On January 30, Manchester City paid a club-record transfer fee to bring in center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao. The £57M price tag broke the previous club record held by Kevin de Bruyne. Why did Pep Guardiola want the Frenchman so badly? And if Pep was willing to pay record money for him, should fantasy managers be purchasing him too? Let’s have a look.
In 2010 Laporte joined Athletic Bilbao’s youth squad at the age of 16 and was promoted to the senior team two years later. By 2013 he was a regular starter and was voted into the 2013/2014 La Liga Team of the Year. Along the way, he represented France at the U17, U18, U19, and U21 levels, serving as captain at each level.
Predictably, the gifted young defender began to catch the eye of suitors, and in 2016 Pep Guardiola came to call. At the time, Laporte was injured and decided to wave Pep off: He didn’t want to make a first impression at a new club when he was less than 100%.
Many of Laporte’s confidantes told him he was making a mistake by declining City in 2016, warning him that a second chance would be unlikely. Still, Pep continued to monitor him, and resolved to go in again for Laporte this coming summer. Now, with City still involved in four competitions, and with Vincent Kompany aging and seemingly perpetually-crocked, Guardiola decided to accelerate his timeline and bid for Laporte in the January window.
This time Laporte was ready. Although he had played more than 200 professional games and had been capped for France at the youth level 51 times, in his 6 seasons at Athletic Bilbao he had never been named to France’s senior team. Convinced that his only chance to earn a place in France’s 2018 World Cup squad was to play on a bigger stage, he jumped at the opportunity to join the EPL’s runaway leaders. Admittedly, the prospect of major trophies and huge wages was surely an enticement as well.
Laporte is strong and speedy, and is an extremely skilled tackler who can also dribble and distribute — his left-footed diagonal long-balls are especially impressive. A look at this video will reveal why he seems so perfectly suited for Pep’s system (the good stuff starts at about the 60 second mark):
I don’t know about you, but I watch that video and am amazed that he has not been capped for France’s senior team. Perhaps Laporte is correct when he says “I’m in Bilbao, at a club that’s maybe not sufficiently highly rated in France; maybe that influences things.”
What I see in Laporte is the epitome of the modern center half. He is a player with the anticipation and tackling skills to cut off attacks early, plus the poise and ability in possession to immediately initiate his own team’s movements. Pacy, physical, and good in the air, he is also clever, smooth, and technical. “Laporte adds something special with the ball,” says Pep.
Indeed, Guardiola is so enamored with the Frenchman that just 24 hours after signing him, he fielded him for a full 90 in the league match against West Brom. But, like virtually any other continental player, it will take Laporte time to adapt to the rigors of the EPL. For example, although he helped City to a clean sheet in the West Brom match, he was booked in his next appearance for squaring up and locking foreheads with Jamie Vardy. Said Pep, “‘It was a situation I don’t like, hopefully it won’t happen again. He knows that here the strikers come to fight.”
City failed to keep a clean sheet in the victory over Leicester, and Laporte’s yellow card for the incident with Vardy resulted in a Fantrax return of -1. And if not for the clean sheet against West Brom, his return in that game would also have been -1. Across the 180 minutes of play in those two games, he accrued just 1 interception, 1 tackle won, and 2 fouls suffered.
On Tuesday, Pep named Laporte to the squad that traveled to Switzerland to face FC Basel in the first leg of City’s Round of 16 Champions League tie. Pep then left the Frenchman on the bench in favor of Victor Kompany, who defied odds-makers by surviving the full 90. Perhaps the Spanish gaffer preferred the experience of the 31 year-old Belgian veteran, or perhaps Pep is just allowing Laporte more time to settle into the squad.
Although Laporte is still new to the club and growing into his game at the Etihad, make no mistake: Kompany’s heir apparent will become a regular starter, and he could very well assume the captain’s arm band one day. As Pep says, “He will be here for a very long time, and he will learn.” And as he learns, his fantasy potential should grow. His versatility adds further fantasy value: Although he is a natural center back, the left-footer is also comfortable playing left back.
For now, the big-ticket defender’s dollar-store Fantrax price makes him a low-risk enabler whose returns should exceed his price on most occasions, and he’ll be in my squad for the match at the Emirates on March 1. Arsenal’s home attack should provide Laporte with ample opportunity to showcase his skills, and hopefully he’ll generate defensive phantoms even if City can’t hold the Gunners scoreless.