Christopher Nkunku has all the tricks to stand out in the Chelsea circus…

John Nicholson
Christopher Nkunku celebrates with a balloon after scoring for RB Leipzig.

Not only has Christopher Nkunku swapped the serenity of the Bundesliga for the unfathomable madness of the Prem, he’s joined the Chelsea freak show. Johnny Nic reckons he’ll be just fine…

Who’s this then?
Christopher Alan Nkunku is a 25-year-old, 5’10” French forward who has just signed for Chelsea from RB Leipzig in return for £52million. I have no idea if that’s a lot of money any more. No number makes any more sense than the next. But anyway, he’s rather good.

Born in Lagny-sur-Marne, as a wee boy he played with AS Marolles aged just six. By the time he was 12 he was playing for Fontainebleau and showing plenty of vision and technique while playing across the midfield. He had trials with Lens, Le Havre and Monaco but was turned down, but no matter, PSG arrived and put him into the youth teams at Clairefontaine, signing on permanently aged 15.

He did well and was a member of the youth team who were runners-up in the 2015-16 UEFA Youth League. Aged 18 he made his senior debut in December 2016. He was at PSG for four seasons, playing 78 games, scoring 11 times and making four assists. However, he was probably never going to secure a regular first-team gig so when in 2019 RB Leipzig came looking for him with 13million euros in their capacious leather shorts, he couldn’t say yes fast enough.

It was in Germany where he began to grow into himself as a player. The club was on the up and was always in the top four and was runner-up in 2020-21. However, for his first two seasons playing in the Bundesliga, he wasn’t a prolific goalscorer netting just 12 times in 84 appearances but he made an impressive 22 assists. At the start of the 2021-22 season, new manager Jesse Marsch pushed him further forward into a second striker role and although the American was only in situ for six months, it really worked for Chris, so his replacement Domenico Tedesco didn’t change his position. The result was he played in 52 games, scored 35 goals and made 20 assists. That is some serious stats.. And while the following season wasn’t as good largely because he missed 13 games with three different injuries, he still notched 23 times in 36 games and made nine assists.

It was clear this was a player who offered both goals and helped others score too. So it was inevitable that a Premier League moneybags team, drunk on cash and ego, would turn up and say: “That’s 52million of your English pounds that is. We’ll take your boy. We’ll probably make him worse, get rid of him to Saudi Arabia and forget all about him within a couple of years, but f*ck it, buying players is all anyone cares about any more.” And it was Chelsea who duly played to their own stereotype and did exactly that.

He will obviously be part of a new strike-force. He is obviously really good – now with 10 international caps to his name – but Chelsea can make anyone who looks good in Germany look very average indeed. But under Mo Po, he’s got a better chance of doing well than under Frank Lampard, that much is 1000 per cent certain.

Why the love?
This is a player who combines the ruthlessness of a top striker with the vision of a number 10. Hence all the goals and all the assists. He seems most effective, not as a centre-forward but as a withdrawn striker or a progressive midfielder, but he’s played all over the pitch from left to right-wing to centre-forward and even right-back on one occasion. He’s scored a handful of up-and-over free-kicks and started scoring penalties last season too. He can bury it with right or left, though favours the right.

When he hits it it stays hit thus the 30-yarder is not a problem. He can do you with a Cruyff turn in the box, or beat you for pace for a breakaway goal. Send him down the right and he’ll cross it for the centre-forward to nod in. Send him in on goal and he’ll dink it over the keeper. He can play on the shoulder, or drop back and slide it through to your striker.

In fact, he’s got all the attributes to be almost unplayable on his day. Even when Leipzig were beaten 6-3 by Manchester City, he scored a hat-trick.

When you consider he left Leipzig having made 172 appearances, scoring 70 times and making 56 assists, it’s tempting to think that Nothing Can Go Wrong Now. But he doesn’t know our league, Jeff.


Three great moments
That hat-trick v City. Hate the world ‘destroyed’ and is simply not true. Internet idiocy…


If he can play like this against Real Madrid, West Ham shouldn’t be too scary…

Top corner free-kickery…

Future days?
Ok, so he’s very, very good. But as we know, put a good player into an omnishambles of a club and he soon looks like he’s a dead weight. At 25 years of age he’s coming into what should be the prolific mid-years of his career. He’s established where he can play best and where he can be most effective. Chelsea have got him at just the right time. But would it surprise anyone if they played him out of position the way they did with the previously excellent Kai Havertz?

He’s played in eight different positions in his career so it shouldn’t be a problem wherever they play him (unless it’s right-back) but after last season’s pathetic display, you do wonder if the club is fatally crippled by its comedy owner’s attitude and business ethics, or if the new manager can impose his values and turn everything around.

With the stripping out and rebuilding of the Chelsea squad now underway, it’s impossible to know who NKunku will be playing alongside come August. Indeed, by August they may have sold him to a PIF club in Saudi. Who knows anymore? The football world at this level is insane and not to be taken seriously as sport.

He’s left an excellent league to play in a Mickey-Mouse-on-acid league where logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead and to play for a club that seems, at times, utterly unhinged.

So welcome, Chris. Whether you’re rubbish or brilliant, you will emerge very, very rich. And that’s what really matters in the Premier League.

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