From the Handbook: Michaël Cuisance
This profile was originally published in February 2019 in the Scouted Football Handbook: Volume I. The print version has sold out, but buy the digital copy instead here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Over the past couple of years, the Bundesliga has doubled-down on its status as a safe haven for the young, underappreciated footballer. Whilst English players claimed the international headlines this season thanks to the likes of Jadon Sancho and Reiss Nelson, it is the French that first flooded the Bundesliga with its endless stream of talent.
French nationals account for over eight per-cent of the total Bundesliga player count; only Austrians can claim to out-number the French when discussing the league’s foreign legion. Many of those French players are aged 25-or-under and the majority joined Bundesliga clubs within the past 24 months. Benjamin Pavard, Corentin Tolisso and Sébastien Haller are standout names of a strong, dynamically-talented French contingent.
Michaël Cuisance was named Borussia Mönchengladbach's Player of the Season for the 2017/18 campaign despite playing just 1,350 minutes
One of the very first to ride the French wave eastward was Michaël Cuisance, a Strasbourg-born midfielder, whom Borussia Mönchengladbach signed from AS Nancy-Lorraine during the summer of 2017. Despite being an 18-year-old who had never appeared in a senior squad, let alone made a professional appearance, Cuisance spent the majority of his first senior season as a member of Gladbach’s senior team. By the end of his debut professional campaign, he had racked up 24 appearances and 1,195 minutes in the league, signed a new five-year contract, and won the club's Player of the Season award.
After featuring prominently at the UEFA U-19 European Championships during the summer, Cuisance looked set to make his major breakthrough at domestic level. Yet the 19-year-old has only started one league game all season, whilst appearing as a substitute on a measly seven other occasions – a deflating end to a year that promised so much.
STYLE OF PLAY
Like compatriots Houssem Aouar and Tanguy Ndombélé – who are both excelling at Olympique Lyonnais – Cuisance is a midfielder of almost boundless potential. He has the ability to do so much: he can pass, he can defend, and he can dribble. His skillset is that of a hybrid between a number six and a number eight; a blend of a ball-dominant passer from deep, an expansive creator, and a tenacious defender. His wide range of abilities enable coaches to deploy him in a number of roles. With France, for instance, he has played as the deepest midfielder, as well as in a three-man midfield as the most balanced of the trio. Under Dieter Hecking at Gladbach, he has been used predominantly as a defensive-minded pivot.
The 19-year-old’s most captivating asset is his left foot. With it, he manipulates the ball in a multitude of different ways with eye-catching grace and distinct nonchalance. The variety of his passing is very good: he can continuously execute passes – varying from simple ones that intend to keep the ball moving, to expansive ones which aim to exploit space, isolations and overloads – with relative ease. He is capable of making a difference going forward from deep positions with his passing.
Supplementing his qualities as a passer is a strong ability to dribble and drive from deep positions. Cuisance combines traits of the aforementioned Aouar and Ndombélé in this regard. Similar to Aouar, he can create separations from opponents with delicate touches and deft body movements; similar to Ndombélé, he can switch the ball from foot-to-foot to escape compact spaces before driving away from opponents with an effective burst. Being able to carry the ball to extend his time in possession makes it harder for opponents to defend against Cuisance. He is fairly inefficient in such situations – completing just over half of all dribbles attempted in the Bundesliga to date – but the raw ability to beat players, escape pressure and, in the process, break open defensive structure is a tremendous asset.
There is plenty to like about the Frenchman during defensive phases too. He works hard to retreat into defensive positions or to press opponents when his team cedes possession, while his tenacity is an endearing attribute. That tenacious approach is clear when he tackles: he shuts down players quickly, engages in physical contact, stabs a foot in or wraps a leg around; often regaining possession. Cuisance’s very solid physical attributes contribute to his defensive game. He looks a couple of inches taller than his listed height of 5’9”, he has good balance and can run fairly quickly over short and long distances.
All that said, Cuisance is by no means a flawless prospect. There are aspects to his technical and mental skillset which are legitimate causes for concern. One such issue, and probably the most pronounced, is his inconsistency from situation to situation. The 19-year-old is a gifted technician, as alluded to above, yet too often his performances are punctuated by erratic mistakes and lapses of coordination. Be it making a decidedly poor decision, dramatically under-hitting or misplacing a pass, struggling to gather or maintain possession, or failing to position himself correctly in both build-up and defensive phases, he commits errors which will be exploited by top division teams.
It must be stressed that these mistakes largely occur when he appears as a substitute. He struggles to adapt to the pace of games when coming off the bench, an unsurprising trait given his style, age and inexperience. Cuisance is a player who needs confidence to find consistency and the primary way he can obtain both is being trusted to start games.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
Players of substantial potential generally do not take long to prosper in the Bundesliga. Throughout the league, clubs and their coaches rely upon young players to help compete for titles, push for European qualification, stave off relegation and defeat their local rivals. For Cuisance, this season has yet to live up to his last, let alone taken off in the way that many had hoped or expected. He fulfilled an important squad role under Hecking last season during a campaign that ultimately ended in mediocrity for Gladbach.
So far this season, he has been the back-up to the back-up as Gladbach sit joint-second in the league. A prospect of Cuisance’s level needs to be playing more football, though. Intriguingly, Paris Saint-Germain were credited with an interest in repatriating the Frenchman in January, yet nothing seemingly came of it. But regardless of how his 2019 goes, you should expect to see him on your screens a lot more over the coming decade and beyond.
Scouted Football Handbook: Volume VII is here. Buy your copy now.