Sunderland announced a flurry of signings last week amid a very fine result at home to Rotherham. Perhaps the most intriguing of those is the signing of young midfielder Édouard Michut from Paris St-Germain – we spoke to a French football expert to get the inside track.
WMS: At 19 years old and having arrived from PSG with a glowing reputation, Edouard Michut is considered by some to be a top young talent in european football. Certainly if reports are to be believed, his potential seems undoubtedly high. But with little senior football under his belt, how good is he right now? What sort of player can Sunderland supporters expect from day one?
JS: That’s the big unknown and the calculated risk that Sunderland are taking by bringing him in on loan. At the moment most positive reports are based on potential as, a few cameo appearances for PSG late last season aside, he is just now beginning his professional career. So although we know that he is a cultured ball-player, we are yet to learn a lot about his temperament, his stamina, his physicality. I guess in a way it’s a positive as he’s a blank canvas and doesn’t come with any negative baggage.
He is reportedly a very technical player, can play in tight spaces and has been compared with Marco Verratti and Thiago Alcantara. While that may sound an extravagant claim, is that a reasonable comparison in terms of his playing style at least?
Those comparisons probably also come from the fact that, like those two players, he is physically relatively slight. But the comparisons are fair in that he is always looking to make the searching forward pass that will break lines and either create chances or expose gaps that more forward players can exploit.
Michut has apparently played two slightly different roles at PSG, a 10 for the U19’s and an 8 for the senior side. Is there one particular midfield role he seems most suited too?
I’m going to sit on the fence and say somewhere in between the two. He is not an out-and-out number 10 as, while an offensive midfielder, I would still put the emphasis on the midfield part, rather than, say, a Zidane or Maradona (OK, extreme examples…) who are truly offensive players. As for number 8, this is probably more accurate but more in the role like a Ballack, Aouar, Verratti, Thiago – one who is constantly looking to keep the ball moving and keep the team pushing forward, rather than that type of number 8 that is a physical, non-stop box-to-box midfielder.
Celtic were close to signing Michut earlier in the summer but failed to get a deal over the line. Given his reputation are you aware of any other sides who were interested in the youngster?
Sevilla were linked earlier in the summer, as were other unnamed clubs “of similar size”, according to l’Equipe.
At 5ft 10inches tall and weighing 68kg it is fair to say that Michut is still fairly slight of frame. Did his size hamper his effectiveness in any way during his six or so senior games?
No, not too much in those matches, although it’s hard to read too much into a handful of substitute appearances for a team that generally has already dominated its opposition by then. Even the red card that he received, which could maybe be read as him trying too hard to assert himself physically, was a very harsh call by the referee. I do think that the physical side is the greatest unknown and will be the biggest test for him in the Championship.
Michut can reportedly play with both feet. Given he is also seemingly comfortable with the ball in tight spaces does that mean he is adept at helping his team beat the press?
Yes, he is very comfortable with the ball at his feet, can hold it, run with it or pick out a quick pass. A little patience will need to be shown though, in terms of his physical ability to shield the ball and in terms of his game intelligence and decision-making – he has all the tools but only experience will help him to make the right choice at the right time.
The suggestion is that Michut is not particularly great at the defensive side of the game and therefore not really a 6. Is that fair?
Yes that’s fair. It’s not about a bad attitude and a refusal to track back; rather that it does not play to his strengths – he is not the best tackler and if he is going to drop back it would make more sense that he does so to pick up the ball and transition rather than to be trying to win the ball off the opposition. Again a similarity with Verratti (even if he thinks he’s a good tackler).
What would you say are Michut’s key attributes as a midfielder and what areas of his game does he still need to work on?
He is a lovely natural footballer who looks to do something positive with the ball when he has it, at worst keeping the ball moving and the opposition on the back foot; at best beating his man or breaking a line with a pass. The concern is the lack of professional experience and the physicality. They are both things that he can work on: his game management will only improve with experience, while I worry a little that he could be bullied at first in what is a quite physical division. So I’d say don’t expect too much too soon but with patience and if he maintains a good attitude, he has the intelligence and pure ability to succeed.
How do you think Michut will adapt to life in the second tier of English football?
Not to repeat myself but I think a lot depends on how he handles the physical side – and also we’re yet to see how he is stamina-wise (I often think that it is midfielders who struggle the most to adapt when moving from France to England, because of the non-stop, frenetic nature of English football). Fans often forget, too, that we’re talking about people – in this case practically a kid – who are also adapting to a new country, culture, language etc off the pitch too.
So I think there are a few unknowns there simply because this is a very new experience to him – not only fully professional football but also in a new country. But if Sunderland give him support and patience and help ensure that he is not bullied by opponents, I think that his footballing ability will come through and he’ll succeed.
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