Arrived in Lens in the summer of 2021, Kevin Danso quickly established himself as an evidence and a safe bet in Franck Haise’s system. This Thursday evening against the Blues, the Austrian has the opportunity to confirm his excellent start to the season. Trained as an attacker before gradually retreating on the pitch, the central defender has always been able to adapt quickly.

In recent years, David Alaba surely felt a bit alone in an Austrian defense not really known for its robustness. From now on, the Real Madrid star can count on one of the best defenders in Ligue 1: Kevin Danso. Le Lensois, who blew his 24e candle on Monday, is one of the main players in the excellent start to the Sang et Or season, along with Florian Sotoca and Brice Samba. Installed in the axis of Franck Haise’s three-man defense, the Austrian shines thanks to his physical qualities, but also his ability to revive. If we exclude the Parisians, he is the player in our league who has the highest rate of successful passes (93%), while he is one of those who have tried the most. After Facundo Medina, his teammate, and Arthur Theate of Rennes, he is also the one who has gained the most meters towards the opposing goal with the ball at his feet (1.6 km). Landed from Augsburg in the summer of 2021, Danso has perfectly integrated the precepts of Franck Haise. “These are principles that were not those he knew, he needed a period of adaptation. He keeps his qualities while assimilating these principles » explained the artesian coach last March.

Attacker, email and Reading

This ability to learn is one of the strengths of the native of Voitsberg in Austria. Truth be told, he’s only been playing in central defense for five years. “When he came to us, he was playing centre-forward. For Kevin, the position has never been a problem. He is the kind of player who plays where the coach puts him. He probably would have played in goal if it had helped the team.” attests Manfred Zsak, his coach from the U15s to the U19s. “We turned him into a midfielder because we thought he had the box to box profile. He started playing defender in his first season in U17, and he was very good! » , says Matthias Lust, his coach at the Augsburg U17s. With the young Austrians, it is only in Espoirs that he abandons the midfield to settle in hinge.

“His brother wrote an e-mail to the Austrian federation to draw our attention to Kevin. I then observed him and summoned him to the team. » Manfred Zsak

On the field, as in life, Danso has always had to adapt. He lived in Austria until he was six years old, then his parents decided to cross the Channel and go to Great Britain. New language, new culture. The teenager of Ghanaian origin first played in Reading before joining MK Dons. This is the time when Manfred Zsak made his acquaintance. Finally rather the time when Kevin’s brother allows Zsak to meet him. “His brother wrote an e-mail to the Austrian federation to draw our attention to Kevin. I then observed him and called him into the team. , remembers the coach. Problem: he may have grown up speaking the language of Lothar Matthäus, he quickly forgot it in favor of that of Wayne Rooney. “He understood German, but was not used to speaking it, because he had grown up in England” , explains Zsak. A slight concern as he flew to Germany and Augsburg in 2013. “I haven’t spoken a word of German for ten years, I’ve completely forgotten the language. First I had to relearn everything in Germany. But it’s slowly coming back! » he still mumbled in 2015 for the site Laola1.

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On a foxtrot…

Love at first sight in Bollaert

Despite this, his trainers at the time always saw in him the potential to become an excellent football player, regardless of the position, especially since he was extremely rigorous. “He always had the mentality to become a professional football player” , details Zsak. After learning his skills in Augsburg, he started with the first team at 18 against Leipzig. In 2019, he was finally loaned to Southampton, to evolve under the orders of his compatriot Ralph Hasenhüttl. But his return to England goes badly. He only plays six Premier League games and does not set foot on any pitch from January. “A psychologist helped me out of those difficult times in Southamptonhe confided to The Athletic in June. I am very critical of myself and I am, in large part, solely to blame for that. It was my first time in England for five years, I took the opportunity to spend a lot of time with my friends and certainly not enough to focus on football as I was able to do in Germany. »

After a much more convincing loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf, in the German second division, he landed at Bollaert, where love at first sight awaited him. “I saw an interview with Paul Pogba recently, and he said that when you find a club where the coach and the fans are behind you, that means you can play freely as a footballer. That’s what I found in Lens. From the moment they contacted me, I felt that. I wanted to prove to them that they had been right to believe in me. , he described. Since then, despite some difficulties seen last August, the Austrian has returned the love we have for him and has established himself as one of Franck Haise’s basic men. Back in selection last June after a little less than five years of absence, he could become the boss of the rearguard of the Rot-Weiss-Roten. And that will start by putting Kylian Mbappé in his pocket this Thursday evening at the Stade de France.

France-Austria: relaxation area

By Leo Peat
Comments by ML and MZ collected by LT.


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Peggy McColl

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