Bacary Sagna has drawn the comparison of Kylian Mbappe to prove that William Saliba should will star for Arsenal. But the line of thinking is illogical. Here is why.
William Saliba will be a full-time Arsenal player next season. Signed at just 18 years of age in a £27 million, it was agreed that he would return to Saint-Etienne on a year-long loan as he continues his development as an assured starter in Ligue 1 — it was reported that Saliba himself was the driving force for the inclusion of this deal.
Given the outlay and his potential, there is an understated expectation that Saliba will immediately slot into the starting line-up when he arrives at the club next season. When fit, he has been a starter at St. Etienne, so he does have experience of being relied upon in such a role, but the Premier League is a major step up in competition.
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Nevertheless, plenty of onlookers are extremely excited about his talent and career trajectory, including teammate Mathieu Debuchy, who has experience of English football and playing at the Emirates.
The latest to provide their extremely positive opinion on Mbappe’s outlook is Bacary Sagna. Speaking to Goal, the former Arsenal right-back said:
“He has a lot of qualities and he will learn fast. Hopefully he will achieve good things and become one of the best centre-backs in the league. He is very confident in defending, he is not afraid to defend one against one and most of the time he wins the duels, which is the best quality as a defender. You need some security, you need some presence and he has that.”
And then he made a rather ambitious comparison when trying to argue that age does not matter regarding his ability to start:
“Someone who has always said don’t speak about my age is Kylian Mbappe. When he started saying this he was 19 and now he’s one of the best strikers in the world.”
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Now, his general point, that if you are good enough to start, you are old enough, is a smart one. Plenty of young players have proven that true throughout history, including in north London this season — Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli are old enough to start at 18, for instance. But using Mbappe — or almost any player in his position — as proof of that is illogical.
Mbappe is inherently an anomaly. As is Saka or Martinelli or Cesc Fabregas or Lionel Messi. Just because these players have proven they are capable of starting does not mean that Saliba will too. They are independent cases. Some teenagers are good enough to start for top-level teams throughout Europe. That doesn’t mean that others are.
Does this now mean that Saliba will not be a starter for Arsenal next season? No, of course not. He is very talented, is playing regularly in a top-five European league, and was bought with the intention of him becoming precisely that. But it does mean that relying on him to be that is risky, to say the least. There are no certainties in the development of young players.