Words by Salim Masoud Said
Undisputedly Africa’s premier defender. In lists such as this, the attackers tend to outweigh the defenders. And, as much as the SFG panel tried their best to balance the list with those that primarily defend, those that primarily attack and those that do a bit of both, far more pure attacking players appear on the list than pure defenders, particularly in the top 20. There is no solitary explanation for the disequilibrium, others may argue there is a dearth of good African defenders or that for a defender to genuinely rank high he needs to display a skill-set to challenge the attackers.
In the case of Aurier there is a feeling that he aligns with the latter; there is an appreciation that his game goes beyond the art of defending which, not to mention the hard currency of form and honours, partly sees him ranked so high. His trademark raids and regular assists from the right wing make it easy to visualise him as a right winger in his own right as well as several other positions on the pitch. At centre back, where he has had stints at, his attacking instincts are wasted while if you deploy him on the right wing you lose the pace and relishing of one-on-one duels which makes him able to come on top against the majority of attackers he battles against.
Perhaps the ideal deployment of him is in the to-and-fro position of wing back, as he was in Ivory Coast’s 3-5-2 system at AFCON. There was an inquest into his defensive discipline after the opening two games, with Guinea’s and Mali’s solitary goals stemming from his individual errors, but, after being cautioned by coach Herve Renard to respect the defensive side to his game, he answered his critics with typical brio by stifling Henri Bedimo and Riyad Mahrez in successive games against Cameroon and Algeria.
His work did not end there. It is his attacking play which caught the eye, but an understated part of his attacking game was the goal threat he caused at set pieces throughout the tournament. He was at his excellent attacking best in the semi-final against DR Congo, with his performance sealed by his retrieval of the ball to kick-start the passage to Gervinho’s goal and his second-half header from a corner was saved onto the path of Wilfried Kanon to thigh it onto the roof of the net.
Highlight of the Year: Winning AFCON 2015
What was particularly impressive was Aurier’s fightback after doubts about his defensive discipline in the opening games. His consistency, big-game performances, defensive ability and crucial contributions in the final third have now made him one of Ivory Coast’s key players in both ends of the pitch. With the imposing personalities of ivory Coast’s golden generation mostly retired or drifting down from their peak, it is easy to envisage him becoming the future captain in the coming years.