Standing at 1.90m, 22-year-old central defender Axel Disasi has been an ever-present for Stade de Reims this season, a key player in Ligue 1’s best defence. With speed, strength in abundance and poise on the ball, Disasi has grown into one of France’s most complete young centre backs. After being scouted extensively by Arsenal and others this season, Disasi could soon be catapulted into the spotlight on a worldwide scale.
Born in Gonesse on the outskirts of Paris to parents of Congolese dissent, like many others, Disasi grew up playing football on the streets of the French capital, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. However, despite his sizeable presence and love for the sport from an early age, the young defender was never picked up by any major clubs and instead spent time in the youth set-up of USM Senlis before joining Paris FC in July 2014.
Unlike many others at his age, Disasi always prided himself on his studying first and foremost before getting carried away with a potential future in football: “When the training is over, I go to class. There, I do not take myself for someone else, I am Axel, a student, not a player of a Ligue 2 squad,” he stated before his professional debut with the Ligue 2 side.
His grounded nature had always led to big praise from those around him, both on and off the field. When Jean-Luc Vasseur took charge of Paris FC in late 2015, the former PSG youth coach promoted Disasi to the first-team squad after one day in training. During his first press conference in the job, Vasseur took the time to speak at length about Disasi: “I did not hesitate to put him in, Axel is the future of the club,” before going on to state, “he has great qualities so there is no reason it should go wrong.”
Despite this, when Vasseur left the club during the summer of 2016, Disasi was surprisingly released by Paris FC. Less than a month later, the young centre-back was picked up by David Guion and Stade de Reims and he soon became an integral member of the club’s Ligue 2 winning squad the following season. His domestic performances that season led to an international call-up from the Democratic Republic of Congo U20s, Axel once again highlighting his disciplined upbringing as a major contributor to the milestone: “I’ve been told to live by respecting several values including seriousness, studying, perseverance and honour.”
A few years later and part of Ligue 1’s current best defence at Reims, Disasi has come a long way under the tutelage of Guion at Stade Auguste-Delaune in recent times.
Over the last two seasons, Disasi has formed a formidable partnership with veteran Yunis Abdelhamid which saw Reims finish 8th last season and currently leaves them 5th in the current Ligue 1 standings. This season the talented centre-back has anchored a defence that has conceded just 21 times in 28 Ligue 1 matches to date, the second-best in Europe after La Liga powerhouse Real Madrid.
With Disasi in the starting eleven, the Champagne club have held onto 11 clean sheets, including one against PSG at Parc de Princes in September limiting Neymar and co. to their only game of the season without scoring across all competitions.
Disasi is the definition of a modern-day centre back, a complete all-rounder, something alluded to by Vasseur in his early playing years. After his first match with Paris FC, Disasi was lauded by his former coach:
“I realised quickly that he had great potential. I have rarely seen such serenity in such a young player. In addition to his athleticism, his great quality is his intelligence. He quickly understands.
These qualities have gradually strengthened over time and now Disasi has all the strengths needed to play at the highest level in football. The recent French under-20 international has the strength, speed and discipline to trouble any forward head-to-head when under pressure. His switch of international allegiance further testament to his growth over the past few years as a player.
Disasi has proven this season that he is a physical powerhouse at the back, his perfect blend of pace, power and strength underpinning his solid performances for Reims. The young defender has the ability to cover ground quickly and has the intelligence to move his massive frame in between the opposition and the ball when needed. He is far from the finished product still though. His decision-making at times can be erratic and lead him too far up field, squandering possession on occasion easily and ending up wildly out of position. This ordinarily leads to unnecessary fouls but with only 3 yellow cards across 27 appearances this season, his discipline in that area can still be considered stable.
Besides that, Disasi is an immense tackler, highly regarded as one of the best in Ligue 1. This is by far his best standalone skill and one that is sometimes lost among modern-day centre backs. He is not shy to aggressively slide into 50-50 challenges and boasts a 66% successful tackle completion rate, a far higher percentage than future Arsenal player William Saliba at 47% and French compatriot Dayot Upamecano at 60%. As well as his tackling, his all-round defensive intelligence allows him to decisively win the ball when loose, recovering possession 10 times per match on average.
Since the start of his career, Disasi has matured into a ball-playing centre-back who has a keen eye for the perfect forward pass, an extremely sought-after and important skill needed to play for the bigger clubs worldwide. Demonstrating a pass success percentage of 84.6% this term, Disasi holds his own against centre-backs of similar age and potential currently plying their trade in Ligue 1. He beats out Lille’s Gabriel, a transfer target for Everton, at 82.2% whilst Saliba comes in slightly higher at 88%.
Delving deeper into the statistics, Disasi’s contributions have been mammoth for Reims this season as Les Rouges et Blancs battle for European qualification. Playing 2430 minutes in the league this campaign, the youngster on average has made 3.6 clearances and 1 block per match due to his bulky frame and presence. His numbers here beating out fellow Arsenal target Upamecano who stands at 3.2 clearances and 0.7 in blocks. In the air Disasi has won 62% of his aerial duels this campaign further highlighting his dominant presence among the Reims backline. Overall, statistically the youngster has very strong defensive numbers for such a raw talent.
With only 31 senior appearances for Reims, Disasi is still far from the finished product which in the meantime could be of concern to possible suitors but If bought and nurtured properly, a domineering physical presence such as Disasi could truly refashion and reshape any top-flight backline. When you stack up all of his statistics this term, it’s clear to see why some of the biggest clubs across Europe, like Arsenal, have aggressively scouted the centre-back to date.
With his contract running to an end next season, it is now extremely likely that Axel Disasi will move on from Stade de Reims this summer. Heavily linked with clubs in England, France and Germany, Reims are asking for around £15m to let the French U-20 international leave Stade Auguste-Delaune during the next transfer window, a more than reasonable price for such a blossoming young talent.