Throughout this week, reports have emerged suggesting that 17-year-old French wonder-kid Adil Aouchiche wants to leave PSG in search of more playing time and, according to ESPN, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is ready to welcome him to the club’s London Colney training ground.
The news has understandably excited fans, but on Friday, a spanner was thrown into the works when Aouchiche travelled to Saint-Étienne to further discussions he and his representatives are having with les Verts, who finished 17th in Ligue 1 this term.
Yet if Arsenal are serious about continuing their policy of hiring and promoting the best youth talent around, the Gunners hierarchy should do everything in its power to divert him away from eastern France and in the direction of north London. Aouchiche is a supreme talent, would fit with both the club’s ethos and Arteta’s playing style, and is available at a cost that, in the long term, could prove a snip.
Aouchiche has grown up in the PSG academy and impressed so much at youth level that he was introduced to the first-team squad for the 2019-20 season. He has made three appearances for les Parisiens, but it was with his performances for the French U17 team in 2019 that he really began to garner international attention.
In May last year, he shone at the U17 European Championships, scoring a tournament record nine goals in five games, including four in France’s quarter-final against the Czech Republic.
In November, Aouchiche was once more France’s most influential player as the young side traveled to the U17 World Cup in Brazil. This time, though, he was pulling the strings rather than applying the finishing touches.
In the round of 16 against Australia, Aouchiche produced a stunning change of direction, drag-back and pass to create the third of his team’s four goals, helping them through to a quarter-final with Spain. After going 1-0 down, France stormed back with Aouchiche providing three assists, all from his exceptionally accurate dead-ball delivery, and finishing the rout with a smart finish that made it 6-1.
That win against Spain set up a semi-final against hosts Brazil, who were also flying, having scored 14 goals in their five games. But after just seven minutes, Aouchiche stamped his mark on the game, threading a delicate, defense-splitting through-ball into Arnaud Kalimuendo-Muinga, who smashed it home. France would go 2-0 up shortly after, only to throw away a game they had firmly in their grasp, letting in three in the last half-hour to crash out.
Had they not done so, Aouchiche would surely have been named player of the tournament. But as so often, the individual award went to the star performer on the winning team, Brazil’s Gabriel Veron (reportedly another Arsenal target). Still, Aouchiche’s displays in South America had made world football write his name in its collective notebook.
It is little wonder, given his quality, that PSG are desperate to keep Aouchiche and have offered him a first contract on professional terms. If he does leave Paris, it will be seen as a blow to club director Leonardo.
Yet Aouchiche and his family are looking for a move that will guarantee him more playing time. The player’s desire to start games brought attention PSG’s domestic rivals Lille, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne, the last of which has reportedly discussed a move in detail.
All three, though, are thought to be put off by the €4m signing-on fee that his family and agent are requesting and the player’s €25,000-a-week wage demands. Despite Aouchiche’s presence in Saint-Étienne, no contract has been signed. That could present and opportunity for Arsenal to come in, one which they would be wise to take.
In the long term, that investment could prove a bargain. If Aouchiche develops into the player that talent alone suggest he can become, he will be one of the finest midfielders in Europe, worth well north of €50m. And even if he does not, he would retain re-sale value merely from the promise he has already shown.
For Arsenal, it would not be too difficult to put a case forward to the player and his entourage that a move to north London would be a beneficial one, either. The Gunners have proven they are a club willing to give chances to young talent, both imported and home-grown. Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka, Matteo Guendouzi and Gabriel Martinelli have repeatedly been handed minutes on the pitch under Mikel Arteta.
Aouchiche, with his wandering fancy and effortless creativity from the No.10 position, would also fill an obvious gap in the squad. Mesut Ozil is first choice in the role, but his current deal expires next summer, and he needs immediate backup. Dani Ceballos is reportedly on his way back to Real Madrid once this season’s loan finishes, whilst Joe Willock has never fully convinced when deployed as the most attacking midfielder.
If they can get in there before Saint-Étienne seal the deal, Arsenal may be able to secure one of the world’s foremost young talents for a modest fee and fill a clear need in the squad. But they need to act fast.
Source: Forbes Business