Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.

Samuel Umtiti

Barcelona are arguably one of the strongest, deepest teams in the world. It’s hard to find a weak spot in their squad, but that hasn’t stopped them from bringing in the next crop of potential stars. Joining them this summer will be French international defender Samuel Umtiti from Lyon.

Loving Lyon

Samuel Umtiti, until this summer, had only experienced one club his entire career (a much different story than his compatriot Kinglsey Coman). That club was Olympique Lyonnais in the French top flight.

After spending several years with Lyon’s academy, Umtiti eventually made his way into the club’s reserve squad during the 2010 campaign. His time with the “B” team was short-lived, and at the age of just 18, he would make his senior debut in 2012 during the French Cup.

After watching seven games from the sidelines, including three Champions League fixtures (even one against Real Madrid), the teenage defender became a stalwart in the squad for the second half of the season. Just in the month of January, Umtiti would start five matches. By the time the season came to an end, the defender would register 17 appearances (16 as a starter) despite only appearing the second half of the season.

Lyon would miss out on the Champions League by ten points that season, but it was clear that the future was bright for their young defender.

The following season, Umtiti’s large role in the first team continued to grow. Now a “mature” 20-year-old, the defender started 25 of a possible 38 league matches. Umtiti helped push Lyon back into the Champions League as they finished third in the league, with the fifth best defensive record in Ligue 1.

The next season, Lyon struggled domestically. Umtiti continued to establish himself as one of the league’s best young defenders. Playing alongside veterans like Henri Bedimo and Milan Bisevac, the 21-year-old gained valuable experience, as he started 36 matches between all competitions, including seven starts in the Europa League.

Over the next two seasons, the young defender would start 65 matches in the league. The dominance of Paris Saint-Germain in France meant that Umtiti and Lyon would struggle to even challenge for the top spot in the table. The 2015/16 season saw Lyon finish 31 points behind PSG in the league. Was it time for the 22-year-old to move on to greener pastures?

Coming to the Camp Nou

At the start of the summer transfer window, Umtiti made the move to one of the best clubs in the world: Barcelona. The reported fee for the defenders services was a cool 25 million. Now, the 22-year-old will learn his trade from Gerard Piqué, Javier Mascherano and his compatriot Jérémy Mathieu.

International Career

Samuel Umtiti has been involved with the French national team program since the U17 level. He even helped lead the France to the U20 World Cup in Turkey.

It wasn’t until this summer, however, that he made the roster for the senior national team. Didier Deschamps named the Lyon defender in his 23-man roster for the Euros, and it was an injury to Jérémy Mathieu that earned him a roster spot. On June 3rd, the 22-year-old made his international debut during the quarter finals against Iceland. He would start the final three games of the tournament, before losing in heartbreaking fashion to Portugal in the final.

Style of Play

Umtiti is a strong central defender. Even though he is just 22, he has displayed time and time again that he has a high football IQ that allows him to be in the right place at the right time, most of the time. Barcelona fans will be happy because at Lyon he showcased his ability to move the ball in situations where others would have settled for just bombing it up field. Another key to his game is speed, and that’s something that Barça center backs have been lacking in years past.


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