Scouted: Axel Disasi
Axel Disasi has been linked to some big clubs lately, largely due to his burgeoning reputation as a standout centre-back in Ligue 1 for surprise of the season, Stade de Reims. Phil Costa has profiled his skillset.
With each new season, a surprise package tends to emerge amongst the usual suspects. Eintracht Frankfurt were penalties away from a Europa League final last season, Atalanta have amazed with their relentless attacking football, and Getafe are challenging norms in La Liga with Bordalásball. But Stade de Reims are making waves in France – in more ways than one.
Reims were fifth in Ligue 1 before the enforced coronavirus break, boasting the best defensive record with just 21 goals conceded in 28 games. Only Real Madrid have conceded fewer across Europe’s top five leagues. David Guion, their head coach, deserves credit for his tactical acumen, while standout performers Predrag Rajković, Hassane Kamara and Boulaye Dia have surpassed expectation. However, one name in particular is garnering more interest than most.
Axel Disasi has enjoyed a breakthrough season for Reims, and his introduction – alongside experienced defender Yunis Abdelhamid – has been central to their impressive defensive record. At first glance, the 22-year-old is physically imposing, standing at 6’3” (191cm) tall and extremely broad shouldered. He excels in direct physical duels, especially when staying tight where he can essentially manoeuvre opponents off the ball.
His tackle and interception numbers per 90 minutes are fairly standard at 1.2 and 1.1 respectively, but as the last line of defence, he currently averages 3.7 clearances and 1.2. blocks per 90. There can be a desperate, last-ditch feel to his play which leaves hearts racing but overall his aggression is measured, if clumsy on occasion. Disasi is most comfortable when camped inside his penalty area and tasked with heading crosses away. Isolate him in wide areas or when retreating back to goal and questions can be asked of his proficiency.
But the 22-year-old is not just blood and thunder. Comfortable when receiving the ball from his goalkeeper or defensive partners, he will look to initiate attacks and even better, play through the lines of a high press or solid structure. His 2.9 progressive passes per 90 places him clear of any Reims defender, while 58 percent of his 1,746 passes this term have been played forward.
It’s worth noting that Reims are heavily biased towards their left side, and his role as the right-sided centre back remains crucial in their build up. Disasi boasts impressive accuracy with long diagonal passes which invite Kamara and Ghislain Konan to push forward, while also making Dia a threat in behind. The Frenchman can also carry the ball forward if passing lanes are blocked, but his sizeable frame makes him look unorthodox and stiff in possession – quick passing from deep looks to suit his style much more.
Referencing his last-ditch manner, one habit he will have to curb is going to ground so often. When stressed, defenders naturally revert back to type and, instead of relying on his reading of the game, Disasi prefers the ‘all or nothing’ approach which means taking everything; ball, man, and whatever else stands in his way. Some composure in those moments would improve his performances significantly, as quicker players at a higher level punish a cavalier decision-making process with greater ease.
Taking his physical and statistical profile into account, Disasi will undoubtedly be courted by several clubs this summer. The Bundesliga could provide a smooth transition to more competitive football following the recent success of Dayot Upamecano, Christopher Nkunku and Marcus Thuram, while mid-table Premier League clubs have proven their worth as potential stepping stones. Issa Diop and Abdoulaye Doucouré provide a relatively positive precedent for that career move.
Arsenal have been strongly linked but asking a young defender – with fewer than 50 senior appearances to his name – to make that jump could be counter productive. Mikel Arteta may consider his raw potential exciting and malleable, and the club's decision-makers may like the cheaper price, but regular minutes will benefit his development more at this moment.
Reims seem resigned to losing Disasi this summer and, with just one year left on his current deal, a €15 million fee represents great value for a promising player in need of polishing.