Armel Bella-Kotchap has only just arrived at FC Southampton, but the wildest transfer rumors are already swirling about the young centre-back. Of the Liverpool FC should have cast an eye on him, could be read in the relevant portals this week - and Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have already expressed interest in him.
On the one hand, this shows how the pots in the rumor mill are kept artificially boiling even after the end of the summer changeover period. On the other hand, it also shows how much Bella-Kotchap in his short time in the premier league has already drawn attention to itself.
One like Virgil van Dijk
Before the season, Bella-Kotchap moved to England from VfL Bochum for ten million euros. On the first day of the game coach let him Ralph Hasenhuttl still gathering impressions from the bench, but then used the approach in six straight games for the full 90 minutes. Against Manchester United and Chelsea, among others, Bella-Kotchap presented himself in strong form, he even managed an assist in his team's away win in Leicester. Southampton fans are already calling the defender, who turns 21 in December, an absolute bargain.
His achievements are also noticeable in Germany. For the upcoming Nations League games against Hungary on Friday (8:45 p.m FAZ live ticker for the Nations League and on ZDF) and England (Monday) has national coaches Hansi Flick Bella-Kotchap first call-up to senior squad. He has been used occasionally for the DFB youth teams since 2018; In 2019 he made the leap from the U19s straight to the pros in Bochum.
In the 2020/21 season he was promoted to the Bundesliga with Bochum as the second division champion, last season he made 22 appearances there that were not always completely convincing. "He developed very well in Southampton," said Flick about the nomination - he and assistant coach Danny Röhl were "surprised by Armel".
With a height of 1.90 meters and his athletic build, Bella-Kotchap fits perfectly to the physically intensive English football, Hasenhüttl thinks. There, robustness and speed are more important than in Germany – the 20-year-old brings both qualities to the pitch. In his first games in the Premier League, he was impressively fearless and confident, even against well-known opponents. His size gives him a natural advantage in head-to-head duels, while his good understanding of the game helps him on the ground: he often intercepts opposing passes and clears balls out of the danger zone before things get dangerous.
For his assist at Leicester, Bella-Kotchap placed a throw-in deep in the opponent's half of the six-yard box, shielding the incoming ball heavily against the opponent behind his back and then delivering it flat to Ché Adams with the inside of his right boot bounce off, who scored from close range to make it 1-1. A rehearsed move, perfectly implemented.
But Bella-Kotchap still rarely gets involved in the offensive in the way that is expected of top-level central defenders these days. Critics name the passing game as the young player's biggest construction site, which means that he rarely actively participates in the build-up of the game. From his time in Bochum, form lows are also known, which according to the coach at the time, Thomas Reis, also had something to do with his sometimes poor attitude and concentration.
Obviously, Bella-Kotchap now wants to polish away this small image scratch that his occasional slackness brought him. The nomination for the DFB squad surprised and pleased him, he said when he arrived at the team hotel near Frankfurt - and he was quite humble: "I'm the youngest here and still have a lot to learn. I want to fine-tune my development.”
And that's probably how his invitation should be understood: as an intensive course. Given the competition in his position, Bella-Kotchap is probably not a serious candidate for the upcoming World Cup in Qatar.
Bella-Kotchap has signed a contract with Southampton until the summer of 2026. But in England, many believe it's likely he could move to another, bigger club before that deadline. Just like his role model Virgil van Dijk: The Dutchman played for Southampton between 2015 and 2018 before being bought out of his contract for almost €85m by Liverpool FC.