Considering the current state of modern football, being a talent that comes straight out of a club’s academy to have an impact on the first team is extremely difficult. Now increase that difficulty level because the club you are climbing the ranks of is Paris Saint-Germain. Warren Zaïre-Emery has done just that.
This is a genuine super club, with the might of an entire nation powering the club’s business and by extension, recruitment. Despite all of that, WZE (as he is affectionately known) has become a staple in a first-team brimming with superstars at just 17. He looks set to become one of PSG and France’s best players and could well be on the road to true superstardom in the global game.
Zaïre-Emery’s rise is certainly meteoric but it has been really since his career began as essentially a toddler. He was born in the eastern suburbs of Paris and that is where he would start honing his trade, signing for Aubervilliers when he was just four years old. Such was his overperformance at the suburban Parisian club that PSG came calling when he was nine. He catapulted through the youth ranks there, and by 2021, as a 15-year-old, he was playing in PSG’s U19s and getting exposure to the UEFA Youth League.
He broke out during that Youth League campaign, particularly catching eyes in PSG’s comeback win against Club Brugge. Down to 10 men, Zaïre-Emery took the game by the scruff of the neck, scoring a wonderfully controlled header from a set piece and then making a darting run into the area before squaring for Wilson Odobert (now of Burnley) to win it and send PSG to the knockouts. His performance led to his debut for France’s U16 team as well. Clubs were sniffing around to see if they could snag Zaïre-Emery out from under PSG while he was too young to sign a professional contract.
The summer of 2022 put any fears of an imminent move to rest as the now 16-year-old Zaïre-Emery signed a 3-year deal to stay at his boyhood club. The progression would continue to be ridiculous for a kid of his age. He was included in Christophe Galtier’s squad for PSG’s preseason tour to Japan and never looked back. He made his debut off the bench at 16 years and 151 days, making him the youngest player to ever appear for the club in a senior match. By January of 2023, he was starting for the club and in less than a year had moved from the youth teams to being a fixture in the first team. It was no accident.
Zaïre-Emery’s game would probably best be captured by the word dynamic. He is involved up and down the pitch and is a wonderful passer and dribbler. Across his career, he completes 91% of his passes on average and just over ⅔ of his dribbles. This means that when he is involved in defense and recovers possession, he can quickly progress the play. He is able to quickly link play through the pass or carry the ball forward and reliably carry the ball through the lines.
His second professional goal is a great demonstration of just what Zaïre-Emery can do. In the match against Montpellier, he reads a pass that is played short on PSG’s right flank by Montpellier and steps in front to intercept. He plays a quick infield pass to the inverted Achraf Hakimi and then motors into the space vacated by Montpellier’s wingback.
Hakimi’s job is simple as he plays the ball back into space for Zaïre-Emery to run onto. He carries the ball into the box and then fires a low shot into the far corner. Defensive work rate, sharp passing, ball carrying and wonderful finishing all in one player.
He is also a creator. He has an eye for a pass and a dribbling ability that has more than a few times unlocked defenses this season. Against AC Milan, in PSG’s 3-0 win, Zaïre-Emery showed off his dribbling on Kylian Mbappé’s first as he was being dragged back but rode the challenge before setting up Mbappé to fire home. His second assist of the game came from a great turn in midfield, another storming dribble forward and a cutback for Kang-in Lee who found the bottom corner.
This ability to quickly move the ball from midfield areas into dangerous attacking areas separates Zaïre-Emery from other players in his position who may look to play longer passes or occupy deeper areas instead of driving forward. Carrying the ball forward reliably is a coveted skill and he will continue to make a difference for PSG with the ball at his feet.
It really is no wonder that he became a fixture at PSG so quickly and this year he continued to be increasingly important to Luis Enrique’s side in 2023. He has featured in all but three Ligue 1 matches and all but one of PSG’s Champions League matches. He has started 13 out of a possible 19 matches in all competitions and three of those were because of an ankle injury. It has been most common to see him in midfield next to either Fabián Ruiz or Manuel Ugarte in Enrique’s 3-4-3 system.
Recently, it seems like Enrique has been trying to find ways to get Kang-in Lee, Ugarte, Vitinha and Zaïre-Emery on the pitch at once and it has moved WZE out to the wing at times, playing as a right midfielder. I would expect there will continue to be some tinkering from Enrique and we will likely see Zaïre-Emery in combinations of central midfield and wide areas as he can be equally effective in both. His return of three goals and five assists in all competitions from central midfield is impressive given that he is often on the same pitch as Mbappé and Randal Kolo-Muani.
All of this has been accompanied by Zaïre-Emery’s meteoric rise through France’s youth national teams as well. In February of 2022, one month shy of his 16th birthday, he made his debut for France’s U-17 team. By September he was in the U19s and just over a year later, on November 18, 2023, Zaïre-Emery made his full France debut and scored a goal in that famously lopsided win over Gibraltar.
Just as at PSG, Zaïre-Emery has emerged as a future difference-maker for France, despite the fact that they are absolutely chock full of incredible midfielders. There are many players who would look at a midfield with the likes of Aurélien Tchouameni, Eduardo Camavinga, Adrien Rabiot, and Khéphren Thuram, among others and think they have no shot at breaking through. Yes, it was a changed lineup against weaker opposition but getting a start for this France team is no small feat and yet Zaïre-Emery has achieved it.
Warren Zaïre-Emery is a modern midfielder who will draw many comparisons to his young, French counterparts as well as the likes of Jude Bellingham who is redefining what you can expect from a central midfielder currently. Zaïre-Emery’s dynamism and ability through the different phases of PSG’s play make him vital to Luis Enrique’s PSG and could make him into a certified global star if he is able to maintain this level of consistency.
And yes, he is still just 17.
By: Phil Baki / @PhilTalksFooty
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / ANP – Getty Images