Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski may be one of the most feared forwards in world football today, but one Bundesliga defender always relishes the prospect of facing him: RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano.
The 20-year-old has made 55 outings in Germany’s top-flight since joining Die Roten Bullen midway through the 2016/17 season. Despite his youth, the French centre-back swiftly made a place at the heart of the side’s defence his own, his combination of robust defending, pace and composure on the ball proving irresistible to the club’s coaching staff. Upamecano only played 15 Bundesliga matches last term due to a knee injury, but when fit, he was in the starting line-up more often than not.
That exposure to top-level football at such an early age has helped Upamecano become one of the hottest prospects in the global game, furthering his education on the job. “It’s true that I am comfortable physically, but I always put everything into training,” said the 6’2″ defender in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe. “In the Bundesliga I’m learning a lot against players like Robert Lewandowski.”
Upamecano is already a first-team regular at Leipzig, despite being just 20 years old. – 2018 Getty Images
Last season Upamecano faced the Bayern striker twice, and although he managed to prevent him from scoring in the first of those games – which Leipzig lost 1-0 – the Polish forward scored twice in a 3-0 win over Ralf Rangnick’s side in the DFB Cup final in May.
Nevertheless, the France U21 international used the experience gained to help Leipzig finish with the best defensive record in the Bundesliga in 2018/19, with just 29 goals conceded – three less than champions Bayern.
And he is keen to keep improving. “I know that I have to progress in terms of the game, the technical quality,” said the Leipzig No.5. “But I’ll take my time.”
Dayot Upamecano and France U21 teammate Jean-Philippe Mateta (r.) were two of 23 Frenchmen in the Bundesliga in 2018/19. – imago/Jan Huebner
Upamecano also offered sage advice to any talented youngsters hoping to emulate his jet-propelled rise in the game in recent years: “I really encourage young people to come to Germany because there is always a chance.”
Plenty of his compatriots have already followed suit, with young French players flocking to the Bundesliga eager for an opportuntity to shine. That includes Leipzig teammate Ibrahima Konate and Mainz duo Moussa Niakhate and Jean-Philippe Mateta, who are all currently with Upamecano in Italy hoping to lead France to glory at the UEFA U21 European Championship.