When the news first broke suggesting that Steven N’Zonzi was set for a £7m Sevilla move in the summer of 2015, it was met with both surprise and an air of inevitability. Inevitable in the sense that, several big clubs in Europe had a growing interest in the midfielder. After all, he quickly garnered a reputation as being amongst the best midfielders on the planet. So, three years have passed and once again, speculation surrounds N’Zonzi’s future. Why though?
Since his days at Stoke, he settled well into new surroundings in sunny Spain and established himself as a key component of a Sevilla side who have collectively impressed in recent seasons. England’s physical, fast-paced approach was one where N’Zonzi was able to fit in – Spain’s tactical, passing style allowed the Frenchman an opportunity to thrive. He has been fortunate to have avoided lengthy spells on the sidelines, too. With that in mind though, 136 appearances across all competitions in three seasons is certainly nothing to be sniffed at.
The club were more than happy to offer N’Zonzi a fresh deal with an increased release clause inserted early last year, mainly to ward off rumoured interest then.
“The Barcelona interest is flattering, but it’s only in the papers. I don’t even think about it as I’m happy at Sevilla. It’s something you get used to – until something actually happens, it isn’t really worth thinking about. To be linked with clubs is a sign that I’m playing pretty well, so that’s nice. I don’t miss the Premier League – I love it here.”
His insistence that he was settled, at the time, may have been genuine. However, that was eighteen months ago now and nothing is ever certain either, especially in a game as unpredictable as football.
What’s interesting is the fact that he turns 30 before the year’s end, so the focus will be on his longevity and whether he can produce on a consistent basis when called upon given the league’s relentless demands and quick-fire nature of matches in succession. Is returning the best decision from a physical standpoint?
You could argue yes, as players like Fernandinho, James Milner and Gareth Barry have impressed into their 30s, but how long would a potential return last?
He made his international debut for France last November; during their 2-0 friendly win over Wales. Since then, he’s made seven more appearances under Didier Deschamps and is now a World Cup finalist. The midfielder made three appearances as a late substitute in Russia, but crucially, impressed during Les Bleus’ most disappointing display to date – a goalless draw with Denmark to finish Group C. Former manager Mark Hughes was right on him not choosing DR Congo instead then, all those years ago now.
What does N’Zonzi offer?
N’Zonzi is a deep-lying midfielder and a good one at that. Capable of playing in the holding role as the midfield metronome, he’s an accomplished passer with an excellent range over both short and longer distances. This quickly became apparent during his tenure at Blackburn, whilst he has vision and crucially, the positioning to avoid being caught out on counter-attacking moves for instance.
His 6ft 3in frame makes him an imposing figure for opponents to navigate past as he’s dominant in the air; just as at ground level, although the “destroyer” tag was quickly banished upon his arrival in Spainas other attributes came to the fore. He’s able to dictate play, set the tone and his ball-carrying skills are equally underrated too. In a similar manner to how compatriot Matuidi operates, he has composure on the ball and is equally effective when out of possession.
He has plenty of European experience under his belt and continues to mature into his peak years, at 29-years-old. In a transfer market as inflated as this, a rumoured £40m release clause might not seem as much for someone of his quality and pedigree. With that in mind, where would he be best suited?
Why Arsenal or Tottenham could prove the perfect match
Given his quality, it doesn’t make sense for him to return – at least in the short-term – unless he joins one of the north London rivals.
At Arsenal, he could combine alongside Granit Xhaka and new signing Lucas Torreira as part of a midfield trio under former boss Unai Emery. That’s without discussing Aaron Ramsey or promising youngster Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the potential combinations are endless.
Meanwhile, under Mauricio Pochettino, he could play alongside Victor Wanyama or Eric Dier as a reliable midfield base to both protect and create opportunities for their more attack-minded players. Between the two clubs, they can both offer European football ahead of the new campaign. Spurs, Champions League and Arsenal, Europa League – the same competition Steven won two seasons ago, and has fond memories of.
How about Marco Silva’s Everton project or Pellegrini’s new-look West Ham?
Everton could benefit from a player like N’Zonzi in their ranks, not least given Morgan Schneiderlin’s inconsistent form over the past twelve months. Idrissa Gueye would prefer more dependable partners in central midfield, while 20-year-old Tom Davies continues to improve. Marco Silva’s preference is for a 4-2-3-1 formation, though he regularly opted to play 4-3-3 at Watford, so it will be interesting to see how he moulds the Toffees together as they too have potential to achieve more in future.
West Ham meanwhile, have lofty ambitions. Since qualifying for and losing swiftly in the Europa League in successive seasons, they want to establish themselves as a top side under new management this time around. The base of their team was clear: Cheikhou Kouyate, Mark Noble, Manuel Lanzini, Michail Antonio and Dimitri Payet were all integral – though they’ve freshened the side up since then.
This summer, they have already made six acquisitions, including Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere and Borussia Dortmund winger Andriy Yarmolenko. Those additions are sure to appease Marko Arnautovic in the final third, but they want more.
N’Zonzi has been on their radar for years. Following his transfer request in 2013, they were linked. Former manager David Moyes revealed he was interested in signing him too, just before the winter window opened this past January, so why not? It would prove another signal of the Hammers’ intent that they aim to compete with the league’s better sides, after all, they aspire to be among them before too long.