PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Boubakary Soumaré?
The sprawl of satellite conurbations squeeze around Paris’ youth club pitches like concrete parents peering down at their prodigious progeny. In recent years, they have spread a roster of their once-inhabitants – the greatest pool of young talent in the world – out into top-flight football.
One of the latest is Boubakary Soumaré, a 21-year-old midfielder born in the eastern suburb of Noisy-le-Sec and now at LOSC Lille in northern France.
Soumaré was part of an age group at Paris Saint-Germain which included Odsonne Édouard, Dan-Axel Zagadou, Moussa Diaby, as well as current LOSC team-mates Jonathan Ikoné and Timothy Weah.
This was a team which triumphed in the 2015 Al-Kass Cup and were only knocked out of the 2016/17 UEFA Youth League by the caffeinated youth football juggernaut, and eventual tournament winners, Red Bull Salzburg; coached by Marco Rose.
LOSC signed Soumaré in 2017 but Christophe Galtier, brought in as head coach in December to fend off relegation, rarely played him. In fact, he did not start a league match for two years until April 2019 when he impressed in a streak of five undefeated games and helped the team to finish Ligue 1 in second spot.
That summer, an injury suffered in the opening fixture at the 2019 Under-20 World Cup ended his tournament but Soumaré commenced the next club campaign as an established squad player. Autumn was particularly fruitful as Galtier handed him his Champions League debut and started him in seven of nine league matches.
A dip in form for LOSC, including an exit from the Coupe de France at the hands of a fourth-tier club, and his snub of a proposed January transfer led to a string of games in which he was an unused substitute before the Ligue 1 season was cancelled by COVID–19.
Boubakary Soumaré's Style of Play
Boubakary Soumaré caught the attention of scouts across Europe at the tail end of the 2018/19 season: he landed in the 85th percentile or higher for his position in a range of statistics including quantity of passes, dribbles, carries into the final third, pressure events where he regained possession, dribble completion rate, and tackle success rate.
During the 2019/20 season, Galtier has usually set Les Dogues up in a 4-4-2/4-2-4 shape with the aim of getting the ball forward quickly, bypassing the midfield, and creating chances by isolating defenders in the channels against dynamic attackers, like Victor Osimhen, or forcing errors in the final third through intense pressing by the front four.
By design, Soumaré is not involved in possession phases much, making only the 11th most touches of the ball per 90 minutes of LOSC players, but when he is called upon his technique stands out. The youngster has a light, cushioning first touch and likes to move the ball on quickly and efficiently.
His role does not require him to make penetrative passes, instead he recycles possession to a free team-mate with accuracy and perfect weight. This is the case even during intense transitional moments and his pass completion rate this season in Ligue 1 dips only slightly, from 90 percent to 88 percent, when passing under pressure.
Those moments of transition, especially if Soumaré wins the ball in the middle third, often showcase his most unique attribute: dribbling and ball carrying. The young Frenchman has a precise manner of shuffling the ball from one foot to the other and evading opponents.
His tall, wide-hipped frame helps him shield the ball and, while he does not have remarkable acceleration, he does build up to a high top speed while running. Soumaré’s knack for good passing is maintained even when dribbling and these bursts of ball-carrying usually end in a well-timed pass to a team-mate in an advanced area of the pitch.
Soumaré was sent off twice this past season, but he is not ill-disciplined to any serious extent; he fouled half as frequently as double-pivot partner Benjamin André did, for instance, and picked up only the 12th most yellow cards per 90 among his LOSC team-mates.
Out of possession he acts as insurance, occupying central space to allow the attacking quartet to aggressively hunt down opponents, as well as tracking runs and jockeying ball carriers.
He is less proactive than André but will follow his opposing number and press if they drop to receive the ball. In such moments, Soumaré must remember to scan for opposing attackers moving infield to find vacated space as his recovery pace may be tested at a higher level.
Soumaré has neither scored or assisted all season and while that is largely influenced by his role – only right-sided defender Tiago Djaló averages fewer touches in the opposition box among LOSC’s outfielders – there are moments when he could support play better than he does currently; get closer to team-mates, pass with more ambition, and impose his on-ball ability more in attacking phases.
Forecasting the Future for Boubakary Soumaré
Soumaré’s career has suffered from stop-start moments so far, with just three league starts in 2017/18, five in 2018/19 and 15 in 2019/20; consistent first-team minutes are the most valuable commodity for him now.
Financial uncertainty created by COVID-19, coupled with a failure to qualify for the Champions League, may prompt LOSC to seek selling opportunities but, considering keen outside interest in Osimhen and Gabriel Magalhães, Soumaré may have to stay. A further season in Ligue 1 spent developing his superb passing and rare dribbling ability might serve him well in the long term.
Lazy comparisons have been drawn with Paul Pogba but Soumaré does not have the final third impetus of his compatriot, nor is he – contrary to rumours he could be an heir to Casemiro at Real Madrid – a combative defensive anchor.
A system that allows him to operate as a box-to-box midfielder may maximise his abilities, and he could also fit well within a team which progresses the ball through their full-backs and requires a relatively passive central presence.
Around a century ago, a fellow Parisian midfielder, Jean Ducret, became the first Frenchman to win 20 international caps. Ducret played for Olympique Lillois, one of the clubs which merged to form LOSC.
He should be an inspiration for Soumaré to secure more playing time, increase his impact within matches, add to his 35 French youth international caps, graduate to Les Bleus senior squad, and continue to be yet another footballing success story from Paris’ banlieues.
Boubakary Soumaré is an excellent passer of the ball under pressure and works effectively in a fast, transitioning system. He moves the ball on quickly most of the time, but he is similarly good when he chooses to carry the ball through midfield.
Boubakary Soumaré’s weak recovery speed can create some problems when he is forced to defend in open spaces. Conversely, he is yet to show an ability to consistently impact games in the final third; his role largely dictates that he sits back while giving players in front of him license to push forward.