Likened to Yaya Touré and Patrick Vieira, 18-year-old Assane Gnoukouri looks to be part of Roberto Mancini's plans this season after breaking into the Inter side in April.
Article top media content
Assane Gnoukouri has come a long way since being spotted allegedly playing on a pitch with a tree in the middle in his native Ivory Coast. The midfielder could be poised for a breakthrough campaign after making a handful of appearances for Internazionale Milano late last season. Let us introduce you to UEFA.com's latest weekly wonderkid ...
Name: Assane Gnoukouri
Club: Internazionale Milano
Debut: 11 April 2015 for Inter v Hellas Verona
Date of birth: 28/09/1996
Preferred foot: either
They say …
"He has the potential to become a great player. Despite his age, he has qualities that not many players have, he never gets anxious and rarely loses the ball."
Roberto Mancini, Inter coach
"His qualities are very easy to spot, but he has worked [hard] and is continuing to do so. What impresses me is that nothing seems to worry him, he is always extremely calm on the pitch. He just needs to develop a bit more physically."
Stefano Vecchi, Inter youth coach
Born in Divo, Ivory Coast, Gnoukouri was discovered during a kickaround with a group of kids – supposedly on a pitch with a tree in the middle. He joined Inter in summer 2014 from Italian fourth-tier outfit Marano and was part of the Nerazzurri's Primavera side until Roberto Mancini gave him his senior debut. "I did not like him when I first saw him in November," Mancini said. "Then I watched him playing a perfect game in Viareggio [the prestigious youth tournament Inter won] and decided to call him into the first team. He never looked back." His younger brother, 15-year-old Zate Wilfried, is also on the club's books as a forward.
Playing style …
He began as a box-to-box midfielder yet has mostly been used as a 'regista' in front of the defence – like Pirlo. He always tries to offer an option to a team-mate in possession, has good vision and boasts an impressive range of passing.
Shades of …
If comparisons to Gnoukouri's compatriot Yaya Touré were inevitable, it is a former Inter midfielder to whom the teenager has been most frequently likened. His passing accuracy, strength and composure evoke Patrick Vieira, who served Inter from 2006–10.
Eureka moment ...
After debuting as a substitute against Verona, Gnoukouri surprisingly started the Derby della Madonnina eight days later. "Mancini asked me if I was scared; I replied that I wasn't," he said. "He told me to keep it simple with one or two touches. I immediately called my mother and asked her to pray for me." Gazzetta dello Sport rated him as one of the best performers in the goalless draw.
Best-case scenario …
Competition for places in the Inter midfield intensified with the summer arrival of Geoffrey Kondogbia. However Gnoukouri, who recently extended his contract until 2020, is clearly in Mancini's plans given the coach has refused loan offers for the 18-year-old.
He says …
"I need to start shooting from distance more to improve my game and I want to train as hard as possible on this. I hope to score soon and I have something in mind for celebrating my first goal."