As Borussia Dortmund searched desperately for the away goal that would take their March last 16 Champions League tie at the Parc des Princes in to extra time, their old coach threw on a substitute, hoping to waste time and tighten up.
Thomas Tuchel decided against former Dortmund defender Abdou Diallo, Germany midfielder Julian Draxler or expensive signing Mauro Icardi and turned instead to a 17-year-old named Tanguy Nianzou Kouassi, as PSG saw out the 3-2 aggregate win behind closed doors.
The teenager was only on the pitch for a minute, but Tuchel had seen enough of Nianzou, as he prefers to be known, already to know that he had what it takes to make the grade. As a result, the German coach was not best pleased when he heard the defender, now 18, had signed with Bayern Munich, with the free transfer deal confirmed on Wednesday.
“I liked Tanguy. It is not a secret. Without a professional contract and at just 17-years-old he played the most important game of the season against Dortmund,” Tuchel said recently. “He had a great future in this club. He knows that the time to leave had not yet come. We put our trust in him, he was a key player. I can not understand it. It saddens me.”
Thomas Tuchel was disappointed to lose his young talent
‘One of the biggest talents in Europe’
The youngster, who has signed a four-year deal with the Bundesliga champions, played in a holding midfield role that evening, just as he had against Galatasary in PSG’s final group game.
He’d previously caught the eye of scouts around the world playing further back. RB Leipzig were strongly linked with a smart defender who looks comfortable on the ball and reportedly wanted him to join Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate in their French center backs club. But Bayern won the race.
“In our opinion, he’s one of the biggest talents in Europe,” said Hasan Salihamidzic, who has been elevated to Bayern boardroom but remains responsible for transfers, at Nianzou’s unveiling on Wednesday.
“His best position is central defender, but he can fill several positions. We’re sure he’ll have a great career in Munich and will strengthen our team.”
Speaking the lingo
There’s little doubt Hansi Flick, who gave many young talents like Alphonso Davies and Joshua Zirkzee a chance last season, will be keen to work with a talent who seems ready to learn on the job.
“I’ve decided [to move to] Bayern Munich because I want to progress and learn more,” Nianzou said on Wednesday. “Bayern was the right choice for that. A lot of young players played this year, that can be an example for me. I’ve seen a lot of games and hope to go that route too. Maybe even better.”
Though Bayern have a healthy collection of French speakers, including Benjamin Pavard, Lucas Hernandez, Mickael Cuisance, Corentin Tolisso and Kingsley Coman, Kouassi added that he already had plans to learn German and look for a new house.
With 12 youth caps for France and a Ligue 1 winners medal to his name, Nianzou looks to be a man in a hurry. That alone is not enough to break through at Bayern Munich, but Tuchel believes his former charge is “a top player with a lot of qualities and a big personality.”
Dortmund fans might not remember that cameo back in March, but it may not be long before they know the name: Tanguy Nianzou Kouassi.