Kingsley Coman may have a reputation for being quiet and reserved away from the field, but last September the 19-year-old realised that he needed to make himself heard. The French winger’s move to Bayern Munich from Juventus on loan had caused a stir in the German media, but few were impressed by Bayern’s transfer dealings.
“Bayern have a style of play that suits me,” Coman said during his official presentation. “If they ask me to play, I’m ready. I am capable of making the difference at any moment during a match.”
Big talk, but Coman has never been anything other than ambitious. Having joined Paris Saint-Germain as an eight-year-old, he left the French capital for Italy after growing disillusioned with his lack of first-team action. At the time Coman told PSG of his desire to leave, he was still 17. Just 15 months earlier, he had become the club’s youngest ever player.
One full season later, and Coman was again getting itchy feet. His first season in Italy had seen him afforded 14 Serie A appearances but only 487 league minutes, deemed insufficient by a player with eyes on more regular first-team football. Rather than move to one of the hundreds of clubs below Juventus in European football’s hypothetical ladder, Coman instead moved up.
“Coman will be leaving the club,” Juventus coach Massimo Allegri told reporters in August 2015. “He wanted to go. I think it was the player’s desire to leave. I think it is a good transfer operation. He played a little last season and it’s only right that he moves on if he didn’t feel ready to fight for his place here.” The bitterness in that last sentence is emphatic. The accusation was that Coman had ideas above his station.
Aged 19, Coman has already played for three of Europe’s elite clubs, an almost unprecedented collection for someone so young. Bayern paid a €7m fee for a two-year loan deal, with an option to buy for €21m. For a player criticised for his work-rate and tactical discipline, that seemed fair. Juventus may look foolish now, but only hindsight cemented that view.
Coman’s unveiling may have included a plea for regular football, but even he could not have expected the trust that Pep Guardiola has shown. The winger has started 17 Bundesliga matches and a further five in cup competitions. “I never would have thought I would play so often,” he said in December. “Yes, the powers-that-be had promised me a good amount of playing time, but I have even often been in the starting line-up.” Even in translation, the surprise in Coman’s quotes is obvious.
Yet Coman is hardly a charity case, and Guardiola hardly his benefactor. The Frenchman has not just proved himself a mildy capable stand-in for Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, both laid low by a toxic blend of muscle injuries and the remorseless process of ageing, he’s offered a glimpse of the future. Coman feel the noise, you might say.
Coman has four goals and five assists in the Bundesliga, but has saved his best form for the Champions League. Each of his five appearances in the competition have returned at least one assist. In the last-16 against Juventus, the winger committed football parenticide. It was Coman’s introduction which changed the course of a second leg that looked to be slipping from Bayern’s grasp. Four days earlier, he had become the first Bayern player to assist three or more goals in a Bundesliga game since Ribery in October 2012.
There is no secret to Coman’s principal weapon: Pace. In January, Bild calculated that he was the fastest player in the entire Bundesliga, recording a speed of 35.06 km/h. In a league that contains Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, that’s quite the feat.
In Guardiola, Coman has a coach who knows only too well how dangerous pace can be. It was he who famously remarked that the only way of stopping Theo Walcott once he got the ball was by using a pistol. Walcott had earned Arsenal a 2-2 draw in a Champions League tie against Barcelona. “He is faster than our whole team put together,” Guardiola said.
More than any other attribute in modern football, raw speed is the hardest to stop. Those who can travel fast with the ball – and Coman usually looks as if he is in double speed – can be devastating on the counter attack, Guardiola often instructing Coman to lurk on the halfway line until possession is won. Last week he scored his first senior international goal for France. Everything about Coman is accelerated, literally.
Yet this is more than a speed merchant. Coman has a versatility to his game that takes him beyond the reputation of one-dimensional winger. Of his 17 Bundesliga starts, nine have come on the left and eight on the right. In the case of the former, he regularly cuts inside to beat the full-back. In the latter, he usually gets to the byline before pulling the ball back. As Germany coach Joachim Low said (referring directly to Coman): “It’s a special quality to be able to pass a player on both sides.”
Coman is far from the finished article. Only 11 of his 25 non-blocked shots have been on target in the league this season, and he still has a tendency to over-play rather than looking for the simple ball. After being so publicly enamoured with Guardiola (and the vice versa also seems true), there also doubts about his ability to flourish under a new coach in Carlo Ancelotti.
Yet these would be fair criticisms of a senior player, not a teenager in his first season in a new league. Of the 179 Bundesliga players to have made 20 or more appearances this season, Coman is the baby. Of the 837 players have played 20 or more in the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga and La Liga, only five are younger. Of those five, only Gianluigi Donnarumma and Kelechi Iheanacho are operating in the top half of their league.
Given their domestic dominance, there is little sympathy offered to Bayern Munich supporters in times of perceived strife, but concerns about the decline of the Robben-Ribery axis were valid. Yet any doubts about the long-term future of the club’s wingers have been eradicated by the form of Europe’s youngest elite club-hopper. This time you feel, Coman will be happy to stick around, and his club will surely reciprocate that wish. This is Coman, the boy who would become Kingsley.