PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
February 22, 2022 update: Mohamed-Ali Cho continues to go from strength to strength. He was handed his France U21 national team debut in September 2021, and has already made 21 appearances in Ligue 1 this season.
Don’t discount a return to the English game for Cho, who has been linked with some of the top clubs in England: West Ham, Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton. But his name has also been mooted for a potential move to Borussia Dortmund.
But any move may be slightly premature. Last season was a good start for the 18-year-old in his first season in Ligue 1, but he is not yet a complete player.
He has a lot of things he can still learn at Angers before taking the dive into something new with a bigger club.
Who is Mohamed-Ali Cho?
France has long been a hotbed for some of the best young talent in world football. Indeed, just a cursory glance through the list of players who did not make it to the French squad for this summer’s European Championships would turn supporters of other countries green with envy.
The Under-21 European Championships were also held this summer, and again, the squad contained players such as Eduardo Camavinga, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Jules Koundé, Mattéo Guendouzi and Ibrahima Konaté, to name just a few.
With the level of talent available to the various French age-group sides, as well as the senior side, it takes quite some ability to be called up for the under-21 squad at just 17 years old.
Thus, this should be a huge indicator of Mohamed Ali-Cho, the player in question, who plies his trade for Angers SCO in Ligue 1, and is already one of the most exciting young players in a league famous for its youth development.
Cho’s career has been a bit of a merry-go-round, leaving Paris Saint-Germain as a teenager to sign with Everton.
But he would not be lost to the French game, as he returned to France in search of minutes. He has done that, though not with PSG, becoming a regular starter with Angers.
Mohamed-Ali Cho's style of play
Cho signed his first professional contract in May 2020, with Angers, making him the youngest player ever to sign a professional contract in France, which is another indicator of how highly-rated he has been.
The 17-year-old has been used as part of a front two this season by Angers head coach Gerald Baticle in his preferred 3-5-2 formation, while he has been fielded on the right wing in a 4-3-3 for France under-21s in both his appearances thus far.
This is not a surprise, since he usually does drift out to the flanks for Angers as well, and has usually been the right-sided striker in that front two, allowing him to move out to the right when Angers are building up from the back.
The former England under-16 attacker is left-footed, so his natural tendency is to cut inside from right-sided positions on the pitch. However, he has also shown the ability to go outside the defender and attack space behind him directly, before crossing or passing into the box with either foot.
Cho’s ability with his weaker foot is more than decent, and while he does tend to use his stronger foot on most occasions, he can take powerful shots with his right foot.
Thus, this has often allowed him to create space for himself to cross or shoot, since most defenders expect him to move onto his left foot when in space and are therefore positioned accordingly.
It is also interesting to note that Cho has also been used on the left of Angers’ two-man attack this season. When played on the left, he continues to move out to the flank, but usually tries to receive the ball on the run to be able to continue surging forwards without breaking his stride.
This is in contrast to his usual movement and tendencies when played centrally or on the right. On those occasions, Cho will come short to receive possession to feet and pass it on before running in behind. This will often be in the form of a sharp flick to a teammate in close proximity, or a pass backwards to a supporting player to retain possession.
Being just 17 years old, Cho is still developing physically but already has the physical profile to be able to hold off defenders with his back to the goal, which means that he is already proving to be an effective focal point for Angers, especially when Sofiane Boufal is his strike partner.
One of his strongest attributes is his pace and explosiveness. Cho is quick enough to get past most Ligue 1 defenders in a sprint, even after giving them a head-start of a few yards.
In addition, he is also able to burst into space from a near-standing start quite effectively, and this aids him a lot when he attempts his aforementioned flicks, as he can then run immediately in behind the defensive line to stretch play and/or receive the return pass.
Indeed, there have already been a few instances this season where opposition defenders have been forced to foul and bring down Cho as a last resort to prevent him from getting away.
Cho is also quite decent at dribbling, although this is more to do with his raw pace than exceptional trickery – he is simply too quick for most defenders to keep up with him, and is therefore able to go past them quite easily.
However, FBRef data shows that he has been in the 83rd percentile over the past year for completed dribbles among forwards in the top-five European leagues.
While we must caveat this by saying that the sample size is quite small (a total of 938 minutes of senior football so far across the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons for Angers), it does show that Cho is a very good player in one-on-one situations, and can only be expected to get better as he grows older and gains more top-flight experience. He is also in the 87th percentile for progressive carries over the same time period, which is another indication of his skill at ball-carrying.
Cho has scored just two top-flight goals so far. However, it must be noted that he has had a non-penalty xG (npxG) total of 0.45 per 90 minutes over the last calendar year, which puts him in the 78th percentile for forwards in Europe’s top five leagues.
Once again, the caveat of a small sample size does apply, but these are quite encouraging numbers, especially when we view them alongside his shot numbers. He has been averaging 3.01 shots per 90 in this timeframe, placing him in the 81st percentile, and therefore shows that he is both taking shots quite frequently, and taking them from decent positions.
Cho is a decent striker of the ball with both feet, although he does prefer to shoot with his preferred left foot, while his movement and positioning often means that shots are taken from positions on the right, whether in the box or from further out.
One of the biggest factors behind this is his movement. Despite being so young and only in his first full season of top-flight football, he is already extremely adept at timing his runs as well as finding space.
Watching Angers this season, one of their most frequent attacking moves has been a pass down the line from Vincent Manceau, the right-sided centre-back in the back three for Cho to run onto.
He starts from a central position but then peels out towards the right flank to receive these passes, usually dragging a defender out with him, and then attempts to either continue his run behind the defensive line, or plays the ball back short to a team-mate.
This is not meant to hype up Cho by any means, but this aspect of his gameplay reminds this writer quite a lot of Romelu Lukaku.
Of course, Cho has a long way to go before coming anywhere close to the Belgian striker’s achievements, but this is purely a stylistic comparison, with Cho having a quicker turn of pace, and not as much reliance on his strength and physical prowess.
Another interesting part of his game is his work off the ball. Angers replaced Stephane Moulin, who had been in charge for 10 years, with Baticle this summer, and that has also brought about a change in approach.
While they were solid, well-organised and difficult to beat under Moulin, Baticle has them playing more on the front foot, and also attempting to win the ball back further up the pitch.
Within this structure, Cho has certainly been pulling his weight – he ranks in the 82nd percentile for tackles, 94th percentile for pressures and 87th percentile for interceptions. It is also interesting to dig a little deeper into these numbers – he is in the 91st percentile for tackles in the middle third of the pitch, and similarly in the 92nd percentile for pressures in the same area.
This is a reflection of Angers’ approach off the ball, where they are not necessarily pressing high up the pitch; rather, they are allowing opponents to move forward with the ball before pressing heavily in the middle third and attacking quickly.
It is a sign of Cho’s maturity that he is playing a big role in this side of Angers’ game already – once again, it bears repeating that he still just 17 years old, and therefore this bodes extremely well for his future, especially given the emphasis on pressing and defensive output for forwards in the modern game.
Forecasting Mohamed-Ali Cho's Future Prospects
Given his age, it would be a huge surprise if Mohamed Ali-Cho was to look for a move away from Angers anytime soon. However, he is already showing that he has the talent and skill, as well as the maturity, to start regularly in Ligue 1.
It will be interesting to see how he is used going forward, especially if he can adapt to playing as a lone striker, or whether he is gradually moved out to the right flank instead. In either case, his physical, technical and mental attributes are already at a decent level, and he will only improve with more game time for both Angers as well as the French under-21 side.
Cho is an explosive player who is capable of playing across the attacking line. His pace makes it extremely difficult for defenders to catch him, while he is also good at coming short and linking play before surging in behind. He is also fairly two-footed, although he prefers his left foot.
Cho is sometimes susceptible to losing out in physical duels with opposition defenders, especially when he attempts to hold the ball up with his back to goal. He also needs to work on his crossing if he is to be a consistent wide option for club and country.