PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Where Next: Boubacar Kamara
February 3, 2022 update: Boubacar Kamara is now almost certain to leave Marseille on a free transfer at the end of the season. A potential move to England with Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United has been one of the closest links, but there is an open race for the 23-year-old’s signature at this point.
But of course, other offers will come. Expect Newcastle United to be sniffing around, while Leeds United, Chelsea and Roma have all been credited with interest in the free agent in recent months.
Marseille midfielder Boubacar Kamara is one of the hottest prospects in France right now. Despite only being 21, the midfielder has already amassed 96 Ligue 1 appearances, playing close to 8,000 minutes across four seasons – he has played close to 88 full matches worth of minutes.
His statistical profile shows what Kamara is all about; a ball-winner in multiple forms – a presser, dueller and interceptor – but also as comfortable against the press as he is when pressing himself.
The 21-year-old is typically Marseille’s deepest midfielder in-possession, comfortable in drawing opponents in through ball retention, then bypassing them through silky footwork or combinations with teammates. A trademark of his are diagonal balls from the left side of the pitch to the right flank.
The France under-21 international is one of just ten under-23 midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues to rank in the top 25% for ball winning and ball retention. His performance out-of-possession becomes even more impressive when you consider that the average number of pressures compared to last season has dropped more in Ligue 1 (by 15%) than any other top-five European League.
Possible Transfers for Boubacar Kamara
The Red Devils’ search for a quality number six has been well documented, and Kamara could provide the ideal solution to the McFred pivot problem at Old Trafford. He betters both this season in terms of goal-creating actions (seven), press success rate (35%), progressive dribbles (128) and aerial duel win rate (63%).
Of course, team style and its influence on player outputs must be accounted for, but given he is younger than both and currently statistically outperforming them, the potential long-term value in this signing is huge.
It also is valuable that he clocked considerably more minutes than both, as player availability is key currently, and avoiding injuries/burnout in a congested season speaks volumes about the resilience of a player.
United’s problem this season just gone was certainly keeping goals out – Spurs (45) were the only of the super league clubs to conceded more than Solskjaers side (44), and they ranked in the bottom six Premier League sides for tackles and pressures in the midfield third, where Kamara thrives. StatsBomb data also has United as the third most dispossessed side in the league last season, so the Frenchman could offer some security in-possession.
Just as he could fit the bill for the Red half of Manchester, Kamara may be ideal for their title-winning neighbours. It goes without saying that pressing and expansivity in-possession are cornerstones of Guardiola’s style of play, which suits Kamara to a tee.
Their inversion of full-backs in-possession naturally demands a player to drop between the split centre-backs and dictate play – quarter-back style; Kamara has done just that in his current Marseille side.
City are a heavily data-driven club when it comes to recruitment, so it would be surprising if they have not already flagged Boubacar up as a potential target.
Of course, Fernandinho (35) is well into the twilight of his career, and Kamara could provide a suitable long-term replacement, especially for a side that are becoming more and more youthful – their average squad age (26.1 years) this season was their lowest since the 2017/18 season.
Los Blancos are another potential destination for Kamara; given his current ability, age and the COVID-induced status of the transfer market, it is expected that only Europe’s biggest could splash the cash needed to secure his signature.
Similar to Manchester City, Real Madrid have an ageing midfield, with Modric and Kroos the ‘wrong’ side of 30 and Casemiro to reach the hill next season.
Whilst there are rumours that Zidane may leave, he could provide the ideal manager for Kamara to grow under; whilst Zizou operated further forward, his individual quality on the ball and technique are elements that Kamara could develop even further in his game.
Similar to Manchester City, Real like dropping a pivot player deep in build-up, so this move would not require a significant play style change for Kamara; last season only Barcelona recorded more midfield third touches than Zidane’s Real side. Bespoke data analysis from World in Motion shows that Kamara is above the La Liga standard in both passing and defensive metrics.
Ligue 1 winners Lille would provide the most suitable within-country step for Kamara. His Marseille side finished fifth, so will only get Europa League football this season, a level which he is comfortably above. StatsBomb’s player comparison tool shows Kamara’s third most similar player last season to be Lille’s Benjamin Andre, who himself is now over the age of thirty.
Lille were a top half side in terms of press intensity last season (using passes per defensive action data from Understat), and their approach play centred more around attempting to split defences than crossing from wide areas, which suits Kamara’s centrality and passing library.
The Frenchman’s output last season was better than Andre in terms of shot-creating actions, aerial duel win rate, switches of play and long passes attempted/completed. Kamara also completed 21 fewer fouls than Andre.
Lille were the fifth youngest side in the division last season, but they used the fewest players (21) of any Ligue 1 side – that number will inevitably have to go up next campaign if they are to mount a solid title defence and qualify from their Champions League group; the addition of Kamara – whilst unlikely – would help to tick multiple boxes.
SCOUT REPORT: BOUBACAR KAMARA
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook: Volume III, our third printed Handbook, released in August 2019. The print version has now sold out, but you can find the digital edition avaialble for £3 here.
Boubacar Kamara's Career In Review
Boubacar Bernard Kamara is very much a local boy in Marseille. The 19-year-old has spent his entire youth career in the south of France, playing for Olympique de Marseille’s youth setup from ages five through 17.
This included a one-season spell in the second team, where he made 32 appearances. This, along with his consistent involvements in various French youth national teams, ensured he was fit enough to wear the shirt of the senior team heading into the 2017/18 season.
Initially being given run-outs in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League, the Frenchman steadily worked his way into the side after recovering from two disruptive ankle injuries. Such issues were not at play in the most recent season, where he rose from a rotational player to a regular starter.
The defender started and finished 25 Ligue 1 matches in Marseille’s 2018/19 league campaign, ammassing just over 2,400 minutes in a season which saw them salvage a topfive finish following a rollercoaster season.
In his time playing under head coach Rudi García, Kamara has been trialled in just about every possible defensive position. Before finding his home on the right of a central defensive pairing, he was featured as a defensive midfielder, a left-back, a left-sided centre-back and a right-sided centre-back – in both a back-three and back-four.
This would no doubt have played a part in the inconsistency of his performances. Until recently, the Marseille youngster had struggled for consistency in form but will look to make the most of a fresh start under Olympique’s new head coach, André Villas-Boas.
Boubacar Kamara's Style of Play
One of Kamara’s most notable struggles is his inability to operate in big spaces, both in and out of possession. When defending central areas, he positions himself too square to the ball and becomes stranded in space in the middle of the pitch.
Remove the ambiguity of his role, however, and suddenly you start to see the best of the youngster. This is most evident when pressing up from the back, where he uses a low and crouched body stance that keeps a side-on perspective, blocking progression anywhere on the pitch.
His split-second side-to-side shifting, balanced risk and aggression approach, physicality, the use of his long legs to get in-between and around opponents, and even his surprising dominant aerial ability, all combine to make him an excellent defensive destroyer.
Additionally, his awareness and reading of situations due to his frequent scanning – which could still improve – enables him to deduce whether he should step onto an opponent or lay off them.
Maintaining the same body stance has also helped him defend wide one-on-one duels. The Marseille man can defend seamlessly on either side, getting across his man well using his weaker side to block off opponents.
It is against the better, trickier wide players he struggles; those players just have the edge in reaction speed to escape his clutches. Were it not for his knack of making clean challenges from behind, even in the riskiest areas, he might find himself in trouble more often.
Kamara also struggles when rushing to retreat. He does not assume his ideal body stance soon enough to prevent an easy turn in the opposite direction, so is often left stuck in the mud.
In possession, Kamara is even more conscious of his surroundings, as he scans numerous times before and after receiving. His close control ensures he can evade pressure in almost any situation, allowing him to thrive in high pressure environments.
This is compounded by his immaculate first touch, use of shielding and, specifically, his drag-backs that help him to resist pressure. Even more impressive is his intelligence in knowing where to play the pass following these evasions of pressure.
Kamara begins to struggle when handed too much responsibility. In these situations, he feels the need to continue gradually moving the ball forwards. Whilst this shows positive intent, it can massively hinder progression.
His first move forward eliminates playing across to his defensive partner, whilst his continued dribbling encourages the opposition to become more compact around the ball. The issue then is that he does not relieve the pressure, but instead lays it off short for a player whose angles are limited.
The centre-back does have the capacity to execute very precise long balls, but his occasionally skewed vision means he often only plays straight long balls, which is a much harder pass to execute. One only sees the best of his decision-making when he is under duress. And even Kamara realises this disparity in ability as he will always play it short if there is a team-mate nearby.
Forecasting the Future for Boubacar Kamara
Kamara undoubtedly has an incredibly bright future ahead of him. The fact that his best performances have come at a time when Marseille have struggled puts into perspective just how strong an asset he could be.
New manager André Villas-Boas will almost certainly rely upon the talents of the 19-year-old: the only questions that remain are where he will play and how consistent he can be.
Playing on the side of a back-three could unlock some of his ball-playing potential, given the freedom that position provides. Kamara would also be less obligated to defend central spaces. With the right coaching, he might yet become a holding midfielder.
For now, he remains a technical destroyer, with skills such as his decision-making needing to be improved. He also tends to receive with a closed body stance and with his back-to-goal, which is less than optimal when playing in a position, such as holding midfield, that requires complete, 360 degree awareness.
Still, the consistency of his performances will be key as to whether Villas-Boas will favour him in the long run. If he can find form and put together his strongest season yet, a move to a bigger club will seem like an inevitability as opposed to a dream.