FootballFootball LeagueLigue 1

Reported Arsenal target Layvin Kurzawa is the left-back who got left behind

January 24, 2020January 6th, 2022

CATCHING the Toulouse defence unawares, Neymar drilled a corner into the penalty area and Layvin Kurzawa catapulted the ball past goalkeeper Alban Lafont with a spectacular mid-air scissors kick from the edge of the six-yard box.

It was August 2017 and Kurzawa’s eye-catching strike was the fifth goal of Paris Saint-Germain’s 6-2 demolition of Toulouse in Ligue 1. Five months earlier, Neymar had mocked Kurzawa on Instagram after Barcelona’s sensational remontada against Les Parisiens in the Champions League last 16. Now he was setting up goals for the France left-back at a delirious Parc des Princes.

With Kylian Mbappé on the brink of joining the club from Monaco, PSG was at the centre of the football universe and Kurzawa seemed at the heart of the club’s plans. Whereas a knee injury had curtailed his previous campaign, he began the 2017-18 season as Unai Emery’s first-choice left-back and started all six Champions League group games, hitting the headlines with a Halloween hat-trick in a 5-0 home win against Anderlecht.

This being Kurzawa, it couldn’t last. By the end of the season he was flitting between the substitutes’ bench and the treatment tables once again. He watched France’s triumph at the 2018 World Cup in Russia from afar, torn between happiness for his international team-mates and a nagging sense of frustration at what might have been.

The intervening 18 months have offered only fleeting periods of success and so it is that he finds himself where he is today, his contract up at the end of the season, his career somehow still awaiting take-off despite the fact he has just entered the year of his 28th birthday. If reports that Arsenal are poised to take him to the Emirates Stadium in a £5 million deal come to fruition, it will be a stab in the dark for both player and club.

Hailing from the town of Fréjus on France’s Côte d’Azur, Kurzawa came through the youth ranks at Monaco and made his first-team debut at the age of 18 in September 2010. Quick and unapologetically attack-minded, he seemed to be the paradigm of the modern full-back and was named in Ligue 1’s Team of the Year after breaking into the Monaco first XI under Claudio Ranieri in the 2013-14 campaign. The following season, he played in both legs as Monaco stunned Arsenal in the Champions League last 16.

At the same time as he was establishing himself as one of the most exciting young left-backs in Europe, he was also acquiring a reputation for being a bit of a liability. After scoring for France’s Under-21s in a qualifying play-off against Sweden in October 2014, he celebrated by goading opposition striker John Guidetti with a mocking military salute. When, a minute later, the Swedes scored the goal that took them to the following year’s Under-21 European Championship at France’s expense, their whole team replied in kind.

In an interview with L’Équipe the previous season, Kurzawa admitted that his off-pitch discipline in his early years in Monaco’s first-team squad had left a lot to be desired.

“In previous seasons, I often went out to nightclubs and I’d go to bed at eight o’clock in the morning and get up at two to go to training,” he said. “I ate anything, I neglected everything. Because it seemed unfair for me not to be playing [for the first team], I told myself there was no point being professional. It was the opposite of what I should have done.”

Kurzawa’s €22 million move to Paris in the summer of 2015 felt like the logical next step in his projected evolution into France’s first-choice left-back, but as he confessed in a Canal+ interview last season, he allowed himself to succumb to the exact same temptations that had sucked him in at Monaco.

“I went from Monaco – a little town, close to my parents – to Paris: the capital, the nightclubs and everything you find in Paris,” he confessed. “I was not as professional as a player should be.”

Kurzawa says he has matured since he became the father to a little girl in September 2018 and used the same Canal+ interview to assert that it was unfair to think of him as “un petit con” (“a little idiot”), claiming that the errors of his past were purely down to youthful exuberance.

Injuries have also dogged him in Paris, most notably a herniated disc in the summer of 2018 that left him contemplating early retirement. But even when he has been fit, he has proved incapable of dislodging a succession of less spectacular but much sturdier left-backs from the first XI. Signed as the long-term successor to Maxwell, he never succeeded in graduating from his position as the Brazilian’s understudy and he has since found his path to the first team successively blocked by the Spaniards Yuri Berchiche and Juan Bernat. This season, when Bernat has required a breather, Thomas Tuchel has occasionally been more inclined to turn to Abdou Diallo, a centre-back by trade, than to Kurzawa.

In an image that summed up much of his time at Parc des Princes so far, Kurzawa was substituted after 66 minutes of error-strewn football during PSG’s 2-0 loss at home to Reims in September and reacted by sitting on the bench and burying his face in a towel. For all the occasional spurts of good form, the 27-year-old has continued to attract attention more for his eyebrow-raising haircuts and garish dress sense than for the quality of his football.

Kurzawa’s failure to durably impose himself at PSG has cost him his place in the France set-up and he has made only two international appearances – in Euro 2020 qualifying wins over Moldova and Iceland last March – since November 2017.

He may continue to receive propositions from some of Europe’s glamour clubs, having reportedly rebuffed an approach from Inter Milan in recent weeks, but the glorious future that once seemed his destiny is receding by the day.