Ibrahima Konate is Man United’s new summer transfer target and the 21-year-old centre back is also on the radar of Liverpool and Chelsea… so what does he have to offer and why have team-mates given him the bizarre nickname ‘Ibuprofen’?
- Manchester United have been linked with a summer move for Ibrahima Konate
- The RB Leipzig defender is the centre back team-mate of Dayot Upamecano
- Liverpool and Chelsea have also been monitoring the France Under-21 star
- Bayern’s Robert Lewandowski and ex-boss Ralf Rangnick have praised Konate
- Leipzig could demand a fee in excess of £37million for the defender this summer
Manchester United may have ditched plans to sign Dayot Upamecano this coming summer, but they have not looked too far to find a potential alternative.
The RB Leipzig centre-back’s partner Ibrahima Konate is now being considered by Red Devils chiefs as one of their main summer transfer targets to slot into the defence alongside captain Harry Maguire.
Already he has been labelled as a potential world class player by former coaches and with Liverpool and Chelsea also showing an interest, Sportsmail looks at what the France Under 21 international has to offer.
Manchester United have turned their attentions to RB Leipzig defender Ibrahima Konate
Quite possibly, Konate may be the real star of RB Leipzig’s centre back duo where he features alongside the also highly-rated Upamecano.
Konate grew up playing on the streets of Paris along with his six brothers before he earned a move 300 miles away to Sochaux from Paris FC (no, not the Parc des Princes outfit) when he was just 15.
There, he bided his time as a teenager in and around the reserve side before being thrown into the deep end during the 2016-17 season.
Unlike many other positions on a football pitch, it is very difficult to break onto the scene at centre back as a teenager due to the demands of needing strength and experience – with neither fully developed at 17-years-old.
The 21-year-old started his senior career while playing for Sochaux (left) in 2017
Yet Konate was just this age when he made his senior debut for Sochaux four years ago this month in the second tier of France, and even though they lost 1-0 he quickly made an impression over the rest of the campaign.
Immediately, he was part of the first-team and just 11 further appearances and a goal later he was off to Leipzig in a five-year-deal that summer.
Since then he has been an integral part of the first team, favoured on the right side of defence when available and has already played 86 times across all competitions, netting on four occasions.
Konate played in both matches against Manchester United this season in the Champions League where despite scoring an own goal in a 3-2 win and being part of a side hammered 5-0 at Old Trafford, he still impressed the Red Devils.
He has already featured against Manchester United in the Champions League this season
He has a bizarre (but maybe apt – see weaknesses section) nickname among his team-mates, who call him ‘Ibuprofen’ after the painkiller, with the origins coming from his mother who simply calls him ‘Ibu’.
WHAT ARE HIS STRENGTHS?
There’s a clever football brain in the 21-year-old and his ability to stifle attacks with interceptions is a trait most managers would love.
With his game largely based around this, it won’t be too alarming to see his tackle rate slightly low but this would be expected – you don’t need to put in a tackle if you have already won the ball.
At 6’4″ he is effective in the air, again where he can intercept the ball. In addition to this, he appears to be alert to the prospect of winning a resulting loose ball.
Over the 2018-19 campaign, he was statistically the better defender to Upamecano, leading him in shots blocked, duels won and interceptions.
Being comfortable in possession too allows him to help start counter attacks – whether it is finding a free pass in midfield or driving forward in possession.
While these skills are not on par with Andrea Pirlo’s style of passing or Lionel Messi-esque dribbling, it is a very strong level for a centre back and an asset to Leipzig.
Konate’s strengths include aerial duels as he heads clear in front of Anthony Martial in October
ARE THERE ANY WEAKNESSES TO BE WARY OF?
At 21, there are going to be areas of his game that need working on, and his decision making in defence can hinder him especially against elite forwards within the game.
Although his reading of the opposition game boosts his defensive abilities, his own positional aspects can land him in trouble and this can become a problem at set-pieces, where no amount of height advantage can help you when in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Communication with team-mates perhaps also needs improving to aid this but the good news is this will all likely be ironed out of his game when experience starts to take hold.
What experience cannot help with though is masking his already very-concerning injury record. Last season, he featured just eight times for Leipzig after tearing a muscle in October.
Konate was part of a defence that shipped seven goals against Man United in two games
He barely featured again for the rest of the season, even when the Bundesliga resumed last May following the outbreak of Covid-19.
It wasn’t until the last day of the campaign that he completed 90 minutes.
One injury can be forgiven but he missed the first three games of the season with a hip issue, which also kept him out of August’s Champions League quarter-final and semi-final.
He hasn’t played since the middle of December, having only just recovered from an ankle injury.
WHAT IS HIS INTERNATIONAL PEDIGREE?
Born in Paris, he has been earning junior caps with France at multiple levels before making his debut for the Under-21s in 2019.
Since then, he has gone on to represent his country 10 more times at that level although he has not yet been capped at senior level.
This though should not be a concern as the world champions have an embarrassment of riches at centre back, so competition for places is going to be fierce.
The preferred starting combination of Raphael Varane and Upamecano is already a challenging duo to displace, but French boss Didier Deschamps also has PSG’s Presnel Kimpembe, Chelsea’s Kurt Zouma and Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet to call upon.
Konate is not even guaranteed a start at Under-21 level, with his last appearance back in November coming as a substitute having been omitted in favour of another Manchester United transfer target, Jules Kounde, and Benoit Badiashile.
This waiting queue for French caps though should not put off suitors. If he was English there would be a good chance he would already be in Gareth Southgate’s defence alongside Harry Maguire – exactly what Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer probably has in mind.
Konate (L) has been capped at many junior levels during his international career with France
The Under-21 centre back is yet to make his breakthrough into the senior side though
WHAT HAS BEEN SAID ABOUT HIM?
In his own words, Konate appears to enjoy the challenge of playing in the Bundesliga, insisting he has learned much and that he enjoys the physical and athletic demands of the division.
Konate said: ‘I’ve developed well and I enjoy the style of play you encounter in the Bundesliga every week: it’s attack-minded with lots of pace and passion.’
But you don’t just have to listen to him. Former Leipzig boss Ralf Rangnick, who signed him for the club, believes he is destined for the top.
‘We got him on a free transfer from Sochaux’, Rangnick said in 2019.
‘We are convinced he will cover further important development steps in the coming months and years with his potential.’
‘He is so good that he could play for Real Madrid or Barcelona one day.’
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has enjoyed success playing against Konate in recent years, but freely admits that the defender is still a talent to watch out for.
The Polish striker said: ‘Leipzig have two really good centre-backs in Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate.’
Ralf Rangnick signed Konate for RB Leipzig and has tipped him to become world class
Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski has also praised his ability as an opponent
SHOULD MANCHESTER UNITED SIGN HIM?
His approximate value is around £37million, which puts him in the same transfer bracket at his team-mate Upamecano due to the France international’s release clause.
Upamecano is just a year older, doesn’t have serious injuries on his record and could effectively be purchased at the same price – arguably cheaper.
Yet, when a player that good is available so cheap, it won’t be just United hoping to sign Upamecano and we only have to see in the last few seasons that the lure of the Red Devils is not quite the same sky high attraction it was under the Sir Alex Ferguson years.
So, while Europe’s top dogs could try to trump each other by offering Upamecano substantial personal terms, United could be on to a winner in signing his defensive partner instead.
He has shown he is just as capable and talented as Upamecano and in the words of former coaches, he could still become world class anyway.
But they will also have to battle rivals for his signature too as the numbers game will dictate there will be unhappy parties at possibly losing out on Upamecano and a new target would be needed.
Konate’s stats are not drastically short of his RB Leipzig team-mate Upamecano, via Sofascore
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been weighing up options to bolster his Manchester United defence
One major sticking point though will be RB Leipzig’s say in the destination of the defender. If Upamecano does move on in the summer, manager Julian Nagelsmann is hardly going to be content to see his other key defender sold as well.
Konate only agreed an improved deal at Leipzig just over two years ago and still has a contract to run until 2023 – ensuring the club are not under pressure to sell.
Given his injury record and availability in the like of Upamecano’s potential sale, United may find they have more efficient and less risky options to pursue, but could they regret turning down a move for a player who has shown world-class potential? Time will tell.
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