Jonathan Fadugba profiles the Ivory Coast and Toulouse defender who could be Bacary Sagna's Arsenal replacement...
The 60-second story
He’s been described as the Dani Alves of Ligue 1, named in the 2013/14 Ligue 1 team of the season and made the final shortlist for best young player in France. Unquestionably one of the best young defenders in Europe today, Serge Aurier is the jewel in the crown at Toulouse and a defensive rock around which Ivory Coast will look to build, not only at this summer’s World Cup but for many years to come.
- Date of Birth: 24/12/1992
- Age: 21
- Place of Birth: Ouragahio, Ivory Coast
- Position: Defender (Right/Centre)
- Club: Toulouse (80 appearances, 8 goals)
- International record: Ivory Coast (6 appearances, 0 goals)
Linked strongly with a move to Arsenal, and with Real Madrid and Liverpool just two of many European giants interested in his signature, Aurier is a player you’ll be hearing a lot more about in the future. Remember the name.
Why you need to know him
From the moment Aurier made his Toulouse debut after joining from Lens in January 2012, it was clear this was an outstanding talent in the making.
The youngster’s strength and near psychic positional awareness, added to a maturity beyond his years, suggested this was a kid to look out for. In a two-and-a-half year spell at les Violets the 21-year-old has proved through his tremendously consistent progress that he’s a player with the world at his feet. Now the big boys are sniffing around, and Toulouse will struggle to hang on to their star for much longer, though a fee in excess of £10 million should compensate somewhat.
Aurier was born in the Ivory Coast but moved to France as a kid to be with his parents. His father was working in the French town of Sevran in Seine-Saint-Denis and Aurier, the second of five children, joined the local football club Villepinte. There he excelled, and before long he was spotted by Lens, who signed him and his younger brother Christopher. “He’s a rough diamond that needs polishing,” purred Lens’ secretary general Didier Roudet.
Aurier was made captain of Lens’ reserves and at just 16 he signed his first professional contract. He won the league with Lens U18s and finished runner-up with the U16s. The club had high hopes. “He is full of quality, he’s a nice lad and he has a big future,” enthused Lens club president Gervais Martel. “He holds all the cards in his hand.”
Lens’ relegation in 2011, however, changed their financial situation, and despite interest from several clubs including Manchester City and Getafe, Aurier joined Toulouse in January 2012. He started out at as a defensive right-back under Alain Casanova, but his sprinter’s physique helped contribute to a change in the manager’s tactical outlook.
Toulouse switched to a 3-5-2 this season and Aurier has featured both as a right-sided centre-back in the three-man defence and as a wing-back. His career trajectory continued to rocket and he was made vice-captain, while at international level a tug-of-war played out between France and Ivory Coast for his services (France couldn’t get him a passport quickly enough so he chose the latter). Aurier made his international debut last June and is now set to feature in his first World Cup as one of Ivory Coast’s first-choice defenders.
Physically, Aurier is a supreme athlete. A hulking slab of Ivorian steel, few players match his physical attributes. The 21-year-old was nicknamed the bison at Lens and marries immovable strength on the ball with the stamina, athleticism and lung power to charge up and down the field.
Strong in the air, a danger from set-pieces and fearsome in the tackle, Aurier is a fine defender. A tendency to fly into challenges can land him in trouble, as 11 bookings last season demonstrate, but given his tender age and relative inexperience at the highest level this should soon improve. “In one-v-one situations he is very effective,” his manager Casanova raved. “He loves those defensive battles.”
Positionally Aurier is also encouragingly versatile; he can play anywhere across the defence, doing a passable job at left back when required, and having played as a midfielder at junior level you wonder if a forward-thinking, tactically innovative manager might even try and mould him into a midfielder one day.
Sergio – as he is known at Toulouse - has even developed a welcome knack of popping up at the other end to get his name on the scoresheet. Six goals made him Toulouse’s third top scorer last season. Throw six assists into the mixer (making him Ligue 1’s joint seventh most creative player) and you have one of the most decisive defenders in Europe’s top five leagues not only defensively but in the attacking third too. Not bad for a right-back.
Tact, if his Twitter account is anything to go by. Rampant self-publicist? Unprofessional, borderline disrespectful mercenary? Or just an overexcited youngster with a penchant for the retweet button?
Open to interpretation, but it’s fair to say Aurier hasn’t done his image too many favours by constantly playing up the Arsenal links, eagerly retweeting cooing Arsenal supporters and their regular calls for him to move to north London. This included retweeting a Photoshopped picture of Aurier in an Arsenal shirt, which didn’t go down too well with Toulouse supporters or his employers, unsurprisingly. Given the glowing character references from those who know him this is probably more down to the simple immaturity of youth rather than anything cynical. He’ll grow out of it.
On the pitch, there is little to reproach. Aurier really is an outstanding footballer, with all the attributes and potential required to reach the highest level. If we’re being picky, he could still go up a notch technically, and may have to learn to hold his tongue more often when dealing with referees. “I hate injustice,” is Aurier’s explanation. We feel your pain, Serge.
The 21-year-old has had pundits raving for some time; indeed it seems anyone who has watched Aurier for any prolonged period of time is practically delirious with excitement at his potential. Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi included. “Serge Aurier has all my confidence,” Lamouchi commented after announcing his squad for Brazil. “Not only am I convinced that he’s going to play well for us, I also think he’ll be one of the best full-backs at the World Cup.”
Did you know
Before switching to defence Aurier played in midfield, where he modelled his game on Michael Essien, Robinho and Anderson, his favourite players at the time. He’s a big hip-hop fan, naming French rapper Sefyu as one of his favourite artists.
What happens next?
The rumour mill is in full swing and Aurier’s departure from the south of France this summer looks a certainty. His agent recently confirmed he’s in talks with one English club, but not Arsenal, who he admitted he hasn’t heard from for some time.
“It’s true that I’d be a little disappointed to remain at Toulouse after the season I’ve had,” Aurier said recently. “Arsenal are a club you can’t refuse but I’ve never said I will prioritise an English club. I will commit to whoever shows the most devotion to me, whoever can guarantee me playing time.”
If Arsene Wenger is keen, this isn’t the time to be haggling over a few quid. Serge Aurier is a man in demand and has the talent to develop into one of the best defenders in Europe for years to come.
Shooting 5 • Heading 8 • Passing 6 • Tackling 8 • Pace 8 • Dribbling 4 • Creativity 6 • Work-rate 8