Pitchside

Monaco starlet Kurzawa sets sights on Manchester United

Pitchside

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There is a slightly cringe-worthy programme on French television in which a footballer is invited on as a guest and has to commentate over a goal he has scored or helped set up.

On Sunday, the victim was Layvin Kurzawa, the shy young Monaco full-back who is enjoying an outstanding breakthrough season.

For a brief moment, the 21-year-old managed to let his inhibitions go as he talked through the move that saw him set up Dimitar Berbatov's first Ligue 1 goal in Monaco's 2-1 win against Sochaux the previous day.

It remains to be seen if a career as a media pundit lies in store for Kurzawa at the end of his playing career, but it does appear that he is in line to become a big star on the field in the years to come.

Monaco have rarely been outstanding in 2014, but last week's 2-0 reverse at Saint-Etienne remains their only defeat in 12 games since the winter break and they are very much on course to finish second in their first season back in Ligue 1, while also being through to the quarter-finals of the French Cup.

And the frequently decisive contributions of Kurzawa have helped them get by in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao. He has scored five goals and set up three more this season, including the low ball across the six-yard box for Berbatov that followed a neat one-two with James Rodríguez in the sixth minute at the Stade Louis II.

Previously, he had netted an 87th-minute equaliser to earn a 2-2 draw at Lorient at the start of February and a 95th-minute strike to clinch a 3-2 win against Reims two weeks ago, when he found himself in the six-yard box to prod home the rebound after a James shot had come back off the post.

Without his goals, Monaco would be four points worse off and would have third-placed Lille breathing down their necks. But he has also been making his presence felt for his country, with his stoppage-time drive to the line and cutback creating the winning goal for Kurt Zouma in France under-21s' 1-0 European Championship qualifying victory over Belarus last midweek.

When Kurzawa arrived at the Monaco academy at the age of 15 he was an attacking midfielder, and he has retained a desire to get forward and make a difference since being converted into a full-back in the principality.

"Ever since he joined the academy, he has always liked to get forward," says Valère Germain, the striker who came through the ranks with Kurzawa. "He is good with his head and has a good shot. I think he will score plenty more goals for us."

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The diamond midfield formation that coach Claudio Ranieri now prefers means there is more emphasis on the full-backs - the equally attack-minded Brazilian Fabinho is the first-choice on the right - to get forward than there was at the beginning of the campaign, when the Italian employed two wingers in a 4-4-2.

It would be wrong to label Kurzawa a complete novice at the highest level. After all, he made his Ligue 1 debut in September 2010, shortly after his 18th birthday. But after being part of the Monaco team that won France's national Gambardella Youth Cup in 2011, he hardly featured during the club's two-season stint in Ligue 2. And yet this season only Ricardo Carvalho and goalkeeper Danijel Subašic have played more minutes than Kurzawa, who takes the surname of his Polish mother.

Now part of a national under-21 side captained by the Chelsea-bound centre-back Zouma and also containing the Monaco duo of Geoffrey Kondogbia and Anthony Martial, he is hopeful of eventually forcing his way into the full France set-up.

"I know what I want and what I expect from myself," he says. "It is something I'm thinking about, but it is not an obsession."

France coach Didier Deschamps ignored him in favour of Paris Saint-Germain's Lucas Digne for last week's friendly against the Netherlands, but more chances will surely come in the not too distant future, especially with the need to find a long-term replacement for Patrice Evra, the former Monaco man who will be 33 in May.

And could he even also go on to succeed Evra as the left-back at Old Trafford? Pulling on a Manchester United shirt is, Kurzawa admitted on Sunday, something he dreams of.

"Just seeing the team and the stadium makes me want to play there one day," he said.

By Andrew Scott - follow on Twitter @andpscott

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