"A godsend" – How good is Real Madrid and Man United target Leny Yoro?

Raphaël Varane comparisons 

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Few players will be as coveted by major clubs as Leny Yoro this summer. The 18-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best young defenders in the world and he appears destined to depart Lille during the transfer window. After playing less than 1,000 minutes during the 2022/23 campaign, Yoro cemented his reputation as a generational talent last season. 

The centre-back only missed two league games as Lille missed out on automatic qualification for the Champions League in agonising fashion after conceding a last-minute equaliser to Nice on the final day. Yoro looked devastated at full-time in, realistically, his final game for Lille and some of the biggest clubs in Europe are vying for his services this summer. 

Who wants to sign Leny Yoro? 

Several top clubs want to sign Yoro but Real Madrid are in the driving seat. It’s been widely reported that the Frenchman has informed the Spanish giants that he wants to join them and it’s now down to Lille and Madrid agreeing a fee. Yoro’s market value on Transfermarkt is €50m – he is the most valuable player in the world born in 2005 – and it’s understood Lille are looking for around €60m to sell their prized asset. Yoro, however, only has one year left on his contract and that leaves Lille in a vulnerable position. Manchester United and Liverpool have enquired about the centre-back, while PSG are known admirers, but Yoro’s determination to join Madrid means the Santiago Bernabeu is his expected destination. 

Despite Yoro’s contract situation, Ronan Caroff – French area manager at Transfermarkt – insists Lille will remain tough negotiators. “The high demand in Yoro not only stems from his high level performances, but also other qualities such as his incredible maturity and focus – which aren’t always common in young professional players. At an era where major clubs target young talents, Yoro seems to tick all the boxes – on and off the pitch – to be the ideal candidate for a transfer. But Lille are known as fierce negotiators – Victor Osimhen was sold for €75m and they’ve not sold Jonathan David despite interest – so Yoro being a huge topic this summer is no surprise.”

How good is Leny Yoro? 

Yoro is an incredible talent and he possesses all the characteristics required from a modern centre-back. He’s exceptionally quick and performs almost a sweeper role at Lille as he thwarts danger by covering his other defenders. Yoro’s understanding of the game defies his age and he’s extremely composed. As the graphic below illustrates, Yoro’s market value rose more than any other defender across the 2023/24 season, increasing by €40m. 

Former Lille manager Paulo Fonseca – who joined AC Milan this summer – spoke glowingly about Yoro in November, stating: “It’s not normal to have an 18-year-old like Leny, with the maturity and technical qualities he has. For me, he’ll be one of the best central defenders in France and probably in Europe. He’s very well-balanced, and there’s no doubt that he’s going to be a great player.” Thierry Henry has included Yoro in his France squad for the Olympics next month and the Arsenal Legend has praised the Lille starlet for his ability to ‘balance’ defences. 

Raphaël Varane comparisons 

During his fledgling career, Yoro has drawn comparisons to two iconic centre-backs, Raphaël Varane and Virgil van Dijk. Comparisons with Van Djik are influenced by his play style at Lille and his calmness but the similarities to Varane are more pronounced. “Their similar size aside, there is indeed a comparison to be made between Yoro and Varane,” Caroff added. “Especially how early both rose to the status of strong defensive prospect, targeted by the biggest clubs in Europe.”

Lille’s academy director also cited comparisons to Varane in an interview with Le Parisien, explaining: “It didn’t take Fonseca ten training sessions to see who Yoro was. When I saw him, I saw Raphaël Varane. The same attitude, the same dedication, the same maturity at the same age, the same morphotype, it’s a godsend.” Yoro’s career certainly appears to be following a similar trajectory to Varane by moving to Madrid from France. Whether he enjoys as successful a career as his countryman remains to be seen but Yoro is an outstanding prospect destined for the very, very top.

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