Everton announced the acquisition of Niels Nkounkou, a 19-year-old left back who arrived from Marseille for a nominal development fee, in early July 2020. Though he
had not yet made his senior debut, the player reportedly turned down a professional contract with the Ligue
1 club and was tipped to join Juventus in the summer.
Everton stepped in, however, and added him to their Under-23 squad where he joined compatriots Lucas Digne and, briefly, Djibril Sidibé at Finch Farm after signing a
"Niels is a young, talented player with good technical and physical skills," said Director of Football, Marcel Brands, of the teenager who can also operate in midfield. "We have been following him for months. Hopefully he can learn a lot from Lucas Digne and Leighton Baines, as well as Carlo Ancelotti and David Unsworth, and follow the same pathway into the first team the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Mason Holgate have taken in recent years."
The belief was that he had the physical attributes to thrive in the Premier League – a combination of pace and power befitting the profile of a modern left-back who is also strong in one-v-one defensive situations.
Unsworth, having seen the player up close for the first time in training at Finch Farm, spoke of a "great athlete but with a lot of things to work on". Nkounkou was expected to develop, first with the Under-23s and then under Ancelotti, both from a tactical point of view and learning how to play the position at the top level. As such, it was anticipated that Nkounkou would spend most of the 2020-21 season playing for the U23s but his first two senior appearances suggested that his development might be further along than initially thought.
He earned the Man-of-the-Match accolade on his debut against Salford City in the League Cup and repeated the feat in the next round at Fleetwood Town where he again caught the eye with his marauding runs down the left. He capped that second game with
a cheeky back-heeled assist for Moise Kean in a 5-2 win.
However, Carlo Ancelotti was clearly unimpressed, siting him on the subs
bench unused in two Premier League games after those displays. He did
get to play in the dreadful home loss to Newcastle and that marked his
card for the season: 20 successive league and cup games spent sitting on
the bench as an unused substitute. Ancelotti rather cruelly relented in
the final game of the season, when all was lost in a 5-0 hammering at
Manchester City, Nkounkou finally getting on for 5 minutes at the lowest
point of a very disappointing season.
The Frenchman was given permission, along with Richarlison, to
compete in the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympics, and he played in the 4-3
defat of South Africa but his country didn't fare so well as Brazil,
France being eliminated at the group stage after defeat by hosts Japan.
This meant Niels Nkounkou would miss Everton's pre-season exhibition
games in the Florida Cup, and he sat out the embarrassing pre-season
friendly at Old Trafford on the bench as an unused sub.
With the 21-year-old on Everton's books for another full season, his future continued to be assessed but rather than returning to play for the Under-21s as he entered the final season under his three-year deal, he was effectively given the chance to earn a move away when he first joined Cardiff City on loan and then St Etienne during the 2022-23 campaign. The French club then took up an option to sign Nkounkou permanently at the end of the season.
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* Everton deducted 10 points for PSR breachView full table