With the World Cup just nine weeks away now, the announcement of Hansi Flick’s Germany squad for the upcoming Nations League fixtures was eagerly awaited as an indicator of his thoughts for the final Qatar selection. The one new name included was that of defender Armel Bella Kotchap- a player making a name for himself away from the Bundesliga.
The €10 million Southampton paid Bochum in the summer for the 6ft 3 inch 20-year-old defender is going to seem like the steal of the year come the end of the season as the youngster has settled into life in the Premier League with ease and acquired a growing list of admirers. There are even early comparisons to a former Saint of similar stature and talent, who has gone on to bigger things- a certain Virgil van Dijk!
Hansi Flick has certainly seen enough to call him up when many were pushing for the inclusion of Mats Hummels. So, what does Bella Kotchap bring to the table?
The centre back is not just tall he possesses incredible strength and speed in his muscular build and has impressive recovery pace and mobility over both short and long distances. He reads the game very well and is adept at putting out fires before they start to burn.
After Southampton beat Chelsea at St. Mary’s this season manager Ralph Hasenhüttl singled him out for particular praise. “It is maybe surprising but when you see the physical quality he has, it is perfect for the Premier League. This is what we hoped in the summer.
“I was more questioning if he has the right mind set but it seems the Premier League is so interesting and forcing that he is so focussed. This combination of self-confidence and going into such a league and showing this is a good combination. Then you need good performances immediately to get confidence and this is what he has done so far. He is very impressive to watch how he defends.
“The best thing today was when he was one against three and it was not a goal. This is very impressive.”
Bella Kotchap ranks third in the entire Premier League for interceptions (19), and seventh for clearances (43). In terms of aerial duals won he ranks ninth in the entire league with 24. He has formed an instant partnership with Mohammed Salisu at the heart of the Southampton defence and there are already rumours that some of the big fish in the Premier League are monitoring him very closely.
Since missing the opening weekend fixture for the Saints, Bella Kotchap has played every minute in the Premier League for Hasenhüttl. His call-up to the German international side however did come as a huge surprise with the player not at first believing the call from Hansi Flick was genuine.
Should he get some game time against either Hungary or England this week, he will have the opportunity to play himself into the final World Cup squad. There is often a player, who surprisingly makes it into the final squad as a wild card and that could well be the case for Bella Kotchap this year.