Youri Tielemans: Leicester City’s new signing assessed with ESPN’s Jonathan Johnson

MONACO, MONACO – NOVEMBER 06: Youri Tielemans of Monaco during the Group A match of the UEFA Champions League between AS Monaco and Club Brugge at Stade Louis II on November 06, 2018 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Leicester City haven’t had too many reasons to celebrate of late but Youri Tielemans’ arrival threatens to change that. For a change, it will be good to see a change at the King Power Stadium.

However, the probability of that change in effect is something that most of us have our doubts about, which is why we spoke to ESPN’s France, Ligue 1 and Paris Saint-Germain correspondent, Jonathan Johnson.

He knows more about Tielemans than we ever will, mind.

Q. Youri Tielemans has only been here for a couple of days, but Leicester City fans – at least a few of them – are already planning to write footballing morceaus about him. And nearly all of them want him to be signed on a permanent deal in the summer. Based on how much you have seen of him, is the hype actually worth it?

“In the long-term, yes, it should be. I guess that I am fortunate with Tielemans, in particular, because I knew him from before he moved to Monaco. Having covered what was Belgium’s Jupiler Pro League back then, I witnessed him burst onto the scene, and I can tell you that there were few more exciting young talents in Europe at that time.

“Unfortunately, even if the move was the most logical for him when he made it, Tielemans’ time with Monaco was not a success and hopefully this move to Leicester reinvigorates him. At just 21, he still has almost his entire career ahead of him, so if the Foxes can get him back on track between now and the end of the season, next term could really be when he starts to make progress again.”

Q. Leicester have been hungry for a central midfielder who can penetrate teams unwilling to play  and is capable of controlling the game in the middle of the park. Now that Tielemans is here, will that hunger be assuaged anytime soon –  especially keeping in mind the quality of the Premier League? Or is the Belgian still too young to be looked up to?

“Absolutely not — Tielemans, at his best, can do exactly that. Do not forget that he has already captained Anderlecht domestically, as well as in Europe. It will take him some time for Tielemans to find his feet and feel truly confident and comfortable again, but once he does, he will be a force to be reckoned with. The Belgian is more of a No. 8 than a No. 6 and his game is based around his impressive technical ability.

“Yes, Tielemans can play in defensive midfield, if needed, but his style of play is not based on breaking up what the other team are doing. He is a schemer, a creator from deep and he is a goal threat from distance. Moving to the Premier League has brought out the best in these sorts of players from Ligue 1 in the past, and I expect Tielemans to be no different.

“Sadly, Le Championnat never got to see the best of him, so people in France understandably wondered what all the fuss was about. Leonardo Jardim misread few things and players during his successful first spell with Monaco, but in my opinion, his mismanagement of Tielemans was one of those rare failures.”

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Q. Brief us a bit about his style of play and whether that fits in well into Claude Puel’s sometimes strange philosophy and systems (the latter part of that question is something that fans would be pretty interested in).

“First of all, I am a fan of Puel’s from his time in France, even if Leicester fans might not feel fully convinced. He is at his best when he possesses a squad full of young and hungry potential talents in need of being refined. When Puel has inherited squads with experienced players, particularly those who have known great success in recent seasons, he has struggled more.

“Lyon, like Leicester, had enjoyed domestic success – albeit more sustained – in the recent past when he arrived, and I think that some of the more experienced figures often do not show the sort of hunger that he demands. The way that Puel built Nice, around players such as Nampalys Mendy, was impressive and Tielemans would have been an absolute star in that sort of setup.

“The Premier League is an unforgiving place, so he is unable to go with a squad and regular starting XIs teeming with young talent, so he hast to mix youth and experience. Tielemans, though, is a Puel player if there ever was one and if he can find the right partner in the middle to break up the opponent’s play and win the ball back, the Belgian could be a roaring success under the Frenchman.”

Q. What are his strengths? And are they different from what Leicester’s current crop of midfielders possesses?

“Tielemans, for me, possess the sort of technical ability that few, if any, Leicester players can boast. He is good on the ball, has great vision, can pass well over short and long distances, and can also shoot from range. When confident and settled, he can be very consistent, and that regularity was what stopped him from really establishing himself with Monaco.

“Yes, there were a few questions over his mentality during his time there, but he was acquired and given to Jardim, who I already explained was never really able to read him accurately and utilise him accordingly. Many of Tielemans’ problems in the principality were born out of frustration and I think that a new star could be the breath of fresh air that he needs to rediscover himself.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – JANUARY 30: Mohamed Salah of Liverpool battles with Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester City during the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Leicester City at Anfield on January 30, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Q. Partnering Wilfred Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy/Hamza Choudhury is the obvious role for Tielemans, but with the demands of the Premier League being such that you need to innovate every game, he may be required to play multiple roles depending upon who the opponent is. How ready will he be if deployed out of position for tactical reasons?

“Like I explained earlier, he can play as a defensive midfielder at a push, but it is not his favoured role, and it certainly does not bring out the best in him. Because of his diminutive build, I think that he will be too lightweight to anchor the midfield to begin with, but over time, I think he could be transformed into a deep-lying playmaker.

“That said, the Premier League is not necessarily the best place for that. Ndidi, Mendy, or Choudhury are the obvious candidates to pair with Tielemans in the midfield as the brawn of the couple, while I guess it will be the Belgian, or somebody like James Maddison, who takes care of the creative side of things. Tielemans would be able to occupy a deeper role, but the Foxes seem well-stocked there already, so expect to see him utilised closer to the attack, rather than the defence.”

Q. The good things all discussed and dissected, let us come to the aphotic side. At 21, it is impossible that he doesn’t have any visible weaknesses that will make the King Power Stadium go from “Tielemans – our hero” to “Thank God, it is a loan move”. Can you expatiate a bit on that frustrating side of his game?

“At his age, naturally, you still lack a bit of maturity and experience. He has already captained Anderlecht, so he has the potential to be a leader in the future, but he can still be a little petulant and capricious at times. That said, as I explained earlier, he was very frustrated with Monaco as he spent most of his time playing under a coach who did not appreciate his true value, and then his time with Thierry Henry, somebody he knows very well from their time together with Belgium, was extremely short.

“If he is playing regularly in a position that gets the best out of him, he will be happy, and he plays his best football when happy and settled – like almost every other player in the game.”

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Q. Finally, what would your message be to the Leicester City faithful who have welcomed the AS Monaco starlet with the kind of sanguinity that Arsenal fans would if and when they get a centre-back? 

“Their optimism is well-founded. If Tielemans can be rejuvenated after a frustrating period with Monaco and finally picks up where he left off with Anderlecht, then Leicester have landed themselves an absolute gem.

“It would not surprise me to see him hit the ground running, nor would it surprise me if the Foxes’ faithful are calling for his loan to be made permanent well before the season finishes. There is a top-quality player there waiting to be put back on track, so hopefully it happens for him under Puel.

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