Timothee Pembele: PSG wonderkid leading a new generation of homegrown stars

Timothee Pembele NxGn
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The 18-year-old defender has already played and scored for the first-team as the Ligue 1 champions look to embrace their up-and-coming academy gems

Given their lavish spending over recent years, it is easy to forget that Paris Saint-Germain are also able to boast one of Europe's finest academies.

From looking at their first-team squad, though, it is clear that there is a problem when it comes to integrating their talented youngsters into the senior ranks.

Former academy prospects Kingsley Coman, Moussa Dembele and Christopher Nkunku all played in the Champions League semi-finals for teams other than PSG last season, with Coman going onto score the winner for Bayern Munich against them in the final in Lisbon.

That goal brought into sharper focus a problem that was already making headlines over the summer in Paris, as highly-rated teenage duo Tanguy Nianzou and Adil Aouchiche rejected offers of new contracts and instead left for Bayern Munich and Saint-Etienne, respectively, on free transfers.

PSG's next wave of young stars would have been forgiven for believing that their best chances of first-team minutes would also be elsewhere, but things might be about to change at Parc des Princes.

Amid a mounting injury crisis, both Thomas Tuchel and now Mauricio Pochettino have been forced to turn to youth over the course of the campaign.

Midfielders Kays Ruiz-Atil, 18, and Bandiougou Fadiga, 19, are now regulars in the Parisians' matchday squad while 18-year-old striker Arnaud Kalimuendo is thriving out on loan at Lens having previously made his first-team bow for the defending Ligue 1 champions.

Former Barcelona wonderkid Xavi Simons, 17, has also spent time around the first-team, and he was joined in training during Pochettino's first week in charge by fellow 17-year-old Edouard Michut and 15-year-old defender El Chadaille Bitshiabu.

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Perhaps the leading light among the current crop of PSG academy graduates, though, is 18-year-old defender Timothee Pembele.

Though others stepped up to make their debuts before him during the final months of Tuchel's reign, Pembele has wasted little time in establishing himself as a viable option to play in various positions across the club's backline despite what almost proved to be a nightmare debut.

Just 10 minutes into his maiden first-team appearance against Bordeaux in November, the teenager diverted a corner from the visitors past his own goalkeeper and into the net as he looked to win a header at the near post.

Players with lesser character would have gone into their shells, but Pembele was able to dust himself down and put in an eye-catching display that has led to him earning five more first-team appearances either side of the new year.

He was no doubt helped by the presence of Presnel Kimpembe alongside him at the heart of the PSG defence, with the France international one of the few players in the current PSG squad that current academy stars can look up to as an example of how to make the leap from the youth team to the senior fold.

Kimpembe's influence is particularly strong for Pembele, with the pair having both grown up in the same northern village of Beaumont-sur-Oise.

"I like Kimpembe because we come from the same environment," Pembele said of the World Cup-winning defender. "We were born in the same hospital and we grew up in more or less the same social environments.

"He is a really very nice person. He welcomes young players who join the first-team as if we are little brothers."

Having begun his footballing education with local club US Persan 03, Pembele was inducted into the PSG academy at the age of 13, where he would soon be playing alongside the likes of Nianzou, Aouchiche and Kalimuendo.

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"He was a boy who immediately knew how to have the right attitude, who stood out through his work, his listening skills and his willingness to serve the collective," Pembele's Under-15s coach, Said Aigoun, recalls to Goal of his time working with a player he dubs a "silent leader".

"We had profiled him as having the potential to become a central defender," he adds. "It is in this position that I made him play, to the right or to the left.

"But we were aware that he also had great potential for the right-back position at the top level. We wanted to anticipate all of that."

It is at right-back that Pembele has played a lot of his U19s football over the past two seasons, and Tuchel did deploy him out wide as well as the heart of his defence before he was relieved of his duties on Christmas Eve.

The German coach's final game in charge corresponded with Pembele's first senior goal, as the teenager reacted quickest at the back post to jab home a finish after Angel Di Maria's shot was saved - a moment which he later described to PSG TV as a "beautiful Christmas gift for my parents".

He again found himself at right-back when introduced off the bench by Pochettino during the Argentine's first game at helm against Saint-Etienne, but it remains to be seen which role he eventually settles into after signing a new contract in December that will keep him with the club until 2024.

"He is one of the best of his generation," Aigoun insists. "But when a youngster goes up to the pros, especially at PSG, it's a giant leap.

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"Tim will have to continue his efforts, stay as he is, and continue to do what he does well in matches and in training. He may have to develop his defensive qualities, in aerial duels in particular, but he is on the right track and it is a pride to see a player like him make his dream come true."

Over the past decade, only Kimpembe and Adrien Rabiot have truly been able to make the leap and establish themselves in the PSG first-team having graduated from their academy system.

But in the shape of Pembele and others, there is a hope that a team known for plugging its gaps with outside hires might be about to look internally for its next set of superstars.

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