Forza Italian Football’s ‘Next Generation’ series takes an in-depth look at some of the most exciting players on the peninsula who are yet to make their breakthrough. To qualify, the youngsters must be under 21 and have made a maximum of five Serie A appearances.
There is a seemingly unstoppable urge in the world of football to compare emerging talents to stars of the past or present.
For Lucien Agoume, it has been no different.
“Ever since I started playing, they always told me I looked like Paul Pogba, because I’m physically similar to him,” said the Inter teenager.
“But if I’m honest, I don’t like the comparison. Not that I have anything against Pogba, he’s an example to follow, but I just want to be Lucien Agoume.”
As the 18-year-old admits, though, it’s not difficult to see where the comparisons have come from.
Agoume was born in Cameroon but is a France youth international, and possesses the same tall, rangy frame and blend of technique and physicality of his compatriot.
But if anything, Agoume has taken greater strides forward by the age of 18 than Pogba ever managed.
The midfielder was snapped up by the Sochaux youth academy at the age of 12 and didn’t need long to break into the first team.
By the age of just 16 he was making his senior debut, in a Ligue 2 match against Troyes in October 2018. The youngster displayed composure and strength beyond his years and soon cemented his place in the team, making 15 league appearances to help his side narrowly dodge relegation.
His breakthrough didn’t go unnoticed. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports from the time claim that 23 club delegates flooded to Sochaux to get a glimpse of the potential star.
The likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City were all hovering, but Inter came out on top in July 2019, sealing the signature of Agoume on a three-year deal for the sizeable sum of €4.5 million.
Agoume was impressing at international level too, earning a place in the Team of the Tournament at the Under-17 European Championship in May last year before captaining France to third place at the U-17 World Cup in November.
Excitement was palpable as Italian sports pages filled with the story of the ‘new Pogba’ Inter had got their hands on.
However, the 18-year-old is having to be patient at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. So far he has just six minutes of first-team football to his name, coming as a substitute against Fiorentina in December – minutes he might rather forget, as in that time Dusan Vlahovic scored a stunning stoppage-time equaliser.
Agoume trains with the first team and has often warmed the bench, while being given semi-regular outings for the Primavera side.
He has made nine appearances between the Primavera 1 and UEFA Youth League this season, scoring one goal and providing three assists.
Inter Primavera coach Armando Madonna admitted in an interview with Gazzetta that he has been impressed by Agoume’s ability to slot into the team almost effortlessly despite rarely training with his young teammates.
“He’s a very quick thinker and hardly loses the ball,” he said.
“He knows what to look for no matter how we play. He always plays with great tranquillity. He takes risks and knows how to get out of difficult situations when he is pressed by the opposition. He’s come from a less tactical league and is adapting.”
Hopes are high about Agoume’s future. Originally a trequartista, he was moved further back to play in front of the defence at Sochaux, as well as operating in a mezz’ala role.
He has been described as a complete midfielder, as he’s capable of performing in almost any role.
Agoume is a strong tackler with an eye for an interception, and is almost impossible to win the ball off when in possession, using his long limbs and towering 6ft 1in frame to keep would-be tacklers at bay.
But his technical ability is the attribute that has got people most excited. Agoume’s close control is superb and his passing range varied and accurate.
But his intelligence, and the “tranquillity” Madonna spoke of, are perhaps even more impressive for a player of his age – he possesses a rare and natural knack of knowing where the space is on a pitch and how to find it.
Agoume’s potential as a leader is clear, given his captaincy of France youth teams, but also by the example he sets on the pitch, demanding the ball from teammates and looking to move it quickly and accurately.
While he isn’t blessed with great pace, his quickness of thought can make up for it.
Rumours already abound that a loan move beckons for Agoume next season, with Antonio Conte yet to be convinced that he’s ready for the step up to becoming a Nerazzurri regular.
Not that it’s something that concerns the teenager. He’s in no hurry.
“I’m young,” he said on his arrival in Milan. “If I don’t play among the professionals this year it won’t be a problem, my moment will come.”
It’s hard to argue with that final thought.