Chelsea have been linked with Saint Etienne’s 17-year-old midfielder Lucas Gourna-Douath, as per Foot Mercato.
According to the same report, the youngster has also generated interest from AC Milan and RB Leipzig, and would be available in the summer for a fee of roughly £23 million.
Having just turned 17 in August, the midfielder represents a raw and exciting prospect, who has also shown a level of maturity and precociousness that is widespread in Ligue 1.
After making the senior bench once last season, he broke into the first team earlier this campaign, featuring in 23 out of 27 league games to date, playing the full 90 in five.
Furthermore, this speculation confirms Chelsea’s interest in a young defensive-minded midfielder this summer, after Aurelian Tchouameni was recently linked with the club, as well as the long-standing interest in West Ham’s Declan Rice.
Gourna-Douath has proved his versatility and adaptability in midfield this season for St Etienne, a trait new Blues coach Thomas Tuchel highly values. The French side have set-up with a 4-4-2 formation nine times so far this season - allowing Gourna-Douath to operate in a “double pivot” alongside either Mahdi Camara or Yvan Neyou.
However, ex-Southampton boss Claude Puel is tactically and formation-ally flexible, using a 4-2-3-1 / 4-1-4-1 on a total of 11 occasions. It has been in this slightly deeper role that Gourna-Douath has flourished.
In a 1-1 draw with Stade Reims last month, Gourna-Douath was utilized as the deepest midfielder in a trio including Camara and Neyou. In this game, the youngster was rated as the second best St Etienne performer by SofaScore with a score of 7.0, completing 90% of his passes, including 100% of his long ball attempts, as well as putting up four tackles and interceptions.
Across the Ligue 1 season, Gourna-Douath has averaged an 86% pass completion, including 91% in his own half. He has tackled 45.5% of opposing dribblers, in the top 5% for Ligue 1, and averages 11.74 ball recoveries per 90, in the top 7%.
This combination of composed and accurate passing, mixed with resolute defensive actions at the age of 17, has piqued the interest of Chelsea, and clubs across Europe. It wouldn’t be too far-fetched to compare Gourna-Douath to his 18-year-old compatriot Eduardo Camavinga at Rennes, although this player has far more experience, including internationally and in the Champions League, and would demand a much higher transfer fee.
Standing at exactly 6 foot, Gourna-Douath represents an interesting profile. He was likened to Paul Pogba by AS after an impressive display versus PSG in January, which allegedly caught the eye of Mauricio Pochettino in his first game in Ligue 1. Gourna-Douath completed 89% of his passes, and evidenced his defensive drive by winning five ground duels.
The same AS report also claimed Gourna-Douath is in safe hands when it comes to his development at St Etienne under Claude Puel, who gave first-team debuts to Thierry Henry, Eden Hazard and Alexandre Lacazette at Monaco, Lille and Lyon respectively.
In fact, St Etienne has an excellent track record when it comes to producing talented youngsters. Kurt Zouma spent five years at the club, making 51 appearances, before joining Chelsea aged 20 in 2014 for £12 million.
Leicester’s Wesley Fofana, who is enjoying a superb debut season in the Premier League, also graduated from the French club’s academy, as did William Saliba, who joined Arsenal for £27 million in 2019.
Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Roger Milla and Michel Platini have also spent time with Les Verts.
According to a Guardian report, Ligue 1 clubs are facing a loss of €3.25 billion over four seasons after a mega-TV deal with Mediapro collapsed. Consequently, various French clubs may be forced into parting with their top talents this summer window in an attempt to generate desperately needed cash.
If Chelsea do decide they will actively pursue a defensive midfielder in the summer, and that Lucas Gourna-Douath is their man, a deal around the £20 million mark could prove to be a very wise investment. A high-energy, durable midfielder may be a positive addition to a young squad looking to level up under Tuchel next season.