After RB Leipzig won the club’s first championship on May 21, 2022, football quickly lost importance. Soda cans that were tipped into the DFB cup are visible in the images from the 2022 cup final that are recalled. Oliver Mintzlaff, the managing director at the time, yelled to the Leipzig fans from a party truck: “Anyone who still hasn’t comprehended that we are an asset to football Germany, we don’t want to help anymore.”
Surprisingly little attention was paid to one of the key players who has contributed to Leipzig games in recent seasons enriching the Bundesliga. Additionally, after winning the cup, Christopher Nkunku should not have used Instagram or other social media to declare himself the leader of a Leipzig squad. The 25-year-old is a calm observer who keeps to himself. According to some present, he spent a considerable amount of time sitting quietly at the Leipzig party in Berlin in May as the others rejoiced on stage to loud music. For Nkunku, soccer fields—not club parties—are the stages, and he performs on them better than any other player in Leipzig, if not all of Germany.
No Bundesliga player has stats as incredible as Nkunku’s.
In the Kicker’s Player of the Season ballot for 2021–2022, Nkunku received six more votes than Robert Lewandowski. Although it is debatable how representational such individual titles are in football, the decision was supported by significant evidence, particularly if you extend the facts to the end of the year: Nkunku’s record for the year is 35 goals and 20 assists in 52 competitive games. No Bundesliga player, and barely any foreign rival, even comes close to these stats, therefore the real question for the individual title is: How did Nkunku only come in at number 25 in the voting for global footballer?
A torn ligament in his left knee prevented him from traveling to the World Cup in Qatar, where the French national team featured Marcus Thuram and Randal Kolo Muani, one from Gladbach and one from Frankfurt – but not from Leipzig. It might have needed more significant appearances on the international stage, which Nkunku was denied not only in Leipzig’s occasionally lonely preliminary round games in the Champions League, but also in the World Cup.
The young Frenchman was deemed to be “too tiny and frail.”
Nkunku has demonstrated throughout his career that he is capable of handling setbacks. Nkunku revealed to the Spring The Team in one of his few interviews that as a youth, he had been told he was too “little and frail.” Others may have left after that, but he used it as inspiration to improve himself further: “That’s my goal: to show myself that I can raise my level. To place the responsibility elsewhere would be a mistake.
The possibility existed back then, when he was forced to spend a year alternating between playing for Paris Saint-U19 Germain’s team and the first team rather than being given duties at the top level. Nkunku moved from Paris to Leipzig in 2019 for a 13 million euro transfer fee, carrying Thomas Tuchel’s wishes along with him. Nkunku was given a promotion under Tuchel, but it was Julian Nagelsmann’s meticulousness in seeing the Frenchman as more than just a center midfielder who led to the largest change at the new club. Nkunku stated that the quality of the video analyses done by Nagelsmann was quite high: “He told me, yes, you were in a nice position, but the best position was two meters to the right.”
Nkunku flourished because Jesse Marsch, Nagelsmann’s replacement, started him as a striker, a position he has played in Leipzig ever since and in which he can exert more influence than previously – independent of the manager. Marsch, Domenico Tedesco, and Marco Rose all employed other players, but they all clearly had an eye toward making room for Nkunku to attack. He adjusted both his body and his playing technique to it. Strength training for more aggressiveness, for instance, was a foundational step: “I prepared for it,” he said, “for goals like the 1-1 in the cup final,” which Nkunku scored in the manner of an instinctual one Nines at the far post rather than with a fine foot.
Nkunku previously remarked that Leipzig is “more than a transit station.” It is important not to misinterpret his quiet demeanor during gatherings as a lack of appreciation. He has the tools to develop into one of the top players in Europe thanks to Leipzig and the Bundesliga, but: They don’t regularly play in Germany outside of Munich.
Fabrizio Romano, a transfer specialist, claims that Nkunku falls within the same category. According to him, contracts for the upcoming season have already been discussed between Nkunku, his agent Pini Zahavi, and Chelsea FC; the only thing left to do is wait for the transfer to be officially confirmed. For some Bundesliga players, London has not been a successful football location. Timo Werner can inform Leipzig of the difficult transition that newcomers may experience at Stamford Bridge.
However, throughout his career, Nkunku has frequently changed to new circumstances or positions, which he views as the history of his profession: “When I stop, I want to be able to say to myself: Okay, nothing to repent, I’ve stretched all my boundaries.”