3 years ago, Steven Nzonzi was an average player playing for an average team that had an average season. Fast forward these 3 years and he has a host of clubs willing to part with £35 million for his services.
Barcelona and Arsenal have expressed interest in Nzonzi after consistently defying expectations in an under-performing Sevilla team. The latter in fact have reportedly begun talks with the former Stoke midfielder in a bid to bring him back to the Premier League and bolster their midfield. So what has Nzonzi done to go from cold rainy nights in Stoke to be linked with Europe’s elite? Here’s what:
Steven N’Kemboanza Mike Nzonzi is an export of the Paris Saint Germain Academy, beginning his senior career in midfield for Amiens 2007. Just a year after his debut, Nzonzi was the starting defensive midfielder in the 2008-09 campaign. He made 36 appearances, however his presence in midfield was not enough to help Amiens survive. Regardless of their relegation, Nzonzi received plaudits for his performances and was strongly linked with a move to the Premier League with Blackburn and Portsmouth both vying for his signature. In the end, it was the former who got his signature in 2009 for less than £1 million.
He immediately became an integral part of Sam Allardyce’s plans as a starter and he began his time in the Premier League impressively winning Blackburn’s Player of the Year. However, the 2011-12 was not as promising as Phil Jones’ sparkling form had meant Nzonzi had fallen down the pecking order. The Frenchman the following season experienced the second relegation of his career as Blackburn failed to survive and following the drop to the second tier, he told manager Steve Kean that he wanted to leave.
Stoke City then acquired his services in 2012 for £3m. He built on the foundations of his Blackburn form with 38 appearances in the season. However, he was unhappy yet again and handed in a transfer request promptly rejected by the Stoke hierarchy. The 2012-13 season was that of consistency for Nzonzi with 40 appearances, but he yet again requested a move away from the Bet365 Stadium. With a transfer failing to materialise, Nzonzi continued to be the engine of Stoke’s midfield with an improved 42 appearances and 4 goals in 2014-15. After 120 appearances, Nzonzi finally left Stoke for Sevilla in 2015.
Nzonzi adapted slowly to life in the first 6 months of his stint in Seville, yet hit good form in the second half. His strength and stamina in midfield was vital in his side’s victorious UEFA Europa League campaign.
Throughout his time in Sevilla thus far, Nzonzi has established himself as a dominant presence in midfield. He is typically deployed as a defensive midfielder, yet his passing ability and composure in possession makes him effective from an offensive standpoint alongside his renowned defensive output. This versatility of his has attracted suitors for his signature from Europe, especially after his selection for the 2018 World Cup where he appeared in the final.
At 6ft 6 inches in height and experience in the Premier League, the Frenchman’s move to the Emirates makes perfect sense. His play style has been likened to that of Patrick Vieira and Arsenal’s struggles to replace him since The Invincibles era could be ended with this acquisition. Not to mention, Nzonzi’s time under new Arsenal manager Unai Emery at Sevilla was prosperous and a return to his system for the former Stoke midfielder will be an easy transition. With a release clause so low in today’s market for a competent midfielder like the Frenchman, there are perhaps no better options in the market for Arsenal.
From Nzonzi’s perspective, the likelihood of him winning trophies is far higher at the Emirates than currently for him in Seville. At 29, he is effectively in his prime and this could be one of few chances he may get to move to an elite club. With the signings of Lucas Torreira and Mattéo Guendouzi, Emery has identified Arsenal’s issue in midfield. Nzonzi will only improve the team and a signing like this will only build the confidence of the Gunners faithful for the upcoming season.