Eliaquim Mangala has been a revelation this season, with his solid performances earning him much deserved praise from football fans around the world.
Mangala started his career at Standard Liege where he put in some wonderful performances while playing in the left-back position. He was promoted to the first-team when he was aged 19, and was shifted to centre-back.
He did not look out of place and fit in perfectly, and Portugese giants Porto signed him for €6.5 million in 2011.
Mangala arrived at FC Porto in the summer of 2011 as a raw, reckless, over-physical defender. Some talent was discernible, but the main question was whether he posed a bigger threat to opposing players’ physical integrity or to his own team’s chances of success as a red card waiting to happen.
After a first year spent mostly on the substitutes’ bench, the 2012/13 season saw a remarkable transformation. While retaining an aggressive streak that makes him such a formidable adversary, he toned down his impetuous nature, learning when to slide (or thunder) into the tackle and when to hold back. This was aided by improved positioning.
By the end of the season, at just 22 years of age, Mangala had made himself the lynchpin of a Porto defence that conceded just 14 goals in 30 Primeira Liga games.
He also used his extraordinary athleticism to good effect in the opposing penalty box, scoring seven goals throughout the campaign, almost all of which were headers, including a crucial strike in the 2-2 draw at Benfica.
Several analysts selected Mangala as the Portuguese champions’ player of the season. He is, in modern-day football fan parlance, "a monster".
Top clubs looking for a power-house defender will leave no stone unturned to lure him away from Porto. Barcelona are known to be in the hunt for a centre-back, and Mangala will be a huge boost to the Blaugrana's line up.
He is a talent to look out for, and if his potential is utilized efficiently he can grow into one of the best central defenders in the world.
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