The way that Stade Rennais and Jeremy Doku have been performing you would think that these heights were typical for the Brittany club. European football is becoming the norm for the group and Jeremy Doku is becoming a bit of a microcosm for Stade Rennais. Someone at home in a place that could be seen as overwhelming. Doku is a footballer who has made himself at home at a club that has made itself at home in European competition. He has also started to hit his stride for Stade Rennais in the run-in that suggests really big things are on the horizon, for him and for his club.
Doku’s particular brand of explosive football originally caught the eye of Anderlecht scouts after he had been showcasing his game in his native Antwerp, Belgium, playing at youth levels for KVC Olympic Deurne and Tubantia Borgerhout before signing for Beerschot AC. It was here that Doku’s wide attacking prowess hit the heights that impressed the Purple and White of RSC Anderlecht and the Belgian giants took a punt on the kid. I do not say “kid” lightly either. He was 10 when he arrived through the gates at the Brussels club.
It would take six years before he made his first team debut on 25 November 2018 in a loss to Sint-Truiden but almost immediately Anderlecht knew that Doku was not going to be making an impact for them for very long. His penchant for not just dribbling and keeping possession as a tricky, pacy winger but also passing well and having a keen eye for goal meant that he caught the eyes of Europe’s elite almost immediately.
Once he broke through, he got one full season in the Jupiler Pro League in the 2019/20 season, appearing 21 times and scoring just three goals. That year ended with Anderlecht thrashing Zulte Waregem 7-0 on the final day. Doku scored twice and assisted a third to drive the blowout along but it was actually a prologue to his breakout.
Doku is every defender’s worst nightmare. A winger who does not just have a turn of pace and a few tricks up his sleeve but has an unbelievable range of passing, ridiculous vision, and a good end product that is only getting better. He is a player who on average completes about 84% of his passes, ⅓ of his crosses, and ⅔ of his attempted dribbles. And that 60% of his dribbles he is successful on accounts for about 14 successful dribbles per 90!
A player this good with the ball, who consistently finds ways, either with his own dribbles or via his progressive passes, to accelerate his team’s attack and create space for others or himself, will continually be an asset for his team and his demonstrated value is consistently climbing.
The Belgian winger started the 2020/21 season by appearing seven times for Anderlecht and his contributions in terms of goals skyrocketed to start the season. He ended up involved in six goals in those seven games, a return that convinced Stade Rennais to complete the deal they had planned.
A COVID-induced extension to the transfer window saw him join Stade Rennais on 5 October 2020. This sort of change always seems to impact footballers and to move from your home nation to Brittany at a time when all of us were struggling with the extended impacts of the pandemic, Doku had to go about building his performances and reputation in France. The impact was not immediate but it is looking like their patience is about to pay off.
Stade Rennais finished sixth in Doku’s first campaign, where he made 37 appearances for the Champions League debutants. His manager, Julien Stephan, who now has overseen the continued Ligue 1 survival of RC Strasbourg, put full faith in the youngster, who was still just 18. His involvement in the first team did not directly lead to involvement in goals though, contributing to just 6 the entire season. When Stephan was relieved of his duties in January of 2021, Doku’s appearances did not diminish but he was largely unable to assert himself in a way that directly contributed to goals.
Bruno Genesio took Stade Rennais’ reins in March 2021 and oversaw a 21/22 season that saw Doku’s ability to contribute limited significantly by a series of injuries. This meant he only made 18 appearances and scored just twice. The Belgian winger tried to make the most of the 700 minutes he played that year but the good news was that Genesio clearly still saw Jeremy as a big part of his team. While the impact was not felt immediately or heavily, Doku has made the latter part of the 22/23 Stade Rennais campaign the stage from which it feels he is about to reach the next level of his career.
On 9 April 2023, Doku made a 20-minute cameo in Rennes’ 3-1 loss to Olympique Lyon. He would go on to start every game the remainder of the season, which also saw Stade Rennais win five out of seven including a decisive 3-0 win over Stade Reims and a 2-0 win over direct rivals for European football, Monaco. Over this stretch of seven matches, which concludes this coming Saturday, 3 June with Stade Rennais’ match against Stade Brestois, Doku has been involved in seven goals and his uptick in production seems to be another prelude for him.
The Stade Reims game in many ways served as Doku’s coming-out party. His skill was showcased throughout but in the first goal, you can see many of the reasons that Doku is so highly revered at Stade Rennais and across Europe. He latches onto a bad Reims backpass and despite being harried and hassled, he has the touch to keep the ball away from his markers, has the pace to create space for himself, still maintains close control of the ball, and then unleashes a strong but calculated finish back across goal from right to left. It’s the sort of goal that can seem simple on its face but it implies a skill and a level of confidence that lends themselves to a higher level.
He added a second that day and has been putting in consistently solid performances for Rennes, logging a 7.05 average rating according to WhoScored. He and his club are capable of qualifying directly for the Europa League group stage with some help from already relegated Troyes against LOSC Lille on Saturday. With Doku’s output improving and his club back in the Europa League, the platform now exists for this Renaissance Man and Stade Rennais to reach all new heights.
By: Phil Baki / @PhilTalksFooty
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Dave Winter / Icon Sport