The 60-second story
Zouma's rise to prominence began back in 2009 when Saint-Etienne snapped him up after graduation from Le Pôle Espoirs Football de Dijon, an academy run in conjunction with the French Football Federation. After impressing in Saint-Etienne’s youth teams his form for Les Verts saw him called up to the France U16 side. He signed his first professional deal at the age of 16 towards the back end of the 2010/11 season, and became a first-team regular at the start of the following campaign. Despite interest from foreign clubs being rebuffed by Zouma himself, strong links with Europe’s top clubs remain. He's represented France at all youth levels and his performances at the start of this season were rewarded with a first call-up to the senior side.
Ruolo: Difensore centrale
Palmares: Coppa di Lega (2013), Mondiale U20 (2013)
Why you need to know him
After being thrown into the Saint-Etienne first-team at such a young age, Zouma is ahead of the majority of teenagers in his development. Although his willingness to play regular football in southern France is admirable, it's only a matter of time before a top European club snaps him up. Standing at 6ft 2in the centre-back is a fine physical presence who could easily be mistaken for an athlete in his prime, and not a teenage defender. It's easy to forget he is still just 19 years old.
His physique is a stand-out attribute, but he also has a superb proficiency for reading the game too. Despite his sending off at the weekend for a tackle which broke Sochaux midfielder Thomas Guerbert’s leg (and earned him a 10-game ban, common pratice in France), he rarely dives into tackles, often jockeying before swooping in to take the ball from the attacker’s feet.
Zouma is dominant in the air - he's already made 102 clearances in his first 11 appearances this season and won a healthy 80% of his headed duels - and is one of the quickest defenders in Ligue 1. The young Frenchman is an accurate passer of the ball too, completing 86% of his efforts so far this season. In a recent game against PSG, he was a stand-out performer as Saint-Etienne drew with the French champions. He blocked five shots in the match, made three clearances and one interception as Les Verts almost pulled off a surprise victory.
Despite his obvious all-round potential, Zouma does lack concentration at times, and has made the most defensive errors in the Saint-Etienne squad this campaign (two). Once he matures, the powerful centre-back should eradicate these mistakes. The youngster also has a rather worrying injury record - he's picked up several niggles in his short career so far, including four separate knocks last season. A knee operation last year when he was 18 would have to be taken into account when the suitors inevitably swoop for his services.
France manager Didier Deschamps is a keen admirer of Zouma’s talents, and sees him forging a formidable partnership with Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane in the future. Loic Perrin, his captain at Saint-Etienne, is a big fan. "Kurt is young but we all know his potential. He has enormous quality and a huge future ahead of him."
Did you know?
When Zouma began his senior career at Saint-Etienne, manager Christophe Galtier wouldn't let the youngster have his name on the back of his shirt in a bid to protect him from the spotlight. It didn’t stop top European scouts pencilling down reports, mind.
What happens next?
Watch this space. Zouma is relishing being first-choice centre-back at Saint-Etienne, but his talent will surely see him move onto bigger things sooner rather than later. His agent David Vanditelli is reported to have told Eurosport it would be "better for him to be on the bench at a big club like Liverpool" than remain in France.
His return from suspension (after the January window has closed) for breaking Guerbert’s leg will tell us a lot about his temperament, but should he come through that test and continue the form that's earned him a first senior France call-up, expect to see him at a top European club in the near future.
Shooting 4 • Passing 7 • Heading 9 • Tackling 8 • Pace 9 • Work-rate 6 • Crossing 4 • Creativity 5 • Dribbling 5
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