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Barcelona target Djene Dakonam carrying Getafe to dizzying heights

15:09 EAT 06/03/2019
Djene Dakonam of Getafe, and Barcelona's Lionel Messi
The Togo defender has been a rock at the back for El Geta, anchoring an unlikely Champions League push

Perched in fourth spot after 25 games, Getafe are very much in uncharted territory this season in La Liga.

Under manager Jose Bordalas, the modest Madrid club – they have one of the lowest attendance figures in Spain’s top flight – have weaponized a militant style of play centred on defensive solidity and efficiency in attack.

The numbers bear this out: Getafe have the third-best defence in the division, and have allowed the third lowest xG against. It is no fluke. And at the heart of it is Togo international Djene Dakonam.

Born in Northern Togo, Djene first began to catch the eye in Beninois football, moving there aged 19.

So highly rated were his performances with Tonnerre d’Abomey that he was approached to play internationally for the Benin Republic. Already a Togolese youth international, he demurred, and after moving to Cameroonian powerhouse Coton Sport, represented the Hawks at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

A successful trial in 2014 then saw him wind up in the Spanish second division with Alcorcon, and it is from there that his career truly took off.

Aged 27, the defender is only now starting to garner the recognition that his level of ability deserves. Strong in the tackle and impressive in his reading of the game, his partnership with Leandro Cabrera is powering Getafe to an unlikely Champions League place.

Playing in a flat 4-4-2, the focus of the side is in remaining solid and compact without the ball, stifling the opposition with discipline and physicality. Inevitably, there have been allegations of anti-football levelled at them, and while there is a healthy dose of cynicism, there is also more nuance than most care to admit.

It is not a coincidence that Djene is now attracting interest from Barcelona: his passing ability is highly developed, having spent time earlier in his career playing in defensive midfield and at full-back. He is also, at just under 6 foot, smaller than might be expected for a team that looks to play reactively...and yet, there is a method to this.

Getafe’s attacking consists of almost entirely bypassing the midfield once the ball is won, progressing the ball either through the flanks or by way of long passes into the forwards.

Djene’s experience as a full-back comes to the fore here, as he displays the composure on the ball required to evade pressure, before playing forward.

This keeps Getafe from needing to face endless waves of attack. Centre-back partner Cabrera, incidentally, has also spent time in his career at full-back.

It is in these subtle details that Bordalas’ conception of football comes to life, one with which Djene is very familiar – they spent a season together at Alcorcon in 2014, and evidently developed a special bond. When the Togo defender moved to Belgium to join Sint-Truidense, he and his former coach kept in touch.

“Whenever we talked, I always promised him I would return,” Djene told La Liga TV in 2017. “He’s like a father to me.”

He did return. Bordalas took the Getafe job in 2016, and a year later, he signed his protégé.

Their collaboration has proved an inspired one, and his leadership qualities have begun to blossom this term.

He has captained Los Azulones twice, in matches against Barcelona and Eibar, and while he can run afoul of the law on occasion – he has been sent off twice in all competitions this season, and has missed two league matches through suspension – his impact cannot be underestimated.

Getafe have not won a league match in which he has not started this season.

So, just how far can Getafe go?

As Djene himself admits, they are not one of La Liga’s big sides. Their ambition is running purely on desire.

“We are strong as a group," the stopper added. "We are like a family. That’s our strength.”

However, were they to pull off Champions League qualification, this team of grit and not much else, it would be a proper modern-day miracle.