By David Horrocks, MSc Football Coaching & Analysis Programme Leader at Etihad Campus, Mike Phelan and UCFB Alumni James Radcliffe

David has recently submitted a PhD thesis on elite performance completed with players and staff from Manchester United Football Club. The thesis has two published papers to date: Manchester United and Serial Winning, and Gary Neville – A Case Study. David also has a first class degree in Sport Psychology from the University of Central Lancashire.

Each time the world cup comes around, new stars are born, the transfer market goes crazy and the world is an open mic stage to stardom for every footballer involved. Who will be this year’s previously unidentified flying object and earn a big money transfer to one of Europe’s football powerhouses just like Colombia’s James Rodriguez did in Brazil 2012.

The Sensible Soccer World Cup blog will bring scouting know how direct from the battlefield of English Premier League recruitment directors and chief scouts. The blog will be opening the lid on just who is being watched ahead of Russia’s six-week footballing bonanza.

Manuel Akanji
Part of the Basel side that qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League last season, Akanji’s performances in the group stage convinced Borussia Dortmund to shell out £19.35m for the 22-year-old in the recent January transfer window. Capable of playing as a centre-back or full-back, Akanji has already made over 100 appearances in senior football. During his time with Basel he also proved to carry a goal threat, scoring 7 times and providing 2 assists across 58 appearances for the Swiss giants.

In the Champions League, Akanji averaged 2.2 interceptions, 1.3 tackles, 5.2 clearances and 0.8 blocks per game in the group stage. However, Akanji’s main quality is his ability to carry the ball out of defence and initiate attacking phases of play as shown by his 0.2 key passes and 0.2 dribbles per game, with a pass success rate of 81.1%.

Prior to the World Cup, Switzerland had not conceded a goal in any of Akanji’s 7 appearances for the national team. After the Swiss held out for a draw against Brazil and defeated Serbia, they are almost certain to progress to the knockout stages of the World Cup. Whilst Akanji has only recently joined Borussia Dortmund, they have a history of selling their best players to Europe’s biggest clubs such as Ousmane Dembele to Barcelona, Aubameyang to Arsenal and Mkhitaryan to Manchester United.

A deep run into the World Cup for the Swiss would attract significant interest in much of the squad, however, should Akanji continue to perform in next seasons Champions League then a move to Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich may follow shortly. This World Cup may be just the beginning for one of the most promising young centre-backs in the European game.