Vincent Kompany worked wonders with Burnley last season as he tore through the competition to win the notoriously difficult Championship title. He did so while implementing a culture change at the club. Burnley became a progressive outfit, as capable of playing through opponents as they used to be of playing over them. Preparations for the maiden Premier League campaign for Kompany are now in full flow and youth is being trusted. James Trafford of Manchester City is on his way and he might be joined soon by Borussia Dortmund’s Soumaila Coulibaly.
So, who is Soumaila Coulibaly, and why is Kompany willing to trust this youngster to become a crucial part of his Burnley side?
Who is Soumaila Coulibaly?
Soumaila Coulibaly is a 19-year-old centre-back who plays for Borussia Dortmund. He came through the PSG academy but rejected the chance to sign professional terms for the club as he didn’t believe that there was much space for young players to succeed.
He consequently signed a professional contract with Dortmund, famous for nurturing young players and then selling them off for profit.
Coulibaly was initially a part of their reserve team in the third-tier of German football but despite a big ligament injury, he broke through to make two appearances for the senior team in 2022/23, including one in the Champions League
Standing at 6’3″, Coulibaly is a man-mountain in defence. He easily deals with aerial balls with his strength and is blessed with the pace to go with it. Pace and power are the two most important raw tools in any defender’s skillset and Coulibaly has them in abundance.
He is primarily a centre-back and a unique one at that. Being left-footed means he is going to be hugely desired by managers. Left-footedness opens up passing angles on the pitch that a right-footed defender will have to turn to make.
With his pace and power, he can easily be used as a lockdown fullback as well, although his lack of any attacking game means that would be a purely defensive option. That was all about his skills in the traditional defensive sense. However, modern defenders need to be good on the ball as well.
If Vincent Kompany’s team is targeting a defender, one can be sure that the player has some talent in that regard. Kompany likes his team to play the ball from the back and thus, players in defence need to be comfortable in possession.
Coulibaly is safe in possession but not threatening. He won’t play raking passes from defense that turns puts his team on the attack in an instant but he also won’t lose the ball carelessly by dawdling over it or when pressed.
One should presume that working with Kompany will allow him to hone that side of his game as well, making him a complete defender.
In terms of senior comparison, his playing style can be likened to another French CB in Bundesliga – Dayot Upamecano. Both have the perfect combination of pace and power and Coulibaly also has a height advantage of two inches over Upamecano.
With proper coaching and work on his game, he can be the French answer to Virgil van Dijk. Of course, that’s just the ceiling in an ideal scenario. Reaching Van Dijk’s level is a tall task and everything will have to break right for Coulibaly to even start entertaining that notion.
First, a huge challenge in Premier League awaits.
Soumaila Coulibaly at Burnley
Last season, Taylor Harwood-Bellis and Jordan Beyer formed the defensive axis on which Burnley’s solid play was based. With Harwood-Bellis going back to his parent club, Manchester City, Burnley needed someone to step in for him.
It means that Coulibaly can expect a big role straight away.
Vitinho is another option at centre-back but Coulibaly’s left-footedness is expected to make him the favourite for that spot.
This move means Burnley could end up with three new members in their back five from the Championship, with Ian Maatsen also returning to Chelsea and Burnley not yet signing him permanently.
Therefore, some growing pains could be coming for Coulibaly and Co as they get accustomed to each other while learning on the job. If Coulibaly comes through the baptism of fire with his reputation enhanced, or even intact, then the sky is the limit for the French prodigy.
In Vincent Kompany, he couldn’t have asked for a better coach to learn the intricacies of his position. As Burnley are expected to be in the relegation scrap, he is also going to get plenty of opportunities to show his defensive skills.
This move by Kompany is a reach for the skies. If this gamble works out, Burnley will have a potentially world-class player on their hands. If it doesn’t, then it’s still better than clubs that spend enormous fees and wages on declining talent in the hope of staying up one season.
A long-term perspective is what Burnley need and Coulibaly can be the leader of that revolution.