With the 2019/20 Bundesliga season finally at its end, teams around the league will look towards the transfer window to prepare for next season’s run in and the unending chase of silverware. In the case of Borussia Dortmund, the German giants have begun their transfer business early, as is their custom, with the recruitment of former Paris Saint-Germain defender and Belgium international Thomas Meunier. The 28-year-old penned a four-year deal with Die Schwarzgelbenthat will see him become a part of the team until the end of the 2023/2024 season.
While Dortmund fans have had a rather mixed reaction to his signing, it’s no question that the signing of an additional defender was of the utmost importance, especially considering Dortmund’s failure to tie Achraf Hakimi down to the Westfalenstadion permanently. The Moroccan international has signed with Italian side Inter Milan, with a transfer of €40 million being touted as an immense coup for the blue side of Milan. While it is unfortunate to see him go, Meunier, albeit a more defensive player, comes in as one of the new faces to help fill in on the right side of defense for Dortmund in his stead. In the light of Meunier’s signing, let’s get to know a bit more about the player, his history, and the skillset he brings to Dortmund for next season.
Early life and career
Thomas Meunier was born in Saint Ode, which is also where his footballing career would first take off. The player would jump from team to team in his youth, eventually ending up with Standard Liège which would prove to be one of the most defining moments in Meunier’s career. During his time with the Belgian outfit, he struggled with several injuries, and after two seasons, at the age of 15, Meunier was released by the club, and came very close to quitting football. Despite this bump in the road, Meunier pushed on, eventually signing for third tier Belgian side Virton. His stint in the third division would prove a renaissance period for Meunier, as his time there would make him one of the most sought after Belgian youth stars of the 2010/11 season. Through some impressive performances he finally earned a move to Belgian top flight side Club Brugge.
Club Brugge would prove the pedestal that would truly introduce Meunier to the footballing world. He won the Belgian cup in 2014/15 and the Belgian Pro league in 2015/2016, scoring 20 times and assisting a further 22 times for the club in 198 appearances. From Brugge, Meunier moved to PSG, where his experience has been a mixed bag. From the off, it was clear that the player was very conflicted about the amount of time he would have on the pitch, and this turned out to be a rather accurate reservation for Meunier to have. Throughout his time with PSG he struggled to make the right back position his own, be it due to injuries or competition for the role. Upon his initial arrival in 2016, PSG were trying to fit Serge Aurier into the position, and due to various complications on and off the pitch the player was eventually sold, which would make one think Meunier’s path to be PSG’s starting right back was open. The arrival of Dani Alves from Juventus stifled that once again, proving yet another stumbling block for the young Belgian.
Besides a lack of playing time, Meunier also had to deal with rebukes from the French capital club’s ultras after a controversy surrounding the player liking a photo of a Olympique Marseille TIFO on social media. This enraged a population of the ultras who felt that Meunier had disrespected their history by showing appreciation towards the club’s most hated rivals. It wasn’t a good look for the player in the opinion of the ultras, and they made sure he understood his mistake by booing him for a stretch of games following the incident.
Despite the initial struggles, Meunier did eventually get a firmer hold on the right back position following Dani Alves’ injury spell prior to the 2018 World cup, and into the next season. In total, Meunier has managed 13 goals and 21 assists in 128 appearances, keeping his numbers fairly consistent over the years. With PSG he won three league titles and numerous other trophies, which has certainly instilled a hunger and expectation of silverware in the player.
Despite being considered a rather more defensively conservative player than Dortmund’s former Moroccan star, Meunier has had an important impact offensively in both the PSG and Belgium setups. For Belgium in the 2018 World Cup for example, Meunier was often directly involved in many of the attacks that led to the impressive 16 goals that Belgium scored during their run in Russia, which saw them finish 3rd in the competition. During the competition he boasted some positive stats, including an 82% pass success percentage, 2 assists, 13 successful tackles and 5 interceptions, which showcased the undeniable influence Meunier had for his national side.
In terms of his performance for PSG, Meunier has often been lauded for his contribution in both halves of the pitch. He is described as an engine that propels attacking moves forward while also providing defensive stability for his side. He has often been a key man in Thomas Tuchel’s system in terms of supporting attacking players by providing an additional outlet for attack, much the same way Hakimi has done for Dortmund.
In comparison, the two players both have similar pass success percentages with Hakimi boasting an impressive 84.9% and Meunier possessing a similar 85.3%. What’s even more impressive about Hakimi’s stats is that he has also contributed with 5 goals and 10 assists. Meunier, for his part, only has two assists, but this comparison is also skewed by the fact that Meunier has only had 14 league appearances in comparison to Hakimi’s 29. While not exactly comparable to the numbers Hakimi has produced this season, in his previous seasons with PSG Meunier has had a direct hand in 5-7 goals a season, be it through assists or goals scored, for his side. These are still decent numbers for a player in a more defensive position.
On the defensive end of things, Meunier’s league statistics are also comparable to Hakimi’s, despite the Belgian’s numbers showcasing his more defensive inclination in some areas. In terms of the numbers, Meunier was responsible for 1.7 tackles in comparison to the Moroccan internationals 1.8. Meunier leads Hakimi in interceptions per game in the league, with 1.1 to Hakimi’s 0.9. The Belgian also seems to have a slightly rougher edge to his game in terms of fouls per game with a number of 1.3 to Hakimi’s 0.7.
Taking all of this into account, I think it’s important to note that Meunier’s signing can’t be seen as a like for like replacement for Hakimi. The skill and offensive output that Hakimi has showcased for Dortmund would be hard to replace for any team. The one thing that Meunier does bring is maturity and experience, something that at times, one could see lacking in Hakimi and his play. I also think that Dortmund have another young talent on the rise in Mateu Morey, who will be looking for more game time to develop next season. Meunier seems more like a supportive signing that can act as a stabiliser for the team until Morey is ready to make the position his own.
In short, the loss of Hakimi is a big one for Dortmund, despite his frustrating gameplay at times he was a brilliant and effective player in Favre’s system; one that provided moments of magic out of the blue. There were times however that his inexperience showed, and he would find himself in positions where he didn’t know what to do. He performed when the rest of the team performed, and sometimes disappeared when morale seemed low. Many will lament the fact that Dortmund did not snatch Hakimi for the €40m he is said to be going to Inter for, and I can certainly understand that.
For the time being, however, Dortmund seem to be looking to make much more financially conservative decisions than they have in the past couple transfer windows. It is unlikely that Dortmund will have another €100m+ spending spree, the likes of which we saw last year. Dortmund have to spend wisely this summer, as most teams will have to due to the losses suffered because of the Covid-19 pandemic, and perhaps the signing of Meunier was both economically and more tactically sound in their opinion. Whatever the case may be, the signing of Thomas Meunier is upon us and I for one wish him the best with the club, in the hopes that he can play an important role in helping the team mount a title challenge next fall.
By Brian Szlenk.