When Manchester City finally secured the services of Eliaquim Mangala for the sum of £32m this summer, I resisted the temptation to exaggerate my knowledge of the player. This was despite seeing evidence of similar occurring all around me. You know, when someone claims to be an expert in Portuguese football due to once playing as Benfica on FIFA and seeing ten minutes of Porto on a Champion’s League highlights package.
It is very easy to falsely elaborate a player’s virtues and flaws – and we see it all too often on blogs and Twitter – but I’m happy to admit that my insight into the player was limited, consisting of a handful of games where I was concentrating on the game not the individual.
From these, my take on Mangala was that he was powerful, quick, and wasn’t backward in coming forward when dispossessing an opponent. All positive attributes, granted, but certainly not enough to hang an opinion on.
Lingering doubts crept in during the World Cup when the 23-year-old made the French squad but was overlooked in every game in favour of Liverpool’s Mamadou Sakho.
Perhaps Mangala wasn’t yet the finished article? Were there failings in his game the internet scouts had not detected?
When City finally got their man the celebratory tone amongst Blues was a touch unsettling. According to the popular perception, we now had an awesome centre-back pairing for the next five years. After several seasons of Lescott, Demichelis, Nastasic and Garcia providing able assistance for Kompany, but always with the potential for mishap, it appeared we now had our defence securely locked down.
I remained circumspect, preferring to hold fire on any grandiose claims until I’d seen how Mangala adapted to the English game, settled in alongside Kompany.
So why is it that I’m now discarding my caution based on just ninety minutes? Why is it that I’m not only gladly joining the rank and file premature optimists but am front and centre, thumping my tub and declaring Eliaquim Mangala to be a sensational signing who will be a formidable bolted door to shut out the best and the rest for seasons to come?
It’s simple; I cannot recall being so excited by a debut performance as Mangala’s against Chelsea. It wasn’t just exceptional, it was flawless.
I knew he was fast but hadn’t realised his pace was blistering. Better yet it was accompanied by lightning speed of thought, a priceless commodity in front-foot defending.
It is this area that most excites me about Mangala. Throughout the game he knew when to commit and intercept, when to harry and bully, and when to step out and distribute. And all executed with an imposing air of calmness.
There were no nerves and the Frenchman’s decision-making was so switched-on it looked to all the world like he’d been playing alongside Kompany since time immemorial.
The lad oozed class and he’s presumably still trying to get slicks of Diego Costa’s hairgel out of his back pocket three days later.
I was previously aware that he took no prisoners but the manner in which he dispossessed the opposition brought cheers to my throat. While some defenders are pickpockets and others flat-track bullies Mangala simply took the ball as if it was rightfully his.
Time and again against Chelsea I saw that same hapless expression crease across Costa and Hazard’s faces.
Depending on who you believe, Manchester United did a rigorous scouting check on Mangala but ultimately backed out, nicknaming him ‘bomb scare’ for a supposed habit of panicking on the ball.
Based on just one performance it’s fair to say that summation has exploded in their face.
They went for Roja, a fine defender but one forged from a reactive, traditional mould. We, it appears, have a Kompany MkII, a stylish yet no-nonsense colossus with the guile to sniff out danger and act upon it early.
I’ve watched the commanding displays of our Belgian leader with a mixture of immense pride and gratitude down the seasons. It may be too early for certainties but we may well be doing likewise with Eliaquim Mangala.
Written by Stephen Tudor who you can follow on Twitter