Belfast Telegraph

Umtiti is making a name for himself as Barca eye £20m deal

Big impression: Samuel Umtiti has excelled since coming in for Les Bleus
Big impression: Samuel Umtiti has excelled since coming in for Les Bleus

By Matt Gatward

Tournaments always throw up the odd unexpected star, bringing those who have hitherto been lurking in the shadows to the attention of the wider public. They then usually sign for Real Madrid. Think James Rodriguez from the last World Cup in Brazil.

But Real have been beaten to it this time. Although Antoine Griezmann has captured French hearts, Samuel Umtiti has emerged as a class act.

Barcelona, Real’s bitter rivals, are in advanced talks to sign the 22-year-old centre-half from Lyon for around £20m, which seems a steal. He was exceptional in the semi-final win against Germany: organising, tackling, blocking, heading everything that came his way. And he is comfortable on the ball too. Barca through and through.

Umtiti had been criticised for his performance in the second-half against Iceland in the previous round. But against Germany, he barely put a foot wrong.

The irony is that Umtiti was not even in the original French squad. He was called up by Didier Deschamps when injury struck Jeremy Mathieu, the slightly cumbersome central defender who is already at Barcelona and who often looks out of place in the silky Spanish side.

Umtiti must have impressed Deschamps against Iceland — it was his international debut let’s not forget — because he stuck with him against Germany instead of bringing back Sevilla’s Adil Rami, who had been suspended for the quarter-final.

For such a young player, Umtiti’s defensive discipline against Germany was superb — he refused to be dragged out of position by the roaming Thomas Muller — and he has already struck up an understanding with Laurent Koscielny.

The partnership was so excellent, so natural, it is hard not to wonder why Arsene Wenger — who used to dominate snapping up young French talent — had not been in for the player as a long-term replacement for the wooden Per Mertesacker.

Umtiti, too, seems to be level-headed for one so young and was far from overawed by such a daunting occasion as a Euro semi-final on home soil. “I felt good,” he said. “I tried to be calm and play on my qualities. You have to raise your level for a game like this, and it takes you a while to get your bearings. But playing alongside these players, it’s not complicated.”

Has his sudden ascent not left him out of breath? “I’m still pinching myself,” he admitted. “But I won’t let it go to my head. It has been an amazing month, I hope it will continue like that.

“As the match went on I felt better and better. It wasn’t an easy game for my second match at this level. We expected not to have the ball. We knew they are very strong. We had to be very good defensively. That’s what we did and it paid off.”

Belfast Telegraph