Leny Yoro – Lille’s Future Diamond in Defence by Josh Raven
Name: Leny Yoro
DOB: 13/11/2005 (17)
Height: 1.9m (6’2)
Position: Central Defender
Value (Transfermarkt): €10M
Leny Yoro is the latest in a long line of young French Central Defenders that make you wonder – Where on earth are the French getting all this talent?
At 17 years of age, he’s still a ways away from competing for senior national team minutes with the likes of Dayot Upamecano, Ibrahima Konate, William Saliba, Jules Kounde, Benjamin Pavard…(you get my point).
But national contention is not an entirely distant dream for Leny Yoro, who is already on the cusp of becoming a first team regular for Lille in Ligue 1 – and who has already attracted attention from the “Wonderkid Buyers Club”, most notably from PSG, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munchen.
Yoro, however, remains at Lille for at least one more transfer window, where he’ll be hoping to cement his status as a first-team regular. Despite featuring 13 times in the 22/23 season, he starts the 23/24 campaign from the bench. Behind Bafodé Diakité and Alexsandro.
There is still an abundance of time for the youngster, who only debuted last year, in May 2022. An appearance that cemented his place in Lille history, becoming the second youngest player to ever feature for the senior side.
In the meantime, Yoro continues to make headway in the France youth squads, and with increased senior minutes this season, it’s hard to imagine that a call for France U21 is not around the corner.
The first thing you notice when watching Leny Yoro is not aerial prowess – which you might expect from the long-limbed, somewhat spindly, young centre-half. Nor is it his recovery pace or slide tackling – again, something you might anticipate from a defender with legs longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747.
No. The first thing you notice about Lille’s Leny Yoro is the composure and calmness that exudes through the entire backline whenever he receives the ball.
Yoro demonstrates exceptional technical ability in receiving passes from all directions. His first touch almost always ensures that his time on the ball begins in a favourable position. Away from danger, and with options ahead of him.
Very much a modern centre-half in possession, Yoro knows when to draw the opposition press forward by holding the ball, but doesn’t dwell on it for longer than he needs to. He understands when it’s time to retain the ball, when it’s time to drive forward, and when to attempt a longer pass into the forward line.
Capable enough with both feet, Yoro displays understanding and comfort in forming simple passing triangles with his defensive partner and deepest midfielder. The opposition press rarely affected his judgment or technique – Giving his team plenty of opportunities to beat the press and build from the back.
Yoro receives a misdirected pass from his under-pressure fullback, requiring a quick adjustment to prevent an opposition chance.
After just beating the opposition forward to the ball, Yoro drags the ball away from the attacker with his first touch. Looking to spread the play to his fullback on the opposite side, he instead eventually wins a free-kick as the opposition forward drags him back.
In the moments where short options are covered, Yoro is more than capable of delivering lofted balls over the midfield. Though these attempts can occasionally feel somewhat casual and lacking in pace. Allowing the opposition time to adjust.
His ability to pass the ball is reflected in the stats, where he sits comfortably among the top 25% of defenders in Europe for passes attempted and completed at all ranges.
With fans of “build from the back” clubs presumably salivating at the thought of Yoro leading their defence in the future, it is unfortunately time to pump the brakes a little.
Yoro is certainly a “diamond” on the ball, however certain aspects of his game off the ball must ensure that “…in the rough” be attached to that descriptor.
While the young defender does display a good level of defensive intelligence and positional awareness, it is often accompanied by a touch of overconfidence and rash decision-making.
Yoro is more than capable of wielding his 1.9m (6’2) frame to stride out of the defensive line and shut down attacking moves before they begin. In fact, he sits in the 79th percentile of defenders in the top 5 European leagues for interceptions per90. The issue is that he doesn’t always choose the best moments to utilise this strength. Occasionally being overly ambitious in his attempts.
The opposition breaks the midfield line with a slick 1-2. Yoro is tasked with marking a forward but quickly spots the danger of the overlapping run as the pass is played.
Yoro cuts out the pass with those long legs of his – eventually retaining control of the ball and playing a pressure-easing pass into his midfielder.
Likewise, that large frame can often be used against him in close quarters, with smaller opposition forwards often able to wriggle away from him when he gets too close for comfort. When this occurs, Yoro sometimes resorts to a dramatic lunge, trying to use those long legs to snipe the ball away from his opponent (often leading to a foul), and other times must resort to a tactical shirt pull (always leading to a foul).
He does, however, possess strong recovery pace and acceleration, which can sometimes bail him out of these situations. As well as a good sense of danger, understanding where the attack is going to develop and getting into position accordingly.
Despite his height, Yoro isn’t particularly dominant in aerial duels and this likely comes down to a lack of raw strength. The youngster simply hasn’t filled out his frame yet, and will struggle to compete with more physical forwards until he does. This is, of course, a concern that can be remedied, but if senior football is on the horizon, he will need to remedy it soon.
Talented young central defenders are usually quite hard to come by. It’s a position that demands maturity and experience – and yet France has seemingly developed a golden generation of defenders.
It’s going to be difficult for Leny Yoro to stand out amongst his peers. Ligue 1 Young player of the season at 19 (Saliba), shortlisted for the Golden Boy award at 19 (Upamecano), Champions League finalist at 22 (Konate), etc, etc.
With the added pressure of media speculation linking him to Europe’s super clubs, Yoro must be careful to keep his feet on the ground and continue to develop at his own pace. It appears that Lille is going to “slow cook” their diamond, with constant but limited exposure to first team football.
This should ensure a safe and natural progression path for the player, though may also leave him susceptible to having his head turned by the giants looking to scoop him up.
For now, Leny Yoro will focus on performing when he gets the opportunity for Lille – of which I’m sure there will be plenty. There will be plenty of eyes on him whenever he does take to the pitch, and those eyes will have ambitions for next Summer – When Yoro will only have one year remaining on his Lille contract.