The last season was which had several ups and downs for AS Saint Etienne. They were in the running for a Champions League position for a long time, only to falter by the end of the campaign and finish a disappointing fifth. They did manage to win the Coupe de France, though, and look to get off to a strong start despite the loss of their attacking star, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to Borussia Dortmund. Essential to that strong start will be a young French international defensive midfielder with a penchant for letting no one by him.
22-year old Joshua Guilavogui is one of a bumper crop of young French defensive midfielders currently turning heads in Ligue 1. Entering his fourth season as a regular starter with AS Saint Etienne, and coming off his first international cap for France, his brand of physical midfield presence is not likely to stick around much longer. He already has suitors from England and Germany – two leagues in which he has a stated interest – and with the club’s star attacker off to Dortmund, it will become increasingly difficult to keep Guilavogui’s ambitions under wraps.
Joshua Guilavogui was born on September 19th, 1990 in Ollioules, France. A dual French and Guinean citizen, he stands just shy of 6’2″, and is predominantly right-footed. The midfielder was recently included in the French National side for the first time, having played with the U21 squad prior to that, thriving alongside Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane and Rubin Kazan midfielder Yann M’Vila. He has so far featured in two friendlies for Les Bleus, losses to Uruguay and Brazil.
Guilavogui has spent five years at Saint Etienne (so far), arriving from his home town club of Sporting Toulon in 2005. It took time for him to break into the starting XI, having been given a starting berth under manager Alain Perrin, only to fall out of favor when new manager Christophe Galiter was appointed.
He joined the French club at the age of 15 and made his debut in the domestic cup against Bordeaux. He scored his first senior league goal on the last day of the 2010/11 campaign as St. Etienne fought out a 1-1 draw with PSG. He only really managed to stamp down a place in the first team in the 2011/12 season, playing a total of 33 games.
The 2012/13 season saw Guilavogui slide into longtime starter Jeremy Clement’s role when the ASSE stalwart went down for the season. Scoring three and assisting two more, last season was particularly important for Guilavogui in that he earned just half as many cards as in previous campaigns, while maintaining his intimidating presence in the holding position. The downside though, was that he received his first red card of his career as well, on the final day of the French Ligue 1 campaign against Lille.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Joshua Guilavogui’s style is that of a physically imposing holding midfielder. That has been his primary role at ASSE and one in which he excels, for a few reasons.
First and foremost, Guilavogui’s height and tenacity combine to give him massive ability in the air. Any lobs or goal kicks that come his way are invariably intercepted, and he requires expert marking on corners. This contributes greatly to his commanding defensive presence at the holding position, but tells only some of the story. He is fantastic at positioning himself to intercept passes and disrupt oncoming attackers. His dribbled-against average, at under 0.5 per game, along with his three man-of-the-match performances in 2013 (all wholly defensive efforts) reflects this.
What may come to separate Guilavogui from other promising young defensive midfielders is the potential brought about by his speed, which manifests in numerous positives to his game. He’s certainly not the paciest midfielder, but he’s quick enough, that it gives him a versatility we have come to expect from top physical midfielders. They’re often called on to make lung bursting runs from deep positions, or press very high up the pitch in search of the ball, and Guilavogui has demonstrated himself capable.
His very first goal for ASSE serves as evidence of this, coming in May 2011 against PSG, but from a No.10 position behind striker Aubameyang. Not every holding midfielder is capable of playing so high up the pitch, given the speed and agility required to do so effectively. He managed to feature in this role on three separate occasions last season alone.
If there is a downside to Guilavogui’s game, it is his tendency towards reckless challenges, and a shooting ability in need of improvement. He averaged 7 fouls a match for multiple seasons before finally improving in his last campaign. A certain degree of aggression is good for a player in his position but at the highest levels, a temper like that can lose important matches.
That risk is worth taking, though, given his potential as a more-than-meets-the-eye holding midfielder. Under the right manager and system, there is no reason he can’t grow to fulfill the increasingly en vogue box-to-box role. Given recent high profile signings like Paulinho (£17m) and Fernandinho (£34m), and the integral role played at treble winning Bayern Munich by Javi Martinez, box-to-box midfielders are a demonstrated priority at the highest level. Guilavogui is young and rough around the edges, but can and ought to be refined into such a player.
“He had a very good season with Saint-Etienne, he was part of the generation of hopes and today it is one of those pretty young players who may have a future on the international level. From this meeting there is a step for him.”
— Didier Deschamps, French National team Head Coach
Guilavogui is contracted to ASSE until 2016. This means that while interest has already been established from clubs like Sunderland and Wolfsburg, the newly weakened Loire club will undoubtedly seek to hold on to the midfielder for at least another season.
Should he continue to impress, bigger clubs will come calling. With all the strengthening that top English and German clubs have already done, it is likely that he will emerge in the coming seasons as either a buy-and-loan option for a top team (Courtois at Chelsea, etc.) or a more marquee signing for a lesser club (think Giaccherini to Sunderland or Wanyama to Southampton).
Joshua Guilavogui is owned by Mondial Sport Management which owns the rights of some high-profile players such as Cavani, Llorente and a whole host of Premier League & French National team players.