A statement by Thierry Henry regarding the kind of player Jeremy Doku is: ‘There’s only one thing you can do when you’re in front of him (one-on-one) – pray.’
Manchester City will be most pleased with Claude Reulence’s testimonial about Doku, his fellow Belgian, stating, ‘With speed, power, and skill, he appears tailor-made for the Premier League.’ Fans will adore him due to his exceptional playing abilities. Whenever he has the ball at his feet, something noteworthy is likely to occur.
The player who received such praise, Jeremy Doku, has now joined the English Premier League. Manchester City concluded the process of acquiring him on a five-year contract at the Etihad yesterday, transferring him from the French club Rennes. City spent £54.5 million (about ৳7.657 billion in Bangladeshi currency) to secure the services of this 21-year-old Belgian winger. Doku will fill the spot left by Riyad Mahrez in the English club.
Mahrez departed Manchester City and joined Al Ahly in Saudi Arabia last July. City manager Pep Guardiola has brought Doku into the team as his third signing of the season, beating out competition from West Ham, Tottenham, and Chelsea to address that gap. Previously, City had acquired Mateo Kovacic from Chelsea and Yosko Guardiol from Leipzig.
Doku, who grew up in the youth ranks of Belgian club Anderlecht, was purchased by the French club Rennes in 2020 for £22.3 million. Doku scored 10 goals in 75 matches in the A League over three seasons with the club, but it would be inaccurate to judge him solely by this statistic. It’s his remarkable talent that has propelled Doku to such heights, which is why many affectionately refer to him as ‘The Belgian Flash’. In Bengali, the term translates to ‘flash of Belgian light’. This praise isn’t entirely unfounded.
Even though he primarily plays as a right winger, Doku is versatile and can be utilized in various positions. Given Jack Grealish’s firm position on the left wing at City and Phil Foden’s midfield role in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne, Doku is more likely to take up the left-wing position left vacant by Mahrez. Due to injuries, Doku played fewer matches than these star players in the previous season.
He secured a place in the starting lineup for 13 league matches and came off the bench in 16 matches. In addition to scoring 6 goals, he also contributed to 2 more goals. And his talent?
According to the BBC, Doku has the highest number of successful dribbles per 90 minutes in Europe’s top five leagues since the start of the previous season. This calculation is based on players who have played a minimum of 900 minutes. For example, recall Belgium’s 2-1 loss to Italy in the quarter-finals of the last European Championship. In addition to winning penalties, Doku completed 8 successful dribbles in that match, setting a record for the most dribbles by a teenage player in a single match in Euro history.
Doku’s talent is further confirmed when compared to City’s four wingers (with Foden now playing in midfield). Doku (6.7 times) outperformed Foden (2.1 times), Grealish (2.1 times), Mahrez (1.3 times), and David Silva (1.1 times) by a significant margin in terms of successful dribbles per 90 minutes in the previous league season. Only Foden (2.3 times) surpassed him (1.8 times) in terms of shot frequency on target. In terms of goals and assists, only Foden (0.78 times) outperformed Doku (0.56 times).
"Doku is essentially a ‘textbook’ winger who excels at dribbling, so even though he falls behind Mahrez (42) in passing accuracy (29.9 times), Guardiola is on the right track. As for Claudio Reulens, Doku appears tailor-made for the Premier League, and it’s worth noting that Guardiola rarely makes errors in identifying exceptional talent."
Explaining the distinction between Mahrez and Doku on BBC Radio Five, former Tottenham defender Ledley King stated, “Mahrez is slightly slower, more imaginative, and holds the ball.” On the other hand, Doku is an extremely dynamic player who enjoys attacking from wide areas. Ledley King elaborated further, noting that City’s style of play, which led them to win the treble in the previous season, is widely known. They favor a passing game until the ball finds the back of the opponent’s net. Ledley King suggested, ‘I believe Guardiola aims to elevate City’s performance from last season’s approach. This time, the game might exhibit some differences. Undoubtedly, Doku, a highly skilled player, will pose numerous challenges for opponents.’
Doku joined Anderlecht at the age of 10 and was promoted to the senior team after six years. Prior to joining Anderlecht’s senior squad, he had the opportunity to sign with Liverpool at the age of 15. Although City, Chelsea, and Arsenal showed interest, Liverpool took the lead in the race to sign him by offering £500,000. During that period, Doku visited the Merseyside club and had conversations with Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp, youth coach Steven Gerrard, and star player Sadio Mane.
Considering his age, he said, ‘Treat your mother well. Being young provides ample time.’ Doku understood what he needed to do on that day. In a 2021 interview, he mentioned, ‘I knew what it took to stay at Anderlecht. If someone like Liverpool appreciates me at 15, they’ll still appreciate me later on.’
Doku joined Rennes after spending less than two years under City legend Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht. Doku played 1,285 minutes in the league last season, equivalent to 14 matches. He completed 96 dribbles. In Europe’s top five leagues, only Lionel Messi and Vinicius Jr. have completed more dribbles than him.
Journalist Claudio Reulens is confident that the finest talent from Belgium has moved to City, stating, “In my opinion, Doku is the most promising talent in Belgium.” It was unfortunate that he encountered injuries during his progress. Nevertheless, he has shown substantial improvement in the last six months.”
Doku’s natural speed is attributed to his father’s background as an athlete. His top career speed is 19.57 mph, not far from the legendary sprinter Usain Bolt (27.33 mph). Doku is often referred to as the ‘Belgian Flash,’ akin to the DC Comics superhero character ‘Flash,’ renowned for his high-speed running abilities.
Two years ago, Kylian Mbappé commented on Doku in an interview, saying, ‘I saw a player from the stands (who wasn’t playing that day) and was discussing him with my father. It was due to his speed—Jeremy Doku, who sprints back. In my five years of professional football, I’ve never seen someone start running so vigorously.’
Running, dribbling, and strength—these are the defining features of Doku’s talent, which have earned him a place at Manchester City. The extent to which Doku can elevate his game from here remains.