The Story That Led Doucoure To Everton

They are very proud of their production line at Rennes, a high-achieving, established Ligue 1 club in its own right.

Mikael Silvestre began his decorated career with the two-times French league winners and the same is true of Sylvain Wiltord, twice a Premier League champion with Arsenal and a goalscorer when France beat Italy in the European Championship final 20 years ago.

More recently, Barcelona forked out more than €100m for Ousmane Dembele, the livewire forward who started with Rennes before joining Borussia Dortmund in 2016.

It is Abdoulaye Doucoure, though, whose name is spoken with a special degree of affection at the club from Brittany.

Doucoure was a tender 14 when he left his family behind more than 220 miles east in Les Mureaux to move lock, stock and barrel to Rennes’ training centre in 2007.

The jewel in what the club considered a special ‘1993 generation’ – Doucoure squeezed into this bracket, born on New Year’s Day 1993 – he earned his first international honour with France Under-16s one year after saying goodbye to his parents and seven siblings.

Doucoure’s popularity at Rennes, however, wasn’t exclusively down to his visible natural talent.

No, Doucoure won favour for his humble, unaffected personality and the spirit and resilience which enabled him to rebound from two knee injuries which would have knocked plenty of good men and good footballers sideways.

The clubbable element of Doucoure’s character made him the perfect tourist when France Under-17s went to the 2010 European Championship in Liechtenstein.

His boundless energy and reserves of self-belief enabled Doucoure to channel his quality into a series of influential performances for the eventual semi-finalists.

Whatever they were putting in the water in France around the time of Doucoure’s birth, it was creating serious footballers.

Doucoure’s 1993 international peers included Paul Pogba, Samuel Umtiti, Barcelona’s World Cup winning centre-half, and new Everton colleague Lucas Digne.

“Looking back,” said manager Guy Ferrier, “I tell myself that he [Doucoure] was the best player of his class.”

Doucoure had played some football for Rennes Under-19s – two years above himself – at this juncture.

He returned from the tournament with France, who lost 2-1 to England in the last four, with Doucoure teeing up Pogba for his team’s goal, to start getting games for Rennes’ ‘B’ team, which competes in the fourth tier of French  domestic structure.

When things are going swimmingly, however, the sporting Gods have a habit of landing a straightener.

Doucoure’s blow came in the shape of an injury to his left knee early in 2010/11. Rather than wallow – and there must have been some anxiety because he was yet to sign full-time terms – the player redoubled his efforts.

He returned for an end-of-season competition featuring a number of Under-21 teams from elite clubs and was named player of the tournament.

That professional contract was granted in short order, albeit Doucoure needed all his characteristic patience – learned, he has said, as the second-youngest of eight children waiting his go on the family PlayStation – before a senior debut.

“You have to make sure you are ready when your turn comes,” Doucoure commented on his PlayStation wait.

How he applied that principle on debut for Rennes, scoring in a 2-0 win at Stade Brest in April 2013.

Within weeks Doucoure would sustain the second of his left-knee issues, ruling him out of France’s ultimately successful Under-20 World Cup campaign.

“It [setback] hardened my mentality even more,” said Doucoure. “It really taught me to look after myself. I needed to get stronger, build up my muscles.”

Doucoure used his rehabilitation period to plant the physical building blocks for a sustained top-level career.

Additionally, he strengthened his relationship with cousin Ladji Doucoure, a gold medallist in the 110m hurdles and 4*100m relay at the 2005 athletics World Championships.

“He just told me to stay focused, keep working and not to be selfish,” explained Doucoure, who lived with Ladji in Paris for one month during recovery.

“Part of the reason I wanted to become a footballer was to help my family and friends financially so that was one of the thoughts that kept me going.”

Indeed, it was the positioning of his family on a pedestal which persuaded Doucoure to knock back Watford in summer 2015.

He had recaptured his form in an instant after a come back for Rennes midway though 2013/14, scoring six goals and providing five assists in 20 league games and spurring the team to the French Cup final.

Released from fitness concerns he played 41 games the following season, contributing directly to 11 goals, but with his wife pregnant the timing was off when Watford asked him to transfer to England.

When he was ready for the move in February 2016 Doucoure was rather nonplussed to promptly be asked to go and help out Watford’s sister club Granada, who were engaged in a fight for La Liga survival.

He was told by Watford: “We have a lot of midfielders here and you need to go help Granada avoid relegation,” said Doucoure, adding, in a manner which suggests his efforts in Spain were all in a day’s work, “I did exactly that”.


Of the 13 matches he started in La Liga, Granada – where Doucoure teamed up with fellow Rennes 1993 graduate Dimitri Foulquier – won five and drew four and were ultimately spared the drop by one point.

Doucoure credits his three months in Spain with refining the technical aspect of his game but he was yearning for the “more spectacular” Premier League.

For all the world, however, it appeared Doucoure would be back in France on loan with Lorient for 2016/17.

He was buckled into his seat on the tarmac at Luton Airport when news filtered through that documents confirming the deal had arrived with FIFA 33 seconds behind time.

Doucoure had to bide is time until his 24th birthday – New Year’s Day 2017 – for a first Premier League start nonetheless.

He was never going to let the opportunity, against Tottenham Hotspur at Watford’s Vicarage Road home, pass him by.

Doucoure was 12 when, elected as one of his school’s municipal advisers, he successfully lobbied the mayor of hometown Les Mureaux for the construction of proper football facilities – including a full-scale synthetic pitch which is a hive of activity today.

His motivation stemmed from having to wait until he’d turned 11 to join local team Olympic Football Club Les Mureaux – where he trained this summer and subsequently sent a public message of gratitude – because his mother refused to allow her son to cross the busy road nearby.

Doucoure featured in all but one of Watford’s remaining Premier League games following his full debut, opening his goals account in a game against Southampton in March 2017.

The following 2017/18 season the towering midfielder came into his own, scoring seven goals and assisting four in a Premier League campaign when the only game he missed was due to suspension – and which finished with Doucoure claiming Watford’s player and players’ player of the season awards.

Back in Rennes, they swelled with pride when the club’s own French Cup final victory over Paris Saint-Germain was preceded by Doucoure inspiring Watford to turnaround a two-goal deficit against Wolverhampton Wanderers in an FA Cup semi-final.

He remained on-song in the Premier League, scoring five goals and assisting six in 2018/19.

Last term mirrored 2017/18 with respect to Doucoure’s appearances, the player missing out only once after totting up one yellow card too many.

 He contributed to six goals, scoring four – and made more passes (1,678) than any of his teammates.

Doucoure leaves Watford as the club’s second-highest Premier League goalscorer with 17 – behind Troy Deeney – and with more Premier League victories (38) than all-bar Denney and fellow midfielder Etienne Capoue.

His total of 129 appearances in the division for Watford is surpassed, again, only by centre-forward Deeney and Capoue.

Back in Rennes they’ll be keeping an eye this season on academy alumnus including Tiemoue Bakayoko, who spent last season at Monaco on loan from Chelsea, former Porto star Yacine Brahimi and young Barca talent Dembele.

Special attention, though, will be paid to Abdoulaye Doucoure and the next leg of the career of a player entering his peak years with Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton.