The Wonderkid Files: Leny Yoro – the teenage centre-back next on Chelsea’s transfer wish list

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17-year-old Leny Yoro is on the radar of just about every big club in Europe - we look into what makes him so special with a full scouting report.

The production line of French talent seldom pauses for long - and yet another teenage sensation has emerged over the course of the past year and caused a serious stir among scouts across the continent. Lenny Yoro has established himself as a first-team regular in Ligue 1, broken into the France Under-21 side and earned a string of rave reviews before he’s even old enough to buy himself a beer.

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One of the most exciting new talents to emerge from Lille’s impressive youth academy – which gave the world Yohann Cabaye, Benjamin Pavard and Eden Hazard, among many others - the gangling centre-half has now added Chelsea to a growing list of admirers, according to new media reports. At just 17 years old, Yoro’s future looks very bright indeed, and a big move is unlikely to be very far away.

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The very first thing that stands out when watching Yoro is his size. He’s tall and lanky, with a touch of the Peter Crouch about him – although he’s a few inches shorter than the beanpole striker. Watching him play, however, it’s clear that aerial dominance isn’t his main attribute, although he is improving as he becomes stronger and better able to battle for the ball against shorter but stockier opponents.

In spite of his frame, he’s at his best when the ball is on the ground. An excellent technician, he’s a fine passer who can boast a 92% pass completion rate across his 25 professional starts so far, and he’s a good dribbler too, with surprisingly quick feet, a good burst of acceleration and a deft touch allowing him to manoeuvre the ball quickly out of defence. He’s every inch the modern, ball-playing centre-back that teams crave, and is comfortable advancing out of defence.

He’s also supremely confident and willing to take risks to maintain possession. He’s played himself into trouble on occasion as a result, but has the speed to get back and cover mistakes as well as the cool head required not to panic when under pressure. For teams who want to pass the ball out of defence and play around a high press, he’s exactly the kind of defender they’ll be looking for.

Further viewing also reveals outstanding judgement and the capacity to read opposing attacks – and he has a hugely impressive 1.72 interceptions per game as a result of that. He seems to know exactly when to step out of position to pick off a pass, and when to hold off and rely on his impressive tackling ability. Very little gets past him and he’s worth multiple turnovers per game for his side.

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All of which explains why he’s risen through the ranks so quickly, making his Lille debut at 16 and becoming the second-youngest player in their history in the process, edging out Hazard. He firmly entrenched himself in the first team towards the tail-end of last season, and is now a regular just over a month away from his 18th birthday. He’s also shown constant improvement throughout that period, becoming stronger and more assured in the air, making better decisions in defence and even adding some threat from set pieces, scoring twice already in his six games this season.

There is still work to be done, of course, but as he matures he will undoubtedly build his already excellent judgement further. He could also diversify his passing game, as while he’s accurate he has a marked tendency to shift the ball to his right and play passes in that direction, with a much lower number of pass attempts towards his left and lower accuracy in that direction – a naturally right-footed player, if he can strengthen his play on his left foot then he will avoid becoming predictable.

As for Chelsea’s interest – they’re far from alone. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool and Manchester United have all supposedly sent scouts to watch his progress, and he will have his pick of superclubs when the time comes for him to move. At his age, it would be a great shame if he moved only to spend time on the bench, so he seems like a prime candidate to be signed a loaned back to Lille or onto another club at a similar level, where he can get the gametime needed to round off his rougher edges, not that there seem to be too many of those.

Lille are currently working to extend Yoro’s contract, which runs until the end of 2025, and if he’s being well-advised then he may well sign a deal that keeps him in France for at least another year or two as he works on his game – but given that he’s already good enough to be a regular starter for a team that sit fourth in Ligue 1 and play in Europe, it’s fair to assume he’s a lot closer to the top level than most players in his age bracket. If he has the right mentality and the right luck with injuries, we’ll no doubt see him in the colours of one of the world’s biggest teams before too long.

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