Meet Breel Embolo: the Swiss wonderkid wowing Europe's top clubs
The 60-second story
- Date of birth: February 14, 1997
- Place of birth: Yaoundé, Cameroon
- Height: 6ft
- Position: Striker
- Club: FC Basel (50 apps, 18 goals)
- International: Switzerland (3 caps, 0 goals)
Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital city, Breel-Donald Embolo has lit up the Swiss Super League with a string of strong performances spearheading the 2014/15 champions' attack, showing rare maturity in his play not often seen in teenage attackers.
Moving to the northern region of Switzerland aged six, Embolo grew up in a city known for its relative footballing excellence, rising through the ranks of Basel’s smaller clubs, Nordstern and BSC Old Boys, on his way to the Swiss Super League.
Last season saw Embolo break through into Basel's first team, though, and he has even been thrown into the squad for Champions League and Europa League clashes despite having only turned 18 in February. Debuting in the 2013/14 Europa League against FC Salzburg aged 17, Embolo also made his league debut three days later, scoring his first professional goal only four minutes after coming off the bench.
A great finish to the season (five goals in his last nine games) has fuelled the hype around him, yet there were a few rough patches of form throughout the last campaign that could cause concerns for any serious observers of Basel's 2013 Young Player of the Year.
Why you need to know him
In Embolo’s first full season, he demonstrated impressive goalscoring prowess, firing 10 goals in 26 league games and complementing leading scorers Shkëlzen Gashi and veteran Marco Streller. His large, muscular physique and overall presence on the pitch has garnered comparisons to the likes of Didier Drogba.
He's the sixth-youngest goalscorer ever in the Champions League after finishing against Ludogorets in a comfortable 4-0 win
Basel had enough confidence in the young forward to let him spearhead their attack in Champions League group stage games against the likes of Real Madrid and Liverpool. Embolo is also part of an elite group: he's the sixth-youngest goalscorer in Champions League history after finishing against Ludogorets in a comfortable 4-0 win. It’s no wonder, then, that Switzerland have already called him up for his senior international debut, while some of Europe's top sides like Bayern Munich and Manchester United are said to be keeping a close eye on him.
Embolo already looks as if he's filled out his frame, and he knows how to use his body to fend off defenders. It makes him a force up front, and allows him to hold the ball up and play it off to his supporting cast.
But Embolo doesn’t sacrifice his strength for speed. The powerful frontman has the ability to beat defenders and hustle for the ball on the counter-attack. His well-rounded approach to the striking role means he's versatile, and was why former boss Paulo Sousa stated he “loved everything about him”.
His well-rounded approach to the striking role means he's versatile
However, he's also demonstrated that this versatility doesn’t only apply up front. He has often been asked by Sousa to fall back and play in central midfield, where he shares the same sort of characteristics as fellow rising star Paul Pogba: strength, good technique and agility.
It should be expected for one so young, but there are times when Embolo is unable to properly get a foothold in the game if nothing is going his way. The thrashing against Real Madrid is a good example of how a game can get away from him sometimes; without help from his team-mates he can look stranded.
Another concern that has been pointed out is Embolo’s lack of consistency at times during the season. His production at the start of the season was rather lacklustre, but he found his footing with impressive performances against FC Vaduz, and even smashed in a superb hat-trick against another top side in the league, FC Zurich, at the tail end of the season.
Occasional captain and Basel’s rock in the centre, Fabian Frei, heaped praise on the young striker, stating last year: “I think he is a sensation, playing like that aged 17. I like him as a person as much as I do as a player. His feet will stay on the ground; he won't be shooting from 50 metres to score the goal of the season. You can give him good advice and he is ready to take it without getting angry.”
Strike partner Streller also expressed his enthusiasm about how Embolo’s career is coming along, and described how his “heart cheers” every time he sees the teenager pull off something special.
Did you know?
Embolo was the subject of a hefty tug-of-war between the FAs of Switzerland and Cameroon over his international eligibility, as he did not possess a Swiss passport until December 2014.
Despite playing for Switzerland at under-16, under-20 and under-21 levels, Cameroon were bullish in their pursuit of the player. Their tactics included sending legendary striker Samuel Eto’o as a recruitment ploy, another athletic striker Embolo has been compared to.
Eventually, Embolo decided to continue his progress in the Swiss national ranks up to the senior level, stating: “This is not a decision against Cameroon, but one for Switzerland.”
What happens next?
Basel have a clear plan for the future, and given how close Streller is to the end of his career, it won’t be too long until Embolo takes the reins and establishes himself as the main man at the Swiss club.
Being behind a player of such stature in the Swiss Super League won’t be something Embolo will frown upon, and he should soak up as much knowledge as he can from his experienced team-mate before claiming a permanent spot up front.
Despite extending his contract at Basel to 2019, it’s inevitable that a larger club in a more competitive league will covet Embolo soon enough. Tottenham, West Ham and West Brom are the Premier League sides most recently linked with moves for the 18-year-old, though he won't come cheap at £10 million plus.