He has no hard feelings towards the club that raised him, but he doesn’t miss that either.
And as Nkunku prepares to step back on the Parc des Princes pitch for just the second time since leaving for RB Leipzig in 2019, the 23-year-old Frenchman could hardly be in better shape.
In fact, he’s scored more goals this season than Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar combined.
Nkunku is at Robert Lewandowski’s level in the Champions League scorers list at the start of the season with four goals, while only Ajax’s Sébastien Haller is ahead of him after two rounds of matches.
He has also scored four times in the Bundesliga and once in DFB-Pokal. With nine goals to his name, Nkunku has already improved his own season record, which stood at seven last season.
Not bad for a player who is generally referred to as a midfielder, although his exact position on the pitch is extremely difficult to describe.
Nkunku started at the PSG academy as a winger thanks to his supreme speed and dribbling skills, but was used frequently at center because his vision and passing range have always been remarkable.
As a child he enjoyed watching Ronaldinho, especially during the Brazilian’s short stint in Paris, but then chose Marco Verratti as his role model, while some of the youth coaches saw similarities with Blaise Matuidi.
So, could such versatility be the reason why Nkunku never had a real chance to shine at PSG?
“He’s a player I’ve loved since the first time I saw him,” said the former defender who won the World Cup. “It’s difficult to integrate the first team. You have to be ruthless, but at the same time comfortable with the ball. Christopher ticks all of these boxes. “
However, Nkunku was only considered a useful player to have on the bench. He could move up the left flank when Neymar was injured, and found himself spending time on the right, central midfielder and as a striker.
Unai Emery gradually introduced him to the rotation, and Thomas Tuchel gave him 13 starts in Ligue 1 in the 2018-19 season – but not a single minute in the Champions League.
Overall, it was evident that the Parisians did not trust their local talent to lead the team. In order to develop professionally, Nkunku had to leave, as did many academy graduates before him.
Kingsley Coman, who proved himself at Bayern Munich after leaving Paris for Juventus at the age of 18, was a good example – and Nkunku knew the Bundesliga could give him everything he needed at home.
It was extremely symbolic that Coman scored the winner against PSG in the 2020 Champions League final. Nkunku, however, met the Parisians in the semi-finals in August, replaced at half-time in the loss. 3-0 from Leipzig. It was a disappointing night, but overall his first season in Germany was extremely successful.
With a move to Emery’s Arsenal blocked by PSG a few months before, Nkunku joined Leipzig for € 13million (£ 11.8million / $ 14.6million) in July 2019, and has provided 13 Bundesliga assists in 2019-2020 – only Thomas Muller and Jadon Sancho were ahead of him in the charts.
It fits beautifully into Julian Nagelsmann’s fluid system, and establishes a particularly successful partnership with Angelino on the left side.
Nagelsmann has used Nkunku in at least eight different positions during their two seasons together, and his teammates highly appreciate his talents.
“Christopher should become a star of the France team,” said goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
“It’ll come when it comes,” Nkunku says philosophically, as he continues to wait patiently enough for the chance to wear the blue shirt. He was not taken to Euro 2020 despite two very positive seasons in Germany, but his current form would make it particularly difficult to continue to ignore him.
“I’m always trying to figure out how I can get better,” he said in the preseason. “It’s my mentality. I would like to improve my concentration on the pitch to be even more decisive. I have to work on it. “
So far, he has kept his word.
Leipzig are still struggling defensively under new manager Jesse March, who replaced Bayern Munich-linked Nagelsmann this summer, but for Nkunku the change was welcome.
With Marsch at the helm, Nkunku’s role is even more flexible in attacking the midfield, while the attackers are tasked with creating spaces to explore.
After working tirelessly to become a better finisher in front of goal, Nkunku is now focusing on goal and assists. Thanks to his fast feet and even faster thinking, he often finds himself unattended in the penalty area – and his returns have been sensational so far.
Nkunku scored a hat-trick for Manchester City on Champions League opening night and he also scored early against Club Brugge, but his goals weren’t enough for Leipzig to even score a point in the competition so far.
“Changing clubs was not such a bad idea,” he smiled a year ago, at the start of his second season at Leipzig. Now he is gradually becoming one of the brightest stars in the Bundesliga, and there is no doubt that the transfer has worked for all parties.
Nkunku would never have had much playing time in Paris, but this version – more confident and more clinical of him – would certainly have been well received by Mauricio Pochettino.
Instead, PSG must find a way to stop Nkunku, who will face his good friend Presnel Kimpembe on Tuesday.
Nkunku might wish PSG all the happiness in the world, but this week he wants to beat them.