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Armel Bella-Kotchap

A profile of the big VfL Bochum centre-back, taken from Volume XI

VfL Bochum centre-back Armel Bella-Kotchap
Llew Davies

JUNE 1, 2022

Who is Armel Bella-Kotchap?

Note: This profile was first written in September 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.

When a 16-year-old Armel Bella-Kotchap was called up to VfL Bochum’s senior squad for pre-season training in the summer of 2018, few around the club were surprised. Already built like a player at least five years his senior, he had been playing a year above his age as a regular starter with the under-17 team the season prior. And his name alone will have been familiar to some of a certain generation.

Armel is the son of Cyrille Bella, a Cameroon international who had been somewhat of a journeyman striker in the lower divisions of German football through the early 2000s. Cyrille specialised in the dense Westfalen area, and he enjoyed the best spell of his career at Rot Weiss Ahlen in the second division.

Armel subsequently started out as a toddler at Ahlen too, then bounced around some of the many clubs in the region, like his father. The Paris-born Bella-Kotchap spent time at Borussia Mönchengladbach and MSV Duisburg, as well as smaller neighbourhood clubs in the bigger cities, before settling at Bochum.

Following another strong campaign playing above his age in youth football, Bella-Kotchap was afforded four consecutive league starts at the end of the 2018/19 season as a mid-table Bochum side looked to the future. Those timely involvements developed into a role as the first-choice stand-in centre-back the season after, where he made seven starts and a few substitute appearances.

But it was last season that Bella-Kotchap made his big breakthrough, underlining the intrigue that surrounded him by finally showcasing his significant potential. Injuries afforded the teenager a run in the starting line-up and he ran with the opportunity. Starting all but one of the remaining 27 league games, Bella-Kotchap became a stalwart at the back as Bochum powered toward the 2. Bundesliga title and, with it, promotion back to the Bundesliga.

Armel Bella-Kotchap playing for VfL Bochum in the Bundesliga

Armel Bella-Kotchap's style of play

Bella-Kotchap has played at least a year or two above his age throughout his teenage years, in large part due to his extremely mature athletic profile. His size is striking: he looks a couple of inches taller than his official listed height of 6′2″, has rounded shoulders and long arms that are features of a large upper-body, and his thick thighs make up part of a very strong core. The 2001-born centre-back is as athletic as he looks, and it is his physical capacity that forms the basis of his imposing style and impressive dominance.

Bochum, under head coach Thomas Reis, always try to squeeze the game. They push up the pitch and pressure the ball to win it back as quickly as possible, before transitioning into fast and direct attacks. That proactive approach suits Bella-Kotchap as the excellent front-foot defender that he is.

His first instinct is to press up onto and engage the immediate threat, and he reads and reacts to developing situations quickly. Bella-Kotchap is very good at stepping up to intercept passes, pressure the receiver’s touch, or disrupt their next action. He overwhelms attackers in physical duels, cutting in ahead of them to intercept a pass, wrapping one of his long legs around them to disrupt their touch, and hulking over them to power into headers.

His front-foot defending is demonstrably aggressive but remarkably clean – he knows how to channel his anticipation and athleticism without being reckless, an invaluable skill which many centre-backs of his style, let alone age, struggle to grasp.

Similarly, it is difficult to get the better of Bella-Kotchap in wider areas. His good change of pace gives him an instant advantage over most opponents, and he is very adept at positioning his large frame between man and ball to either recover or protect possession – few can move him off it once in position.

His composure and poise is impressive as well. For a player of his size, he is quite agile in his movements which enables him to move and adjust in any direction. All in all, Bella-Kotchap is a front-foot defender that possesses plenty of valuable traits for a proactive team.

The weaknesses of Bella-Kotchap’s skillset become apparent when he needs to defend on the back foot. When pushed back, his positioning can be disjointed and he often fails to cover angles and runners. His situational awareness becomes erratic too – his proactivity leads to him stepping up at bad moments, trapping him in dead space that neither impacts the ball nor covers the threat behind him.

Teams can play around his aggressive style with relative ease as he disconnects from the defensive line. He is too focused on the play ahead of him to be aware of the threats behind him – no surprise given he rarely scans to check who and what is around him.

Bella-Kotchap also has significant issues with his on-ball ability. Given time and space to step onto the ball, his technique is more than adequate – he can punch passes through lines with decent speed and accuracy, or hit a switch of play with some comfort. Take away that time and space though, and his technique deteriorates. He struggles to cope with pressure: his touches become heavy and he loses control and coordination, necessitating him to play a negative pass or clear his lines.

Bella-Kotchap’s fundamental technical skills are not of a particularly high standard, which partly explains some of his issues. While he works hard to create passing angles, his posture is often closed inward when he receives the ball – that restricts his options, leading to negative actions. All issues combined, his speed of play with the ball at his feet is quite jagged.

He fails to operate with any consistent tempo, fluidity or positivity. It is something that could limit his opportunities to move up the ladder.

Forecasting Armel Bella-Kotchap's future

How will Bella-Kotchap translate to the Bundesliga? It is a question that will be addressed in due course. He will struggle, not least against the better teams; he will make mistakes, especially in terms of positioning and distribution. But his athleticism will be more than able to hold its own at the top level, his style suits the new division, and his profile has the prospects to rise through the league quickly.

A solid season would be enough for bigger, better clubs to take the calculated risk on him. It is entirely within his potential that he reaches a European-level team within two to three years. Some may be apprehensive about his technical limitations, others may question his positional nous – but most will appreciate his high-level upside as a dynamically dominant defender.

Armel Bella-Kotchap is a big and athletic centre-back that excels when defending on the front-foot. He is very adept at overwhelming attackers, using his mix of anticipation and athleticism to impact the ball on the ground and in the air.

The primary weakness of Armel Bella-Kotchap’s game is his lack of ability in possession. He struggles to deal with pressure, something that may stop him from reaching a European-level club.

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