It was with a sceptical eye that many a Brighton & Hove Albion follower awoke on July 6 as the Seagulls unveiled Zambian international midfielder Enock Mwepu as their first signing of the Summer transfer window.
At a swift glance, one would be forgiven for unhesitatingly assuming the end of Yves Bissouma in a Brighton shirt but, with or without the irrepressible presence of the Malian, Mwepu carries enough vigour to become more than his worthy adversary.
‘Mix of the silky and sinewy’
The 23-year-old signed a four-year contract that will keep him on the Sussex riviera until 2026, arriving from reigning Austrian Bundesliga champions Red Bull Salzburg for an undisclosed fee.
A tenacious desire for the ball at his feet, it combines with his raw physicality to create the complete mix of the silky and sinewy, traits that paved the path for Bissouma’s effectiveness in recent seasons.
Mwepu compiled 81 league appearances for Salzburg over a four year stay in the Baroque-styled city, scoring on eleven occasions. Although finishing is far from his forte, a welcome five goals in six appearances in Austria’s domestic ÖFB Cup in the recently completed campaign gave 'Die Roten Bullen' their eighth scalp in the competition in a decade.
Donning the nickname ‘The Computer’ for his irrefutable ability to read the game, Mwepu will be an assured asset to Graham Potter’s side as the aspiration to progress up the Premier League reaches new heights.
Mwepu’s quest for English top-flight football began with Zambian outfit NAPSA Stars and, having impressed there and at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea, he inked a five-year deal with Salzburg.
Progression is evident, but that is of little revelation to some as the stature of those he has faced in the Champions League in recent years propelled him to such a high degree. Featuring alongside the impressive Erling Haaland, Dominik Szoboszlai and Takumi Minamino, Mwepu was an integral piece in the side that so nearly shocked Anfield in their dramatic 4-3 defeat to Liverpool.
The finer details
An expeditious whip out of the magnifying glass reveals the further shimmering truths of Albion’s latest capture. According to Football Reference, the past 365 days show 39.27 passes completed per 90 minutes at a completion percentage of 87, a near ten passes more than the average.
Indeed, Mwepu’s eye for a pass binds the midfield together - connecting each spoke of his team - as he possesses qualities in an attacking and defensive frame of mind, a testament to his versatility.
Opposing players, too, have desperately little time to react when the Zambian is in full stride. An average of 27.17 pressures per game, it caters for an influx of interceptions, thus leading to a higher frequency of chances created for his frontline to feed off.
Little surprise, then, that fellow Zambian and Salzburg teammate, Patson Daka, profited to take the golden boot with a 27-goal season. A recent Leicester City signing, Zambia’s finest hope to breathe new life into English football.
What will the future hold?
As the question marks loom heavy over the head of Bissouma, a domineering midfielder will remain a certainty in the plans of Potter as the fresh season drawers nearer. With a pre-season tour of Scotland imminent, the wait to witness Mwepu in Brighton’s newest jersey will be brief.