Andrew Gibney profiles Layvin Kurzawa, the French left-back making waves at Monaco...
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: September 4, 1992
- Place of birth: Frejus, France
- Height: 5ft 11in
- Position: Left-back
- Current club: AS Monaco; 62 apps, 6 goals
- International: France; 1 caps, 0 goals
Last season, fans of AS Monaco were left dazzled and delighted when their club celebrated their return to the top-flight by spending around €150 million on some of the biggest names in European football.
The French Riviera was electric with anticipation, wondering whether Radamel Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho could lift the Monegasque club up on to the pedestal occupied by Paris Saint-Germain. What they didn’t expect was that one of their best performers would be a defender who joined the club way back in 1997.
Layvin Kurzawa caught the eye with his swashbuckling runs down the left flank and his ability to provide a goal threat with his well-timed bursting attacks into the opposition penalty box. Outside of Ligue 1, the defender recently rose to fame for his embarrassing celebration following a late goal for France against Sweden in the Euro Under-21 play-offs.
Seconds later, Sweden bounced back to score what would prove to be the winning goal and Kurzawa could only look for a large hole to disappear down.
Despite this setback raising questions about his attitude, the 22-year-old has been called up to Didier Deschamps' France squad, earning his first cap against Albania on Friday. Kurzawa is now set to make his first international start, inevitably against Sweden, giving the player a chance for redemption.
Why you need to know him
During Monaco’s excellent second half of the season, Kurzawa was one of the main reasons that Claudio Ranieri’s side were able to keep in touch with the eventual champions.
During a nine-game spell around the start of 2014, Kurzawa would score five times, including a 95th-minute winner in the 3-2 victory over Stade de Reims at the Stade Louis II. Kurzawa’s amazing ability to not just attack his opponents at will, but continue to develop his passing and defensive duties, has led to links with Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and a whole host of Europe’s elite clubs.
Over the past four years he has developed into one of Monaco’s most important players at both ends of the pitch. He has also fast-tracked his way through France’s international setup.
There are so many elements of Kurzawa’s game that are beautiful to watch. When he is flying down the left wing at full speed, he is almost impossible to stop. His runs are just as effective with the ball as he is without it. There is a noticeable difference in his approach from the start of last season to the beginning of this campaign.
Under Ranieri, he was more willing to race towards the opponent’s penalty area, look for the short pass, linking up to get in behind the defence. The best example came when he set up Dimitar Berbatov for his opening goal against FC Sochaux. Kurzawa played a neat one-two with James Rodriguez, before squaring low and hard across the goal for the Bulgarian to provide the finish at the back post.
What Kurzawa has worked on most is his ability to pick when to challenge for the by-line and when to deliver a pin-point cross from deep. Manchester United’s Radamel Falcao is still joint top scorer for Monaco this season, with his first goal this season delivered on a plate by a beautiful back post cross by Kurzawa.
Everything about the pass was perfect: the timing, the pace and the positioning, giving Falcao the easiest job to head in the only goal of the game as Monaco beat Nantes 1-0.
You'll often hear modern-day full-backs described as 'absolutely brilliant going forward, but not as good defensively', and the same can be said of Kurzawa. That's not to say he’s a bad defender; he’s just absolutely brilliant when given the licence to burst forward.
As Kurzawa gets older and develops, he is constantly improving on his defensive abilities. His stamina allows him to track back and take up the positions where you would want your full-back. He does read the game well and is regularly starting attacks but intercepting the ball as the opposition try to attack down his flank. Kurzawa also isn’t afraid to throw himself into tackles, often successfully. However, there is still the odd occasion where his eagerness to get forward and create danger leaves some gaps at the back.
Recently, it has been Kurzawa’s mentality that has been brought into question. He may have made a mistake in prematurely and disrespectfully celebrating his strike against Sweden, but Under-21 boss Pierre Mankowski was more worried about the left-back’s performance rather than his actions.
The coach admitted the salute wouldn’t have been so bad, had the defender not been awful during the rest of the match. The hope will be that Kurzawa learns from his grave mistake and uses it as inspiration to go on and achieve great things, rather than let it scar his progression.
Some may have thought Kurzawa’s call-up to the full France national team had come too soon after he made the mistake against Sweden, but not Didier Deschamps. Speaking to television station TF1, Deschamps swept past the mistake that Kurzawa made and looked towards the future.
"He made an inappropriate gesture during a game, but that's the past. I don't judge him over whether to play or not, and whether he will be called up or not. He brings a lot offensively, it's an advantage."
Deschamps is obviously a fan, and if Kurzawa goes on to impress in the French national team like he has for Monaco, he will have a great chance to start for Les Bleus at the 2016 European Championships.
Did you know?
Before breaking through at Monaco as a left-back, Kurzawa spent some time in youth football playing as a centre-forward. You can see this in his game as he naturally breaks forward. When he gets into the box, the left-back isn’t fazed by the openings that present themselves. He is often calm and composed and can frequently find the finish.
The defensive aspects you can teach, but that instinct to be able to remain unruffled and find the back of the net is the sort of ability that could take him all the way.
What happens next?
After the departures of both Falcao and James, Monaco now has a reputation for selling their best players, and there is no doubt that Kurzawa will be next on the shopping list for a few Premier League sides.
- Shooting 7
- Heading 6
- Passing 7
- Tackling 7
- Pace 8
- Dribbling 7
- Creativity 7
- Work-rate 7
However, the player has to buckle down and put the Sweden incident behind him and show there is much more to him than that regrettable incident. Promotion to the full France squad is a step in the right direction and it can only help to mature the 22-year-old.
Without a team bursting with superstars, Monaco coach Leandro Jardim has to utilise the talent he does have in his squad. Monaco has struggled at times this campaign and goals have been hard to come by.
Kurzawa hasn’t quite been given the freedom he found under Ranieri. If Jardim loosens the reigns just a little and lets Kurzawa play his natural game. Monaco will be a much more vibrant threat in front of goal. There are not many better sights than watching the Monaco left-back in full-flight, and once Jardim realises this, it won’t be long till the rest of Europe is looking on in admiration.