Scouting Report: Mickael Cuisance
On Friday night sporting director Hasan Salihamidžić confirmed the upcoming arrival of Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Mickael Cuisance. A surprisingly creative transfer in central midfield and a decent birthday present for the Frenchman. He turned 20 on Friday.
Cuisance was born in Strasbourg in 1999 and made the move from Racing Strasbourg to AS Nancy during his adolescence. He never managed to make the leap to the first team there, but the talented center midfielder still established himself in the national youth teams of L’Équipe Tricolore, beginning during his time with the Under-16 team.
At the Under-17 European Championship in Azerbaijan, where the stars of players like Kai Havertz and Mathijs de Ligt began to shine bright, he and his French side unceremoniously dropped out after the group stage. And yet, it became clear to every scout: the lefty was way ahead in terms of game intelligence and dominance.
Borussia Mönchengladbach already had their sights set on Cuisance, due to scouting director Stephen Corell assigning a scout exclusively to the French youth teams in 2015. 2017, they went for it and brought the then 17-year-old to Mönchengladbach. The training compensation accounted for a laughable 250.000€. At the time, Manchester City had also been interested in signing Cuisance but he chose the more realistic path to playing time and took the plunge to Germany.
This choice payed off rather quickly: in his first season the confident Frenchman played 24 games under Dieter Hecking, nine of them even in the starting line-up. Back then, the club had some injury concerns in central midfield. Hecking threw Cuisance in at the deep end and was not disappointed. Gladbach’s supporters handed the youngster the Player of the Year award.
The past season turned out to be less successful. Only one appearance in the starting line-up and just 269 minutes of that coveted Bundesliga air were a clear setback for the ambitious youngster. At the Under-20 World Cup in Poland last June, he got knocked out of the tournament as a first-team regular (one goal) in the round of 16 against the US side.
So, why is it that Bayern is bringing in a bench player from Mönchengladbach who recently struggled to gain a foothold in the Bundesliga?
Word is there have been center midfielders in Munich who prefer steady and horizontal passing, structuring the game and avoiding risk. Compared to those players, Cuisance mostly represents the opposite. The Frenchman who can play all central midfield positions loves risk and creativity.
Small dribblings, channel passes, through balls at the box, long chips, sudden changes of movement contrary to the flow of the game. These are elements which distinguish him from other center mids. Needless to say, he can handle the bread-and-butter-business and pass the ball around, but Cuisance always keeps his head up, looking for an opportunity to change dynamics. That is what is special about his game. He doesn’t need the game to be in front of him but he can also solve pressing situations with sidesteps and stepovers with his back to the goal.
Meanwhile, Cuisance acts rather independently of his positioning – be it number six, eight or ten – as a box-to-box player who covers the spaces between the boxes in a hard-running and agile way. Against the ball, he relies rather on his timing than on his tackling technique. Often, he waits for the right moment to ambush his opponent. His positioning is above-average as well. Ivan Rakitic is a comparison which comes to the minds of many scouts when talking about Cuisance’s potential.
Cuisance has mostly made up for his lacking robustness in his first two years of professional football. Due to the small amount of game time in the past season, there is little proof that the 1.81m lad can constantly influence games in a positive manner. Additionally, he has had difficulties balancing risk and clarity in his passing. 80% pass accuracy are okay for a midfielder but there is room for improvement too. In the attacking third, his actions lack precision. To conclude, more threat to goal as an assist creator and long range shooter would be good for his game.
Salihamidžić explicitly praised the Frenchman’s mentality. Surely, he meant his confidence on and off the pitch, as well as his will to win. At the same time Cuisance can’t shake off his reputation as ’enfant teribble’ which already precedented him before his arrival in Gladbach. In March he got himself a penalty order for driving without a license. Gladbach coach Dieter Hecking used the word ‘lebensoffen’ to describe his player. One can locate the meaning of that description on the spectrum between ‘lively’ and ‘overindulging’. The yellow press called him a snot. In-house he demanded a transfer even back in the winter of 2018 to have more game time. In summer there were talks about a demanded guarantee for a spot in the first XI which visibly irritated sporting director Eberl.
In Gladbach they planned with the man for the foreseeable future. Now, the story for this talented youngster continues one level higher in Munich. Kovac has had a solid track record with players which are regarded as complicated. From now on he will have to integrate and form Cuisance as well.
Cuisance is principally conceivable as one of two number eights in Kovacs currently preferred 4-3-3. But he is definitely not one of the top two choices there. Especially as Coutinho is an instant candidate there. A role as a backup for Thiago is the more interesting thought, as, in a long season, Bayern’s maestro will need breaks for sure. In the current team, his skillset qualifies him the most to replace Thiago’s playmaking and creative game elements.
It’s no secret Bayern wanted to reinforce their central midfield. RCD Espanyol’s Marc Roca is a name which has been dealt for weeks. It would be quite surprising, if the signing of Cuisance were the only result to those efforts. He’s not a complete player who has been tested on the highest level. Normally, he would be regarded as a classical loan candidate. But if there won’t be any more number sixes incoming, the aforementioned role as a Thiago backup could be an exciting opportunity for Cuisance to establish himself in Munich in the midterm.
All in all, the transfer is one without big risk, but potential for big reward. It’s good to see Munich making serious moves on players whose potential they are convinced of – independent of their hunt for ‘superstars’. That’s no guarantee for success but it emphasizes a well-planned decisiveness which had been missed in recent times.
Translated by Philip.