For a few weeks now, we've been hearing Chelsea connected to Porto defender Eliaquim Mangala. Mangala is an interesting target, and while he's perfect for the club in some regards, he makes very little sense in others.
The 22-year old Frenchman started his career in Belgium, joining Standard Liege in 2007. He'd make his senior debut for the club one year later, and went on to make 77 appearances for the Belgian side between 2008 and 2011. In the summer of 2011, he ended up joining Porto despite very strong interest from Arsenal* for a fee of €6.5 million. He's been there ever since, and has now forced his way into the spotlight after taking a bit of time to settle.
*Arsene Wenger got a first hand look at the second goal of his young career, a 2nd minute goal that gave Standard a 1-0 lead over the Gunners in a group stage tie
So what is it about Mangala that caught Chelsea's eye? I think it starts with what he could become. The 6'2" Frenchman is a pretty rare athlete for a center back, with a unique combination of size, strength, speed and agility that you don't often find in the back. He's got the physical attributes required to deal with a guy like Andy Carroll, while at the same time he's mobile enough that he could conceivably deal with guys like Sergio Aguero. That sort of player could be an asset in any number of defensive setups, regardless of what sort of line or pressure the manager attempts to use.
There is also plenty of versatility there with Mangala, as he's played several other positions without showing much of a dropoff. He's played at left back fairly regularly, and he's also moved into a holding midfield role when Porto were looking to close up shop. I haven't seen enough of him in the midfield to have a strong opinion on the matter, but if nothing else, he'd be available in a pinch. I did think he performed quite well as a fullback though, and could see him being a better backup option there than Ryan Bertrand at the moment.
From a technical standpoint, Mangala is a bit more of a work in progress. He's very, very good in the air, and generally does a nice job positioning himself defensively. When he gets caught out of position, his athleticism often allows him to recover enough to prevent disaster. He's shown shown some flashes of absolute brilliance with the ball at his feet, and seems to be improving in his tackling, reading of passes, and shot blocking.
What you don't get at the moment with Mangala is consistency. He's prone to the occasional David Luiz-like foray into the center of the attack, and he'll occasionally do something silly when he tries to get a little too cute. He's a very aggressive defender, but he still suffers the occasional lapse of judgement and gives away free kicks in very dangerous areas.
Highlight videos aren't usually a great way to get a feel for defenders, but there is one that I'm going to share today so you can at least get a look at the player in action. This is probably the single largest "wow" moment of his career, and it's hard to believe that a center back pulled off this maneuver:
That was something, wasn't it? Mangala routinely shows flashes of that sort of ability, even if he's still very raw and inconsistent.
This is one of those targets that I'm torn on. I love players like Mangala, who possess the sort of unteachable physical attributes that give them a tremendous advantage over their competition. Center backs with the total package that Mangala possesses are very, very rare, and if given the opportunity to sign one, I'd want Chelsea to be all over it.
That said, he plays for Porto, and there is no club on the planet that is less fun to be dealing with. Having already sold Joao Moutinho and James Rodriguez this summer, there is basically no financial need for the Portuguese club to sell. Even if they had a need to sell, dealing with Porto would likely be a ridiculously long, drawn out process that would end with Chelsea paying well more than I'd like to see for the player.
That's not to say that Mangala couldn't eventually justify a David Luiz-like pricetag, but at the moment he almost certainly shouldn't go for that sort of fee. It's not hard to picture Mangala becoming one of best defenders on the planet, but it's also not hard to picture him simply being an excellent athlete who shows flashes of brilliance and some very inconsistent overall play. There is risk involved here, and he's still a long way from being a finished product.
To add a bit more food for thought here, it's not hard to see him being the type of player Jose Mourinho would fall in love with. Mou has always loved to round out his squads with guys that may not be the most technically gifted but have fantastic physical gifts, and Mangala is a clear example of exactly that sort of player. Mou "overpaid" for two of those the last time he was here, and both Didier Drogba and Michael Essien went on to prove themselves to be incredible bargains.
Mangala will certainly have a buyout clause inserted into his contract, but like all Porto players, it will be very expensive. I've seen quite a few different figures mentioned, with anything from £30 million to €50 million being noted. I have no idea at this point what the real figure is, but I'd assume it's well over his actual value.
If it wasn't for the fact that he plays for Porto, Mangala would be right at the top of my transfer wishlist this summer. He'd still be right at the top despite the club he plays for if FFP did not exist. Unfortunately though, he does play for Porto and FFP is still in play*, so I'd probably shop around if Porto look like they want a ton for the player.
*I'm still fairly certain that FFP as currently constructed is going to end up being found to be in violation of EU law, but until that happens, it seems like a pretty huge gamble to budget based on that assumption
That said, I'll defer to Jose Mourinho and Michael Emenalo on this one. If they look at the player and decide to break the bank on him, both have a good enough track record with scouting that I'll certainly trust their judgement. The world class potential in Mangala is very easy to see, and with a coach like Mourinho it's not hard to believe he'd reach it.