Who is Cheick Doucoure? The £22m Crystal Palace man who ‘nobody can replace’

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Cheick Doucoure: The £22m Crystal Palace signing ‘nobody can replace’  (CPFC)
Cheick Doucoure: The £22m Crystal Palace signing ‘nobody can replace’ (CPFC)

On Monday, Crystal Palace completed their first major outfield signing of the summer as midfielder Cheick Doucoure arrived from French side Lens in a deal that could reach up to £22m.

Here’s all you need to know about the new signing…

Career so far

Doucoure’s career began at the JMG Academy Bamako in his native Mali before he signed with first division side AS Real Bamako in 2016 and then moved to France with Lens two years later

The midfielder made his first team debut during the 2018/19 Ligue 2 campaign and was then a key part of the side that won promotion back to Ligue 1 the following season.

Since their return to the top flight, Lens have impressed with back-to-back seventh-placed finishes, and Doucoure has been central to their success, gradually earning wider appreciation, though he has still often played in the shadow of midfield partner Seko Fofana, who paid tribute to his departing teammate over the weekend.

“We have to be honest, he is irreplaceable,” the Lens skipper told L’Equipe. “Nobody can replace him. But we will have to move on. A guy like him leaving, it feels a bit weird. It is a situation that we have to accept. I wish him nothing but the best. I believe he is one of the best players or the best player that I have ever played with.”

In France, there is already an expectation that should Doucoure replicate the same form at Selhurst Park, English football’s biggest clubs will be circling before long.

Playing style

Doucoure began his career as a holding midfield player, and while his defensive qualities are still his strongest, he has developed into a more rounded midfielder, capable of not only breaking up the play on the edge of his own penalty area but also counter-pressing in opposition territory and picking an incisive pass.

The 22-year-old is strong in transition and has been compared to N’Golo Kante for his ability to drive into space. Unsurprisingly, he is not yet on the Chelsea man’s level, but says he is desperate to develop under another French World Cup winner in Vieira.

“What I want him to [teach] me is what I’m missing in my game so far,” Doucoure said. “I want him to teach me a lot of things, to reach the highest level. He has been a really important factor in me signing for Palace.

Cheick Doucoure is eager to learn from Patrick Vieira (AFP via Getty Images)
Cheick Doucoure is eager to learn from Patrick Vieira (AFP via Getty Images)

”He told me ‘I’m going to make you better. I know your game, I’ve known it for a while, so I know what you need’. I think that with him I’m going to work well.”

Doucoure is known as a quiet, reserved character but is physically robust, having missed just four matches through injury since making his senior debut four years ago - though that is the same number as he was forced to miss through suspensions last season alone.

Where will he fit in at Crystal Palace?

Speaking at the club’s awards at the end of a terrific season last term, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish hinted at where he thought the Eagles might be able to upgrade this summer.

“We’ve got one or two ideas of where we think we can add and make a difference,” he said. “Give ourselves something different, get even better at keeping the ball and be a bit more damaging when we’ve got it.”

Without specifically mentioning a position, it was clear that Parish saw central midfield as an area for improvement, having invested heavily in defence and the forward line last summer.

Conor Gallagher’s return to Chelsea has left the Eagles weaker in the middle of the park than they were last term but Doucoure should not be seen as a direct replacement, given he naturally occupies a deeper role.

Doucoure is much more than just a replacement for last year’s star Conor Gallagher (Getty Images)
Doucoure is much more than just a replacement for last year’s star Conor Gallagher (Getty Images)

While Palace fans may still harbour some hope of seeing the two line-up together in Vieira’s 4-3-3 formation, Doucoure’s arrival could also give the Frenchman the option of a tactical tweak towards a 4-2-3-1, employing the Mali international as part of a double pivot and perhaps Eberechi Eze as a No10, as was experimented with at times last term.

In terms of his place in the club culture more broadly, it is not difficult to see Doucoure being quickly embraced at Selhurst Park, given he arrives with that song.

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