Newcastle United’s search for a new striker has led them to French youngster Hugo Ekitike.
The Magpies have opened talks with the £30million-rated teenager, who has established himself as one of Reims’ brightest prospects.
Early promise leads to loan in Denmark
The young striker caught the eye in Reims’ B team scoring six goals in 14 games across the 2019/20 and 2020/21 seasons.
A first-team debut arrived in mid-October 2020 when Ekitike came on as a first-half substitute during the second-half of a 3-1 home defeat against Ligue 1 rivals Lorient.
A second appearance followed a week later as he replaced Boulaye Dia with half an hour remaining in a 4-0 loss at Montpellier.
A loan move to Danish side Vejle Boldklub was secured in June last year and the youngster revealed his determination to make an impact with the Superligaen club.
After finalising the temporary move, he told the club website: “I have been familiar with Vejle Boldklub’s interest for a while.
“I look forward to playing in Denmark. I may be young, but I know what the job is. Vejle Boldklub is entering a spring that places great demands on the players. I like that.
“The mental readiness I see as one of my strengths along with a desire to search directly towards the goal when I have the ball.
“I’ve seen clips with some of the team’s matches and I’m sure we can fulfill the club’s mission together. I’m happy to be here and I can promise the fans one thing: I’m motivated and have the ambition to make a difference.”
After a slow start with his new temporary employers, Ekitike netted his first senior goals with a brace in a 3-0 home win against AC Horsens and followed that up with another strike in a 2-2 draw with Odense.
His time with Vejle came to an end following the latter fixture and he returned to Reims with a record of three goals in 11 appearances during his loan stint.
Confidence in his own ability
Ekitike returned to take his place in the Reims first-team squad for the start of the current season and made an appearance as a substitute in a goalless draw against Nice on the opening day of the campaign.
A first senior start for the club followed seven days later and the youngster performed well, setting up a goal for team-mate Mereto Cassama in a 3-3 draw at Stade Auguste-Delaune.
Ekitike returned to the bench for a draw at Metz and a home defeat against PSG - but marked only his second senior start for the club with his first goal with a neat flicked finish at the near post as his side claimed a 2-0 win at Rennes.
More goals followed as the forward hit his stride and he currently sits on eight goals in 19 games for a Reims side managed by former Brighton and Watford boss Oscar Garcia.
Ekitike recently spoke of his introduction to senior action at the club, telling Foot Mercato: “When I start a match, it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, I always say to myself that I’m capable of scoring or doing something decisive.
“I went to Stade Auguste Delaune as a youngster and I’ve seen many players perform here, the likes of Jordan Siebatcheu, Cédric Fauré and Diego.
“Nobody could experience what I’m going through like I do. This is my city. I’m playing at home, in front of my family and friends. It’s magnificent.”
Trezeguet comparison and Mbappe aspirations
Ekitike’s impressive form, his pace and power and style of play has led to inevitable comparisons with PSG and France star Kylian Mbappe.
As a comparison, the former Monaco star scored 15 goals in his first full season in Ligue 1 in 2016/17.
Ekitike is already over halfway towards surpassing that make and he recently admitted just how much he admires one of World football’s most exciting players.
He told French outlet Foot Mercato: "Over the last few years, he (Mbappe) is the player I watch the most, who inspires me, and not necessarily only on the pitch.
“That’s what it means to be a top-level player and that’s what I aspire to become.”
However, one former France international has drawn comparisons between Ekitike and another striker that has shone for both Monaco and Les Bleus.
Former Parma and Bordeaux midfielder Johan Micoud said :“It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen a player with a style such as his.
“The way he moves and the way he runs reminds me of a great player, David Trezeguet.”
Red card apology
Ekitike has already been shown two red cards during the early stages of his senior career.
The first came for a clumsy challenge in his own area in a 2-0 defeat at Lens in October as a VAR decision upgraded an initial yellow card to a more severe punishment.
A second dismissal followed earlier this week in a Coupe de France win at third-tier club as Ekitike was shown a straight red card for violent conduct just seven minutes after being introduced as a substitute on the hour-mark.
The striker collided with hosts keeper Antonin Parisot - but was shown a red card for appearing to move his head towards captain Wilifried Rother in the aftermath of the incident.
Ekitike took to social media to apologise for his most recent transgression, saying: “I made a massive mistake and I would like to apologise to my team-mates for having abandoned them in the challenge and to the fans who have backed us through thick and thin since the start.
“You learn throughout your career and your life and this won’t happen again.”