Offensive. Playing as defensive midfielder former defender Meïté has reduced his scope. Despite his new position, shooting skills and athleticism are still the main features of the French player of Ivorian descent, as he showed with his first Ligue 2 goal. It was a heap of power, technique and bravery. Meïté flicked the ball over his opponent’s head with his right foot, before firing a left-footed volley from long range at the top corner.
His pace is good but not devastating, Meïté has a remarkable ability to go into the space with the proper timing and he is also a useful player for dead-balls thanks to his height and elevation. Soualiho prefers playing with few touches, he supports well the play and delivers good through balls, even if he sometimes hesitates too much especially after receiving the ball.
Defensive. Meïté is a rough but elegant defensive midfielder. He has an extraordinary athleticism coupled with the ability to avoid pressure and protect the ball. Placed in front of the defense, Meïté takes advantage of his height in headers and uses his size to protect the ball covering well the empty spaces. Nevertheless the French player is maybe too confident of his skills, slowing the play and trying to do the gestures as elegantly as possible, even when it isn’t necessary. Meïté could read better the game, especially in defense.
Since his birth, Soualiho Meïté is walking on the imaginary line that ties African football to France, just like Monaco’s Kylian Mbappé. He was born in Paris but his roots are in Ivory Coast. In the French capital, Soualiho grew up living in the 13th arrondissement on the left bank of the Seine. There Meïté joined Gobelins Paris 13, a historical football school involved in social projects and affiliated with PSG since 2001. Four years later the young talent moves to Vincennes C.O., a dozen of kilometres further north. It’s a brief spell, because some important clubs like Monaco, Toulouse and Auxerre noticed Meïté’s talent. At that time he was 13 and chose Auxerre attracted by development perspectives and club policy (for example he was allowed to come back home during the week-ends and for holiday) offered by longstanding Auxerre chief scout Abdel Chouache. “I didn’t even think about it as I’ve always liked Auxerre because of the likes of Mexes and Boumsong”. Defenders, after all. A position that Meïté loves, even because he’s got the profile the French side are looking for: physicality, anticipation and intelligence. The latter allows him to move in and out of the box, switching from centre-back to defensive midfielder and viceversa, an ability he has been cultivating with the Blues’ youth teams too. In 2009, he wears the no 4 shirt during his debut with coach Patrick Gonfalone’s U19 side against Holland, who feature the likes of Depay, Rekik and Willems, but it’s in the next couple of years that he would start to make headlines. After signing his first pro contract with his friend Sébastien Haller, who was also his teammate during the European Championship U17 (with Zouma, Laporte, Benzia and Mendy), it’s time for some real football, under the watch of then-Auxerre B coach Alain Fiard, who created a project aimed at introducing youths to the Championnat de France amateur de football (CFA). With him, Soualiho marks two dates on his calendar: his Ligue 1 debut on 20 November 2011, a few months before his 18th birthday, and his first goal in Coupe de la Ligue, on 7 August 2012. Under different coaches, and against different opponents, there are two constants: Fiard, who had become vice-coach of Auxerre A, and the player’s extraordinary ability to combine his tactical intelligence and strength. His season in the fourth tier division CFA (20 games and two goals) is a path leading to another chance which is Lille. In autumn 2012 he agreed a deal with Les Dogues, but ended up staying one more year at Auxerre on loan. Despite being highly regarded by Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi, Meïté opts for France, as he plays some friendlies with the U19 national team.
However, after two more matches with the U20 side, he wouldn’t wear the Blue shirt anymore. On the other hand, he enjoys better times with Lille, under René Girard and Frédéric Antonetti who give him some playing time. But on the long term, his young age and a great competition in the midfield push him to make a step back, looking for another team.
“I was too sure of my talent,” he would say with the benefit of hindsight. Belgian side Zulte Waregem warded off competition and grabbed the chance.
Upon his arrival in Jupiler Pro League, Meïté is saddened and overweight, that’s why he starts following the example of his teammate Mbaye Leye, working on training methods and biorhythms. It would pay off on the pitch, as the defender emerged as one of the best players in the current season, attracting the interest of Hoffenheim, Schalke 04, Everton and Liverpool, although he has put Manchester United on top of his wishlist. According to his coach Francky Dury, Meité has everything in order to fulfill his desire, but given his previous experience the player would rather keep his feet on the ground.
Protected by his parents and supported by the love of his four sisters, Meité grew up in a quiet environment with a good self-confidence. This has helped him develop a positive approach which also reflects on the pitch, where he played confidently even in the most delicate moments of his brief career. He always said he had no difficulties in settling in motley groups with older people, as he tries to gain experience, challenging himself but always having fun.
Pro and cons
PROS. Strength, interception, timing for attacking raids
CONS. Exaggerated self-confidence