These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts — are now a regular thing. All previous editions can be found here.
Aurelien Tchouameni’s press conference on Tuesday during his official unveiling as a Real Madrid player was among the best I can remember. The Frenchman was charming, interesting, intelligent. What can often turn into a run-of-the-mill, cliche ‘I dreamed of playing for this club since I was a child’ so easily instead gave us some fun and informative quotes from a player with personality, charisma, and a hunger to win.
“Hi everyone, I’m very happy to be here to start my story with Real Madrid, the best club in the world,” Tchouameni’s address to the press (in Spanish, no-less), began.
As the presser unfolded, it became even more impressive, not because of the language, but because of the content behind it. And then you dig deeper, years ago even, and realize that Tchouameni’s appetite for winning was instilled in him long ago. In an interview with Onze Mondial in 2018, the French midfielder said “winning the Champions League is really my goal”. He then spoke about intermittent fasting and lifting weights both before and after training. He has always been big on routines.
That structure and discipline — the root of his success so far — was echoed on Tuesday. He studied the craft of two of the hardest working athletes of all time: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. “I would watch videos of Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan,” Tchouameni said in Tuesday’s press conference. “They always sought perfection in their game. So, I know I can’t have success by doing the minimum. So, I always work to the maximum.”
Those aren’t fluff quotes. The reason Tchouameni would lift weights before and after his training sessions was to specifically “work on his flaws”. The midfielder also works with a psychologists to manage his emotions before, during, and after the game. He is a man that takes his craft seriously, and winning titles even more.
But perhaps what was most interesting from Tuesday’s press conference — beyond all that stuff about saying no to Kylian Mbappe’s offer to go to Paris Saint-Germain, his reasoning behind picking #18, and his insistence on winning titles — was how candid he was about his position, which has been a source of discussion for many pundits over the past week or two, including here on Managing Madrid.
Back in 2018, according to the man himself, Tchouameni’s player profile was that of three positions: defensive midfielder, central midfielder, attacking midfielder. At Bordeaux, fans used to call him “Pogba”. After one game in particular, where Tchouameni dominated every single 50 / 50 duel while winning multiple balls in midfield, he gained the moniker “TchouaNgolo”.
“I talked a lot with the coach, he made me understand that he really wanted to line me up as a torchbearer because, according to him, I have this ability to score goals,” Tchouameni said in 2018. “And a player who scores goals will be more exposed than a defensive midfielder who works behind the scenes.... There are still points on which I have to work because I am not too used to playing in this position. But as the matches progress, I begin to understand some fundamentals of this position. So I feel better and better.”
In positions higher up the pitch, Tchouameni admitted he needed to improve on his movement between the lines, and that he prefers most to “start from afar, move forward and face the game”. His inspirations ranged from Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante, and Clarence Seedorf to Patrick Vieira and Sergio Busquets.
In his presentation at Valdebebas, Tchouameni again stated he’s no one-trick pony, but did point, again, to what he prefers most. “I can recover balls with intelligence and physicality,” The French midfielder explained. “I have usually played in a double pivot, but maybe my position would be a No.6 in Real Madrid’s 4-3-3, which I have done before. Although, maybe I could play as a No.8 too. For me, it’s no problem where I play.”
For what it’s worth, his best roles will come, realistically, in two positions: A single pivot shielding the defense, or in a double pivot where he and another box-to-box brute can wreak havoc, thieve possession, and distribute the ball quickly to the attacking midfielders.
Out of all of Tchouameni’s aforementioned inspirations, the one I actually see as the most interesting comp is Busquets, even if that’s not a popular stylistic parallel. He is a reliable progressive passer and dribbler as well as an elite reader of the game defensively. He steps up perfectly to defend vertical passes and clogs channels. His ball-winning and ability to cut passing lanes is second-to-none.
The numbers on him are insane. Tchouameni averages 6.48 tackles and interceptions per 90 — putting him in the 98th percentile among midfielders. While he isn’t Fernando Redondo on the ball when being pressed, his first touch out of pressure is very good, and he is in the 90th percentile in passes completed under pressure.
Tchouameni’s quotes today were real. Real Madrid’s new signing has talent and character, and will give Carlo Ancelotti an increased variance in his midfield options for the upcoming season.