By Camden Bauman
Something of a forgotten transfer by Aston Villa, Frederic Guilbert finally joined up with the Villa squad for pre-season. Having signed on for an undisclosed fee rumoured to be around £4.5m from Caen in January, he was immediately loaned back to help Caen in their relegation battle.
Although unsuccessful in surviving Ligue 1, Guilbert’s return to Caen for the second half of the season proved to be a wise one as, he was an integral part of their battle. Guilbert also may not have gotten nearly the amount of games for Villa, especially after keeping they kept the starting 11 pretty constant through the 10-game winning streak.
Even after signing for Aston Villa in January, many Villa fans are unaware of what the former French U-21 international can do.
Career Up to This Point
Guilbert came through the youth academy of Caen before moving on a free transfer to AS Cherbourg in the Championnat National 2, the fourth tier of French football, before the start of the 13/14 season. He would go on to make 28 appearances before moving to Bordeaux on a free transfer the following year.
During his first season at Bordeaux, he would spend most of his time playing for their reserves but did make three appearances in Ligue 1 at the age of 19. The 15/16 season would be Guilbert’s to shine, as he broke into the first team and made 30 appearances in Ligue 1.The end of the season saw Guilbert lined up on the opposite flank of Arsenal loanee Mathieu Debuchy for Bordeaux.
The following season would see Guilbert return to Caen on loan where he would go on to make 23 appearances . Caen turned the loan permanent at the end of the season for a fee of around £1m. Guilbert was an integral part of the Caen squad has he would make 70 appearances in the next two seasons as they battled relegation before being relegated at the end of the 18/19 season after finishing 19th.
Despite the being on the wrong side of the league table with Caen, Guilbert showed his ability to play as, according to WhoScored.com, he was Caen’s highest rated player for each of his three seasons.
Although SM Caen finished 19th this past season, he was still able to put up a rating of 6.97 in 34 appearances, which would have put him top five for Aston Villa for players who made more than 20 appearances. At the age of just 24, the French full back made 129 appearances in Ligue 1 in five seasons.
What Can He Do?
Take a quick glance on some of his highlights from YouTube and you will find a player that is not afraid to get stuck in with a tackle. Despite an affinity for a slide tackle, the Frenchman does not often get beat or make a bad decision on the tackle, as he only had nine yellows in the 34 games for Caen this past season, with two coming in one match.
This is an improvement as he picked up 12 yellows the previous season. In addition to the lowering number of bookings, the amount of times he gets beat per match dropped 20% (1.5 to 1.2) and blocks per match went up 50% (0.4 to 0.6). These numbers may seem insignificant, but they show Guilbert’s increasing ability to keep the attackers in front of him and away from the goal.
Like Matt Targett, Guilbert has started to evolve his game at full back to push further up the pitch. This can be seen in his increased key passes per match (0.4 to 0.7), dribbles per match (0.6 to 0.9), and passes per match (29.5 to 31.6) while lowering the amount of times he is dispossessed per match (1.1 to 0.7).
While maintaining a similar passing accuracy during these two seasons (74.9% and 74.2%), Guilbert shows he has improved his ability on the ball and confidence to carry it forward when he needs to.
Looking at his highlights, he enjoys pushing forward along the wings, something that is not mentioned too often about his play. He can push past a player if need be or play a long diagonal ball that Villa fans swooned over after seeing such balls from Tyrone Mings and Kortney Hause last season.
Guilbert can play along both wings as well as play centre-back in an emergency, playing six matches there with a rating at 7.31. According to WhoScored, Guilbert registered appearances across the back line, as well at right midfield and right-wing. Additionally, the Frenchman has no problem playing a ball with either feet, so if he would be needed on the left wing, it should not be an issue.
This versatility allows Villa to adapt as the Premier League goes on, especially as injuries will accumulate around the congested December fixtures. Also, this allows Guilbert to find time on the pitch if Elmohamady gets the nod at right-back at the start of the season, after impressing at the end of last season and performing well for Egypt in the African Cup of Nations.
Does He Fit?
Comparing Guilbert to Elmohamady, he will provide much needed defensive stability for the Premier League. Elmohamady has transformed from winger to right-back, with his play moving up the pitch better than at the back, although there is a tendency to be conservative once he approaches the opponents 18-yard box.
However, Guilbert may be the better option for the Premier League as his play at the back is better and he shows flashes of intent when he pushes forward in the final third to break the back line.
Dean Smith will no doubt being looking for his new full-backs to add an extra dimension to Villa’s possession-based game in the Premier League.
One of the first purchases for the new scouting staff at Aston Villa, Guilbert checks all the boxes for what Villa are looking for: young, hungry and should increase in value.
It cannot be understated that Guilbert does not lack experience playing at a high level, as mentioned before he made over 120 appearances in Ligue 1 and had spent most of it battling for survival from relegation.
At the age of 24, Guilbert still has room to grow and should continue to play at a high level for several years to come. With the fees that have been rolled out by Villa this summer, signing Guilbert for £4.5m could be one of the best value purchases for Aston Villa this year.
Follow Camden on Twitter here @CamdenBauman