It seemed an inevitability that Jules Kounde would become a Chelsea player last summer. Personal terms had reportedly been agreed, a £ 45m fee negotiated by Marina Granovskaia with Sevilla and Kurt Zouma had been sold to West Ham to make space.
Thomas Tuchel was reportedly informing his players of the Frenchman’s imminent arrival, with Kounde even traveling back to Paris on the final weekend of the transfer window awaiting the move he’d dreamed of.
Then, it all changed. Sevilla’s stance hardened, suddenly demanding the Blues meet the £ 68m release clause or there would be no deal. The club’s director Monchi reaffirmed the change in a press conference as the clock ticked down. “The possibility that he can leave here before midnight is the same as other colleagues who have release clauses. Just like [Lucas] Ocampos or Bono, we would not be able to do anything there. ”
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Chelsea did not come back. The late change of demands meant Kounde had traveled to Paris for nothing, his dream move was extinguished and in the following days, he would start tweeting cryptic Drake lyrics, a sign of his disappointment.
The failure to land Kounde effectively opened the door for Trevoh Chalobah to make his full breakthrough into the first-team squad, an event that secured his future with the club till 2026, and provided another internal solution through Cobham. But the departures of both Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have meant that the Blues have to invest in the window.
Almost 12 months since the deal collapsed, it appears to be back on again and this time there seems to be a general consensus it will get done. Football.london understands Chelsea remain intent on signing the 23-year-old who has been in the Blues’ sights for several years.
Kounde would be the first player signing of the Todd Boehly era after buying the club following the sanctions and would secure a player who appears suited to the demands of Thomas Tuchel’s system.
That is not to say Kounde does not have his detractors. The price for one feels high for a player who isn’t coming off the back of a flawless season, one that did showcase a short temper. Being sent off twice in La Liga, most notably for throwing the ball into Jordi Alba’s face in a draw with Barcelona back in December.
Rudiger certainly walked a line with his aggression, one that best served Chelsea in his final year. In a combative league, this could go both ways and add a positive bite to a squad that has been accused of lacking a bit of needle since the departure of Diego Costa in 2017.
His height has also been cited as one of concern, at 1.78m Kounde would not be the most imposing presence in a physically demanding league. However, it is believed that the defender views this as a motivational factor in moving to Chelsea and the Premier League. As Cesar Azpilicueta, the player he’s most likely going to be competing with minutes for has proven since 2012, that height does not mean you can not become an effective defender.
Interestingly when looking at numbers, Kounde’s aerial ability matches up well compared to those who have played on the right side of Chelsea’s defense over the past season. Having won more aerial duels per 90 over the past year compared to Azpilicueta and Chalobah, with only the departing Christensen bettering him according to FBRef.
One of the things that do place Kounde as one of the favored targets is his ability on the ball. Using his speed and dribbling ability to skip past challenges and maraud forward, like a lot of young defenders playing in Europe’s best leagues, Kounde isn’t shy to join the attack. He ranks within the 90 percentile for progressive carries, dribbles completed and touches in the attacking penalty area in his position.
Kounde also has a higher accuracy with long passes via WyScout than Azpilicueta, Christensen and Chalobah, quite important when you factor in the switches of play from the back-three which became essential in unleashing Chelsea’s two wingbacks when both Ben Chilwell and Reece James were fit .
Given the nature of Tuchel’s current system, which aims to control possession and uses the back-three to initiate moves from Edouard Mendy’s usually short goal-kicks, this is pretty important. Plus, on the right-side with Reece James at wingback, the pair’s mobility might offer Tuchel much more freedom to take an attacking risk and fluidly move the pair around depending on the game.
Kounde is by no means a wingback, but he has played as a more conventional fullback for club and country, and in recent months we have seen the English defender fielded in a back-three, a position he’s looked consistently comfortable in. However, this switch by Tuchel has felt more out of convenience than experimentation with the frailties of Azpilicueta causing problems against pacey attackers, something Kounde’s addition should mitigate.
Kounde, like other targets mentioned such as Josko Gvardiol and academy products like Levi Colwill, are comfortable on the ball and are also proactive in the way they defend. Kounde regularly aims to make interceptions but won’t go rushing in constantly, his level of interceptions are not too dissimilar to Azpilicueta, a player who can see similarities too when defending their own box.
There are always risks about Kounde’s adaptability to a new league, one that will test him in new ways with a team that most weeks will dominate the ball and be expected to win more than Sevilla. There are intangible factors to any transfer no spreadsheet can boil down, his relationship with teammates, how he copes with a new environment and whether he has the character to handle the setbacks and scrutiny that will undoubtedly come.
But as a target Kounde ticks a lot of boxes and can hopefully trigger a summer rebuild of consistent additions that fit a similar set of attributes that suit what Tuchel wants to do next season.