Papy Djilobodji – The centre-back set to cross the Channel in the summer

With Paris Saint-Germain having clinched their third successive title on Saturday night at Montpellier, the Ligue 1 season is now all but over, with just two games remaining left in the calendar.

However, in spite of the fact that the action on the pitch will soon be coming to a temporary halt, we can now expect the centre of media attention to be moved to boardrooms around France, where agents, coaches and directors alike will be gearing up for a summer of dealings.

 

As with any pre-season window, we can expect Premier League sides to once again look to France’s top-flight as a rich market for potential targets. Here’s a profile of one player who has already become the focus of attention for recruiters from the Premier League.

Having spent five impressive years in the yellow and green of FC Nantes, Papy Djilobodji now looks set to move on to pastures new and Premier League sides have strongly linked with his signature.

L’Équipe reported this week that the Nantes number three was the subject of discussion between soon to be Premier League new boys Bournemouth and Southampton have also allegedly enquired about his services as a replacement for Toby Alderweireld upon his return to Atlético Madrid after his loan spell.

Djilobodji’s contract expires at the end of next season, and it’s believed that the club’s managing director Franck Kita would like to cash-in on the central defender before his contract expires, with the club having lost key players Filip Djordjevic and Serge Gakpé as a result of pre-contract deals in recent times.

Despite interest from Celtic, who have recently been linked to the player as a replacement for the potentially departing Virgil Van Dijk,  Djilobodji has stated his firm desire to play in the Premier League in the event of a departure from Loire-Atlantique.

Senegalese-born Djilobodji arrived in France in 2009, signing with US Sénart-Moissy , a club competing in the CFA 2, the fifth-tier of French football. After quickly establishing himself as one of the most impressive prospects in the lower leagues, FC Nantes brought Djilobodji to the Stade de la Beaujoire in December, and having promptly became a regular starter and a fans’ favourite, he would eventually help guide his side to a return to France’s premier division from Ligue 2 in the 2012-2013 season.

After impressing in Ligue 1, Djilobodji made his debut with the Sengalese international first-team at the end of the season, and he has since made 15 international appearances for the Lions of Teranga. Such has been his popularity with his international side’s support, Senegalese pop-artist Admow release a song for the 2015 AFCON tournament which was entitled “A La Djilobodji“, or ‘Djilobodji style!’.

 

The 26-year-old has established himself as one of Ligue 1’s most assured and reliable centre-backs, having developed an integral partnership with the Venezuelan Oswaldo Vizcarrondo and despite the fact that they are currently sitting 13th in the overall table, Djilobodji’s side have the league’s sixth best defensive record.

He has been consistently linked with Olympique de Marseille, a side against whom he was extremely impressive in FCN’s recent 1-0 victory, however it seems that now would be perfect time for ‘Djilo’ to make the step-up to a more competitive league in which his attributes would be more greatly appreciated.

Standing at 6 foot 4 inches, Djilobodji is an uncompromising and forceful centre-back, who rarely comes out second best in aerial duels and as a result, he would easily adapt to the Premier League’s physicality.

He is also deceptively quick for his size, and though he is not blessed with blistering natural pace, he has a natural sense of positional awareness which allows him to be in the right place at the right time to intercept and to clear the danger, a feat  which he has become to be especially renowned for. He is a gifted header of ball, acting as both a reliable centre-back at his own end of the pitch and a potentially dangerous target-man at the other end from set-pieces.

However there are areas in which he will need to improve if he is to become a top quality defender, most obviously his lack of composure when in possession and his sometimes sloppy use of the ball from feet. His decision-making is by and large sensible, however at times he lacks the technically ability to pick out passes, an attribute which would perhaps make him more desirable to larger clubs than Bournemouth and Southampton.

All in all, Djilobodji would be a logical and appropriate target for Premier League clubs, and it will not be a surprise to me at all if he does make the trip north to the Premiership from Brittany in the Summer, and neither will it be a surprise if he adjusts with great success.

FC Nantes have already agreed terms with a potential replacement for the 26-year-old, as his 18-year-old Senegalese compatriot Omar Baldé, who currently plays for CFA 2 side Voltigeurs de Châteaubriant, signed a deal with the club following a successful trial in January, and he will join the club in June.

‘Djilo’ should be available to clubs for somewhere in the region of around £5 million, and at the relatively youthful age of 26 it could well be a price upon which potential purchases would see a return in the future.

He has been an entertaining to player to follow this season as part of my Ligue 1 coverage for BackPageFootball, and I’m sure that he will be a hit with Premier League fans should he make the move to England.

The Author

Brendán MacFarlane

I'm a massive French football enthusiast, having fallen in love with all aspects and levels of the sport in France whilst working for a year in the town of Niort. As a French studies student, I'm constantly following what's going on in the French football media and bringing stories to the English-speaking world.

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