been made, despite the two players being dissimilar. Nkunku, a versatile midfielder who can also play on the left-wing, is a product of Paris Saint-Germain’s youth academy, where he graduated alongside Jean-Kevin Augustin and Presnel Kimpembe.
Destined to reach the top, he made his PSG debut at 18 years, two months and 25 days, before going on to make 77 appearances in all competitions for the Parisians, collecting 11 trophies in the process.
In a PSG side that included Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Nkunku was still a regular feature at the Ligue 1 club. However, the disciplined approached adopted by German tactician Thomas Tuchel perhaps stagnated his development and so, a move beckoned.
Wanted by a host of clubs, one being Unai Emery’s Arsenal, Nkunku joined forces with Nagelsmann at RB Leipzig. An exciting opportunity not only to play for RB, but to be coached by Nagelsmann, who is hailed as the best young coach in Europe.
Competing for the league title and being 1-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League Last 16, Nagelsmann has developed RB Leipzig into a side that’s pleasing to watch on the eye, as well as being disciplined defensively.
Nagelsmann’s variations in tactical approaches this season has seen Nkunku benefit. The German has recognised the midfielder’s ability to play centrally as well as out wide and whilst being attack-minded by trade, Nkunku’s defensive contributions must not go unnoticed.
As a little boy, I was always carrying a ball and going for a kickabout in the streetChristopher Nkunku
“Thomas Tuchel used to ask a lot of me, but I didn’t have enough time to do what he asked,” Nkunku told Bild. “Julian Nagelsmann also expects a lot from me, and he’s demanding about what I do in training and games. That’s taken me further. He also talks a lot about tactics.”
Despite being offence-minded, Nkunku boasts an average of 4.0 recoveries per 90 minutes whilst being deployed in an attacking role, whether that’s a variation of a 4-4-2 or 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation. Given that Nagelsmann likes his players to press high up the pitch and to win the ball back within three seconds, Nkunku is often the one that instigates the press from a wide area.
Where Nkunku excels, however, is in the attacking phase. The Frenchman is RB Leipzig’s most creative player, with an average of 0.7 big chances created per 90 minutes, as well as boasting 2.7 dribbles per 90, the most of any RB Leipzig player.
Against Schalke, Nkunku registered four assists, 15 passes in the final third and created two key chances. Propelling him into the spotlight, these performances in his early career at RB Leipzig has generated praise from his coach.
“He’s versatile and has real quality in attacking one-one-ones,” Nagelsmann noted. “He also fits perfectly with our transfer DNA as a young layer with great potential who can take steps forward, just like us a club. He’s hungry for success.”
Nagelsmann opting to play Nkunku in a wide area has allowed the Frenchman to display some of his best football. Second to Ademola Lookman, Nkunku averages 5.9 crosses per 90 which not only shows how he can isolate the opposing full-back in the final third, but it also showcases his ability to beat his man.
Perhaps his street football upbringing is one reason for that.
“I grew up in a sporty family,” said Nkunku. “As a little boy, I was always carrying a ball and going for a kickabout in the street. At one point, I got the opportunity to go to the national academy in Clairefontaine and since then I’ve kept improving.”
A true competitor, Nkunku strives to be the best whilst his ever-improving performances must give Les Bleus boss Didier Deschamps a selection headache with their injury crisis. One of the Bundesliga’s best creators excelling in one of the most exciting teams in football, Nkunku is a player Arsenal can only dream of right now.