Who is Chelsea’s new €37m defender Benoit Badiashile?


Chelsea have wasted little time in this January transfer window. Promising 18-year-old striker David Datro Fofana has completed a move to Stamford Bridge, prodigious 18-year-old Vasco da Gama midfielder Andrey Santos is already in London waiting to finalize his transfer, and now 21-year-old AS Monaco center -back Benoit Badiashile has signed his deal with the Blues.

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So, who is Badiashile, and what can Chelsea fans expect from their latest recruit? Tor-Kristian Karlsen breaks down every detail of the France international’s game, and illustrates the football journey that’s taken him from Monte Carlo to west London.


Who is Badiashile?

Another graduate of the ever-prospering Monaco academy, Badiashile signed his first professional contract in the principality in January 2018 after joining the club’s youth system at the age of 15. The son of a nurse and an architect — with family ties to the Democratic Republic of Congo — was singled out early by the French national team system, in which he’s been a regular member since representing the under-16s.

At just 17, he was handed his Ligue 1 debut — in a 4-0 defeat at Paris Saint-Germain in November 2018 — by then-coach Thierry Henry. A few weeks later, at a news conference ahead of a Champions League match, Henry memorably expressed his discontent with the player for not tucking in his chair, thus blocking his way to his own seat. Nevertheless, Badiashile has been an ever-present for Monaco since his debut, predominantly featuring as a left-sided centre-back with the occasional appearance as a left-back. Despite the sudden exposure to first-team football at such a young age, the defender has rarely looked out of place, overawed or uncomfortable, and has consistently impressed with his maturity, intelligence and calm manner.

Following four years of gradual development — and more than 100 Ligue 1 outings — Badiashile was called up to the France senior squad, with his full debut arriving in September’s 2-0 win against Austria in the Nations League. Although he failed to see any minutes at the World Cup, being named in the squad for Qatar was still a considerable achievement given France’s wealth of world-class centre-backs. Badiashile’s most recent game in the Blue of France came with the U21s in November, for whom he’s been an integral member over the past three years and was a preferred choice during the 2021 European Under-21 Championship — again amid an array of high-quality options.

Position

With the exception of a few cameos at left-back, Badiashile has featured as a centre-back for Monaco, where he has excelled on the left side of the central defensive pairing. As all his head coaches at club level — Henry, Niko Kovac and the incumbent, Philippe Clement — have favored a back four, the 21-year-old has rarely been tested on the left in a back three, which is ostensibly the role he’s expected to occupy at Chelsea. However, there’s nothing in his skill set that suggests that he shouldn’t succeed in that position as well. On the contrary, it might suit him even better.

Strengths

Standing tall at 6-foot-4, the Frenchman should presumably prove more useful in the air than on the ground. However, while the aerial dominance is there (he usually comes out victorious from 75% of his aerial challenges) it’s his measured, elegant, controlled aura that is likely to hit home first when assessing the mobile, technically strong defender.

Right from his first-team debut he’s rarely looked stressed, worked up or as someone who lets himself be rushed into losing his head. He’s aware in possession and, courtesy of a good touch, he’s comfortable stepping up with the ball to win time to look for the best options. Having been the primary ball-playing defender in a side that likes to control possession, the towering centre-back is accustomed to seeing and feeling a lot of the ball. He appears ideally suited to Chelsea’s need for a natural left-footed centre-back to expedite the first pass out of defence.

While being both tall and smooth on the ball can often combine to cut a somewhat languid figure; this is not the case with Badiashile. He reacts quickly, anticipates well, he’s aggressive and is happy to deal resolutely with one-v-one situations outside the box (70% success rate from his challenges in 2022, which is “fine” rather than “exceptional.”) As a great athlete, his pace over short and medium distances is impressive, too. Although previously inclined to excessive fouling, he seems less rash than he used to be (0.8 fouls per game last year, a slight drop from 1.1 in 2021).

Weaknesses

From the physical, technical and tactical viewpoints, the Frenchman makes for a fairly complete centre-back. Generally alert, largely without the major concentration lapses that even top-class centre-backs may suffer at times, he’s not particularly error-prone — although as witnessed with Kalidou Koulibaly, some adaptation time to the Premier League should be allowed for him as any other newly arrived central defender.

However, there are certain minor tweaks — observations more relevant for a coach rather than a scout — that may be worth looking into to gain small, yet noticeable improvements to his game, and that should come with experience. He could be even more assertive in defensive duels in the box; he can appear overly concerned about conceding penalties by pulling out when the last-ditch tackle was on. Similarly, he can also tend to turn too quickly when attempting to block a shot instead of facing the ball and utilizing the whole of his body to get in the way of the effort.

Where he fits in at Chelsea

As a well-schooled defender from one of the top academies in Europe, Badiashile should have few issues slotting into whatever Graham Potter has in mind for him. As previously mentioned, he’s perfectly accustomed to playing in a back four, but the left-sided berth in a back three — in which he’s given ample time on the ball and responsibility to build from the back, and aided by the presence of Thiago Silva — may just suit him even better.



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