It's time to talk about Denis Genreau.
While we've covered more robust midfielders in Cameron Devlin, Jackson Irvine and Riley McGree in this Socceroos Scouting Report series -- given it has been a problem area for the national team -- Genreau represents a more refined and cerebral counterpoint.
The 22-year-old has already become a steady figure and an important part of Toulouse's promotion push, in only his first season in Ligue 2.
A statistical summary for Denis Genreau in the Uber Eats Deux this season. pic.twitter.com/ISXc6Irl5O— Ante Jukić (@ajjukic) February 20, 2022
Having missed the opening few rounds of the Ligue 2 season, transferring from Macarthur in late July last year, Genreau has steadily become a valuable contributor for Toulouse. Initially finding minutes as an attacking midfielder in a 4-4-2 diamond under Philippe Montanier, Genreau has shifted to play as a conventional midfielder in a 4-3-3 in captain Brecht Dejaegere's absence. The 22-year-old has not only been vital in Toulouse's playoff push, but he and Branco van den Boomen have quickly become the best midfield one-two punch in the league.
While hovering around the 90th percentile among midfielders in Ligue 2 for passes completed and deep passing completions -- both in the 89th percentile -- Genreau's distribution has also displayed substance. He's quickly become one of the league's elite shot creators, in the 93rd percentile for key passes.
More than a merely metronomic passer for Les Violets, Genreau has shown capacity to get his team up the pitch both on and off the ball, while also contributing defensively. He's proved to be a compatible piece and viable medium to Van Den Boomen, the competition's best ball progressor in midfield, and Stijn Spierings, Toulouse's deepest midfielder.
Notably, Genreau is healthily above the league average for combined dribble and pass progressions per 90 (8.64) among midfielders in Ligue 2, but also combined possession adjusted tackles and interceptions per 90 (6.38).
As noted, Genreau has been a compatible foil to the likes of Spierings and Van den Boomen. More importantly, though, he is starting to better understand the fluctuating requirements that playing in midfield can generate. It's a relatively intangible quality, but he's developing an innate feel for the game, producing an almost un-Australian flexibility as a midfielder. More than his comfort in receiving the ball between the opposition's midfield and defensive line, Genreau is increasingly playing with notable clarity and alertness amid changing game phases.
This was even evident in his first start for Toulouse against Grenoble. In one moment early in the second half, Genreau goes from entry into the penalty as the weak-side midfielder, to then committing and intercepting to win the ball back quickly, and then providing a passing option after a quick scan, all within the space of seconds.
But there was an early and seemingly insignificant moment in one of his first starts against Auxerre that was distinct. Van Den Boomen wins the ball and there's a quick check from Genreau to survey his surroundings. More than that he could receive the ball between the lines as a result, what he did next was the kicker: His body positioning effectively shows Auxerre midfielder Iyad Mohamed the ball, baiting him into committing before snatching the ball away at the last moment and turning towards Auxerre's goal.
Overall, the level of composure Genreau plays with in midfield is simply abnormal and alongside with his tidy technique, the main reason he has adapted so quickly at Toulouse.
Something that was evident even under Warren Joyce and Erick Mombaerts at Melbourne City, Genreau's physical capacity is not going to endear him to every coach. He can cover ground and has a very good aerobic capacity, but covering it quickly is another story. The 22-year-old's relative lack of speed and explosiveness is arguably the main factor in why he isn't more of a dribbling threat, despite a high technical level.
In those moments, it's Genreau's movement that allows him to wriggle around defenders, as opposed to exploding out of tight spots - especially closer to the penalty area. To his benefit, though, it isn't a particular issue that manifests on the defensive side of the ball.
Potential Socceroos fit
Given the Socceroos particular struggles in finding balance in midfield, even in the face of fluctuating results, that Genreau hasn't seen more minutes in this World Cup qualification phase is bordering on negligent. Integrating the 22-year-old has been a priority, and COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse in failing to do so, when taking the entirety of qualification into account. In his one start for Australia, against Chinese Taipei in June last year, Genreau had to play in Graham Arnold's standard 4-4-2, alongside Kenny Dougall in midfield with Jamie Maclaren and Mitchell Duke up front.
The question of optimal deployment that game posed becomes irrelevant, when considering Genreau has not played a minute at international level since then. What's worse, he has not even been in the squad for multiple international windows.
While it has been noted previously how the Socceroos have needed to shift to a more conventional three-man midfield, and it did happen in the last international window, Genreau is arguably the one Australian midfielder who needs to be given the most scope alongside Ajdin Hrustic. Yet because of arguable physical shortcomings, that scope has been minimal.