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Bilal Hussein

A profile of the AIK midfielder and Sweden U-21 international, taken from Volume XII

AIK's Bilal Hussein wearing a black pre-match anthem jacket
Llew Davies

AUGUST 14, 2022

Who is Bilal Hussein?

Note: This profile was first written in September 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.

Bilal Hussein has been an AIK player since 2014, when he joined the club – one of Sweden’s biggest, based in Solna, an urban area of the country’s capital city Stockholm – as a 13-year-old.

His development from academy set-up to first-team starter has been relatively routine. Hussein was afforded his first taste of senior football in 2017, as a 17-year-old, appearing on the substitutes’ bench for an Allsvenskan game and playing 30 minutes in a Svenska Cupen fixture against lower level opposition.

His involvement stepped up again the following year, appearing on the substitutes’ bench multiple times and making his league bow. He went on to spend a couple of months on loan at fourth-tier team Vasalund IF as well.

Hussein established himself as a talent of note during the 2019 season. At 19 years old, his involvement jumped another level. A new role as a utility player afforded him a just over 900 league minutes in total, played across a number of different roles, often as a rotation option or injury stand-in. He made his under-21 international debut as well following up a handful of caps with previous underage Swedish sides.

Since then, Hussein has continued to improve. Last season saw him become a starter at AIK, largely at right wing-back, and this season has seen him settle into an important role in his best position: central midfield. He has formed a functional double-pivot with the veteran Swedish international Sebastian Larsson – who made his senior debut just four years after his pivot partner was born – and that newfound stability has enabled Hussein to put together his best season to date. With AIK back competing at the top of the table, the 21-year-old has impressed, starting every single league game to date.

Bilal Hussein controlling the ball for AIK in an Allsvenskan game

Bilal Hussein's style of play

Strengths

Weaknesses

Bilal Hussein’s statistical profile is an intriguing one. If you search for a similar one across football’s numerous senior leagues, few recognisable names will crop up. One of them is Olympique Lyonnais’ Thiago Mendes, and that is as good as you are going to get in terms of mainstream players.

Hussein ranks highly in Sweden’s Allsvenskan as a passer, both in terms of volume and impact. He rates beneath the league average midfielder in defensive duel outputs though, but does impress as an interceptor. The data is broadly representative of what Hussein does on the pitch, but it brushes over nuances of the 21-year-old’s skillset.

His athletic profile is also quite peculiar. He has a small, slender frame – roughly 5′9′′ metres tall – that is markedly slight in size. Those factors underpin Hussein’s mobility. He is a sharp mover and wispy runner; swift bursts off the mark and a nimble agility allow him to change direction very quickly when needed.

It also means that he struggles in direct physical duels against bigger opponents. As is, Hussein lacks the physical presence to be impactful in contact situations, both in and out of possession. Those physical factors dictate his style as a midfielder as well.

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The 21-year-old is a relatively high-volume passer, attempting almost 60 passes per 90 minutes for an AIK team that averages 50 percent possession per game in this season’s Allsvenskan. He is tasked with an important role when AIK build out from the back because he is very adept at it. Hussein is a regular scanner, checking over his shoulders to inform his positioning and decision-making as well as assess any oncoming pressure.

His technical fundamentals are very solid too: adequate body positioning, positive touches that set up positive next actions, decent ability to turn out, and good close control with the ball at his feet – all those skills enable Hussein to operate at the constant two-touch tempo that he does.

His passing technique is clean and consistent too. He punches passes over short and mid-ranges with good speed and is proficient at switching the ball to wide areas or dropping a floated pass behind the opposition defensive line. Hussein is very good at linking play from deeper areas, advancing the ball from the defensive third with crisp passing and spreading it in midfield with an energetic pass-and-go style.

He rarely stunts possession sequences, he animates them if anything. His ability to slide into a space, show for the ball, then receive and release it within a couple of touches provides an effective outlet. He often thinks a step ahead, aware of an open team-mate or space that he can quickly move the ball into. A criticism of Hussein would be that he struggles to slow down play at times, but up-tempo is his style and strength.

Defensively, Hussein’s ability and value differs on the spaces he operates in. He is most effective in tighter areas, where his sharp mobility gives him an edge. In open spaces, he lacks the physicality to contain opponents. A big feature of his defensive skillset is his ability to read and react, as his data profile highlighted in his above-average rate of interceptions. Good anticipation combined with sharp athleticism is an effective mix when it comes to cutting out passes; he likes to pounce on the ball, stepping into passing channels or nipping in to disrupt the receiver’s touch.

His sharp intensity takes opponents by surprise. Over bigger spaces, Hussein’s technical issues make him too easy to beat. His body shape is often too square, meaning he can be eliminated by simple changes of speed – and he does not possess the strength nor turn of pace to recover. These issues will only be more problematic the higher he plays.

Hussein is very good at linking play from deeper areas, advancing the ball from the defensive third with crisp passing and spreading it in midfield with an energetic pass-and-go style

Forecasting Bilal Hussein's future

The next stage of Hussein’s development will require him to step up a competitive level. Moving to an upper-table club in the Eredivisie or Pro League would be the optimal step up, especially if said team encourages a possession-based, play-through-the-thirds style.

That would afford the 21-year-old an immediate platform to utilise his strengths as a passer and develop the weaker aspects of his skillset, not least his athleticism and defensive impact. His ability in possession is certainly translatable to a top-five league level, but his athletic profile – in its current form – is likely to tether him down.

There is an element of natural development but it is something that will have to be specifically worked on. If it develops sufficiently over the next 3-5 years, expect to see Hussein playing to a good level domestically, pushing into a top-five league, and internationally with Sweden.

scoutedftbl.com

Bilal Hussein is an up-tempo midfielder that provides value as a passer in build-up phases. He keeps play moving and can progress possession up the pitch with an incisive pass-and-move style. He is also a sharp defender that reads the game well and intercepts the ball cleanly.

Bilal Hussein’s main weakness is his lack of physicality; he’s quite slight, meaning he lacks strength in contact situations. His technique when defending players in open space is also poor.

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