First Look: Papy Djilobodji

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Name: Papiss Mbouba Mbwiwa Abu Fuongo Baba Mison Djilobodji

Age: 26

Date of Birth: 01/12/1988

Nationality: Senegalese

Club: Chelsea

Position: Centre back

Height: 6ft 4in (193cm)

Weight 12st 9lbs (82kg)

Preferred Foot: Left

Having pursued Everton’s John Stones for much of the summer, it was a little odd to see Chelsea end up with £2.7m Papy Djilobodji and £4.5m Michael Hector on September 2nd instead. Usually so effective and authoritative in the market, the Blues left many of their fans unimpressed, particularly with the arrival of Djilobodji who was hardly a superstar in France. So what was Mourinho thinking, and just what type of player have Chelsea signed?  

As a young footballer, Djilobodji played in the youth teams at Senegalese side ASC Saloum, before making his senior debut for the club in the 2007/08 season aged only 19. After two successful seasons in the heart of the ASC Saloum midfield, he outgrew the Senegalese Premier League and was transferred to French club US Sénart-Moissy in October 2009. US Sénart-Moissy played, and still play in the CFA (Championnat de France amateur) which is France’s fourth tier. After an impressive start to the 2009/10 season, he was signed by then Ligue 2 side Nantes for €500k where he would go onto make 13 appearances until the end of the season.

Djilobodji’s first full season at Nantes (2010/11) saw him feature 28 times in Ligue 2, becoming a key figure in their back four, after his then manager Baptiste Gentili moved him from defensive midfield to centre back. Still only 22 years old at the time, the versatile Senegalese player was making a name for himself and his €500k transfer fee began to look like a bargain. The 2011/12 season would be another busy one for Djilobodji, as he made 36 appearances for the Canaries throughout the season, starting every single one of them. His knack of remaining injury free would prove so important for Nantes as he clocked up over 3,400 minutes of football in all competitions.

Still at Nantes for the 2012/13 season, Djilobodji was again an integral part of their first team as they gained promotion to France’s top flight, finishing 3rd in Ligue 2. Again, he made 36 appearances, starting every single game and helping his side become the third best defence in the division. After initially seeming to be a gamble from France’s lower leagues, Djilobodji quickly became one of the best centre backs in Ligue 2, utilising his pace and power alongside his slightly more intelligent, yet slower centre back partner Gabriel Cichero.

The 2013/14 season would see Djilobodji and Nantes playing their football in Ligue 1, and they surprised many to finish 13th with a talented side containing the likes of Jordan Veretout, Serge Gakpe and Filip Djordjevic. As an established member in the Canaries first team, Djilobodji continued his record of starting every game he was involved in, this time making 28 appearances over the course of the campaign. After being hit with a transfer embargo at the start of the 2014/15 season, Nantes relied on their sturdy defence and captain Jordan Veretout to keep them up. Djilobodji made 31 appearances in Ligue 1 throughout that season, helping his side as they only conceded 40 goals which was considerably fewer than those around them. Despite being shown 11 yellow cards, the defender was a source of determination and physicality, often leading by example in difficult times.

Without a doubt, Djolobodji’s greatest strength is simply that he loves to defend. As an aggressive player who likes to play on the front foot, the 26 year-old completed an average of 3.35 interceptions per 90 minutes. This was the highest rate of any centre back in Ligue 1 last season, greater than PSG’s Thiago Silva on 2.92, Monaco’s Aymen Abdennour on 2,36, Saint Etienne’s Loic Perrin on on 1.99 and Lyon’s Samuel Umtiti on 1.81 per 90 minutes. An example of his ability to intercept the ball can be seen against Lorient, on May 16, 2015. After losing possession in midfield, Nantes were left short at the back with lots of space in behind as Jordan Ayew looked to run through on goal. Situated on the halfway line, Djilobodji stood firm and read the intentions of Lorient midfielder Mehdi Mostefa who was looking for the run of Ayew, using every inch of his large frame to brilliantly slide in and stop the forward in his tracks. Another stand out stat of the Senegalese international is his aerial ability. Understandably, at 6’4 (193cm) you will be expected to win your fair share of headers, and Djilobodji did just that, winning 88 of his 118 headed duels last season, which equates to a percentage of 75%. This again, was a percentage up there with the best in the league, only losing out to Thiago Silva who won nearly 83% of his headed duels.

What Chelsea fans will come to expect with Djilobodji is his no nonsense style of defending. His main objective, as it should be with many defenders, is to keep the ball out of the net. Throughout the 2014/15 season, he averaged 8.68 clearances per 90 minutes, again superior to the likes of Thiago Silva (7.10), Abdennour (6.61) and Umtiti (6.53), only losing out to Loic Perrin who averaged a ridiculous 9.66 interceptions per 90 minutes. A perfect illustration of his old fashioned style was evident against Marseille on April 17, 2015. Making a total of 11 clearances throughout the match, Djilobodji was a rock in the centre of defence swatting away crosses, free kicks and corners repeatedly helping his side to snatch a crucial three points in a 1-0 win. One particular headed clearance that was made in the 81st minute resulting a Marseille corner, was met with cheers as if he had just scored a goal. The 26 year-old will not emulate Franz Beckenbauer in his prime, but Mourinho will have noted his approach to defending and regardless of him not ‘wowing’ supporters on a weekly basis he is effective at what he does. Djilobodji also averaged 1.36 tackles per game last season, a rate better than both Terry and Cahill on 0.97 and 0.67, but losing out to Kurt Zouma on 1.47. This really highlights his dogged defensive style, whereas Terry and Cahill prefer to sit off their men and force them into errors.

One aspect to his game which may be of concern to Mourinho and Chelsea is his poor passing. Last season he only completed 76% of his passes in Ligue 1, which was not only low in comparison to his defensive partners at Nantes, but considerably lower than the percentages of his new teammates as well. Terry, Cahill and even Zouma on 89%, 86% and 80% respectively all had superior pass completion rates to Djilobodji who will need to improve should he want to play regularly in this Chelsea side. Granted, Nantes’ playing style is slightly longer than that of Chelsea’s, but in the Premier League you are not given a second on the ball and you need to be confident in that you can find a teammate wherever you are on the pitch.

Djilobodji is not and probably will never be as talented as John Stones as a player. At first glance, his transfer seems largely strange and uninspiring as he does not really match the standard of quality we have come to expect of those playing for Chelsea. His role in the side will presumably be as a back-up option for the League Cup and early round FA Cup games, especially as he was not included in Chelsea’s 25 man squad for the Champions League group stages. However, he is a redoubtable presence who should be able to cope with the physical nature of the Premier League. He is unlikely to amaze everybody with his quality but will offer Mourinho strength and security in depth should emergency or fatigue strike. 

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Are you a fan of Djilobodji? Will he provide solid back up or was he an unnecessary waste of £3m? What do you think? Write to us:[email protected]

First Look: Papy Djilobodji
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