Amanuel Gebremichael: Ethiopia’s Electric Attacker

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Amanuel Gebremichael is a native of Ethiopia, the most populated country in East Africa. Born on 5 February 1999 he was just 17 years old when he made his debut for Mekelle Enderta 70 (Mekelle) back in 2016.

Gebremichael played for Mekelle for four years helping them win promotion from the Ethiopian Higher League (Ethiopia’s second division) to the Ethiopian Premier League in 2017. It was their first-ever promotion to the top-flight of Ethiopian football.

Two seasons later (2018/2019) Gebremichael scored the winning goal in the last match of the season to win Mekelle, their first-ever Ethiopian Premier League title. That season he scored 18 league goals and was named Ethiopian Player of the Year.

Gebremichael’s final season for Mekelle was the 2019/2020 season. He played in the CAF Champions League first preliminary round versus Equatoguinean club Cano Sport and scored one goal in both legs. However, Mekelle was eliminated 3-2 on aggregate. Unfortunately, the domestic season was ended early in May 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. As such no league champions were crowned. His team was third when the season was suspended. Despite this, he managed to score his 50th goal for the club during that campaign.

After four seasons with Mekelle, Gebremichael departed for Ethiopia’s biggest club Saint George SC. He joined them in November 2020. This season 2020/2021 has not been great for him so far. He was expected to be one of the key players for Saint George SC but has mainly fulfilled the role of an impact substitute.

Gebremichael has been a mainstay of the Ethiopian national team since early 2019 although he did make his debut back in December 2017 at just 18 years of age. So far, he has made 18 appearances for his country, contributing four goals. The most recent of which came in Ethiopia’s 4-0 win over Madagascar in the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers (See full match).

Position and Role

Gebremichael is a versatile right-footed attacking player. He has been deployed as a right-winger, left-winger, second striker, and centre-forward during his career. He has predominantly played as a left-winger for Ethiopia in a 4-3-3 formation or as a centre-forward in a 4-4-2 formation for Mekelle. 

As a left-sided attacker for Ethiopia, it appears that he is expected to stay wide and receive the ball near the touchline. Then make runs with the ball towards the byline and put crosses into the box or make runs without the ball in behind the defence to receive through-balls or balls played over the top of the defence. Defensively, it appears that his main job was to press his direct opponent i.e., the opposition’s right back when they receive the ball and try to win the ball off them or force them into a rushed pass.

When played as a lone centre-forward or as part of a striking duo for Mekelle, Gebremichael was expected to make runs in behind. He was given license to roam across the frontline and help link up the attacking play. He was also expected to try and retain the ball in the final third by controlling longer passes played up to him with his back to goal. Then laying the ball off to a teammate or turning and driving at opponents to draw fouls or create openings for goalscoring chances. In this centre-forward role, there did not seem to be any specific defensive instructions that he appeared to be following.

Attributes and Style of Play

Gebremichael is relatively short. He does not look to be taller than 1.75m. He, therefore, does not have much aerial presence and has little impact when high balls are played into his vicinity. Even though he is not tall and is unlikely to win many aerial duels he should try to be a nuisance in aerial challenges when played as a centre-forward. He should sometimes nudge taller players that he is competing for the aerial balls with, offsetting them and causing them to misdirect their headers. On other occasions, he should jump early as a way of increasing his chances of winning headers and in doing so also blocking the line of sight of the ball for the taller opponent directly behind him making it harder for them to time their leap and attack the ball.

Gebremichael is not the smallest of players but he is skinny and slight in stature. This makes him relatively weak physically and means that he struggles to hold off opponents who place physical pressure on him while attempting to tackle him. He, therefore, needs to work on strengthening his upper body by implementing a strength-focused exercise regime that allows him to increase his upper body muscle mass smartly and smoothly. This will help him maintain possession more effectively when pressured physically by opponents. Instead of having to rely on being effective in attacking areas by receiving the ball in space and either using his fantastic speed and rapid acceleration to breeze past opponents or quick interplays and one-touch passes before opponents can get touch tight.

Gebremichael has demonstrated his good stamina as well as his hardworking attitude and commitment to defending from his attacking position. When playing as a left-winger for Ethiopia in two recent matches versus Niger home (See full match) and away (see full match) in the 2022 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers as well as a friendly game against Zambia (See first half and second half) he showed a willingness to be the pressing trigger. He frequently pressed the right-back and right-sided centre-back of the opposition as soon as they received the ball from the goalkeeper or from an outfield teammate. This helped disrupt the opposition’s build-up play and led to hurried forward passes from opponents that his teammates were able to recover. He also showed a willingness to track back as the opposition progressed up the field to help provide a numerical advantage in the defensive third for his team. In addition, it was noticeable that if he squandered possession, he would sprint towards the player who robbed him of possession and try to regain it.

A key part of Gebremichael’s game is his off-the-ball runs. He makes clever curved runs from the touchline into the channel between the wing-back and centre-back to receive the ball and face the centre-back up in a 1v1 and then use his speed to try and skip past them. He also makes well-timed darting vertical runs in behind the wing-backs or centre-backs to beat the offside trap and latch on to through balls or floated balls chipped over the defenders into his path. He did this to good effect on a few occasions versus Malawi in a recent friendly match (See full match). His speed allows him to run away from the defenders and either produce a cross or take a strike at goal. Sometimes when he makes these off-the-ball runs the ball is either not passed to him straight away or is intercepted which means that he runs into an offside position without receiving the ball. However, he is quick to return to an onside position usually in a smart area between the centre-back and wing-back. As such on occasions when his team wins the ball back quickly after their initial attempted pass to him is intercepted or if one of his teammates looks to pass to him after they, or another teammate originally decided not to, he is well-positioned to make another run behind the defence for the ball to be played for him to attack. This shows he stays active in the final third and is constantly thinking of ways to receive the ball behind the last defensive line to create chances and score goals.

Gebremichael’s wing play tends to involve quick and incisive interplay. He is good at receiving the ball in wide areas cutting inside with a few touches and playing one-two’s with teammates whereby he passes the ball infield and then makes a sharp run, in front of or behind his direct opponent to receive the return pass. Allowing him to put a cross into the box or attempt a shot at goal free from his closest marker. A good example of his interplay is the goal he scored against Niger in a 2022 AFCON qualifier. The ball was played from Ethiopia’s right side into their central midfield player. As the central midfielder received the ball Gebremichael started to move back towards the wing to offer a passing option. However, once his teammate advanced towards the edge of the box with the ball, he quickly moved infield noticing that he could receive the ball in a dangerous central area. He occupied a clever position just outside the box behind the Niger midfield and in-between their right-back and centre-back. He received the ball in this position with his back to goal and immediately played a first-time pass back to his teammate who had made a forward run towards the box. His teammate instantly passed the ball back to him again as he made a short off-the-ball run into space just inside the box positioning himself facing both the goal and his teammate. He then played another first-time pass back to the same teammate who was now in the box. His teammate faced with two challenges inside the box ingeniously flicked the ball back to him once more. He then quickly controlled the ball with his thigh, allowed the ball to bounce, and then smashed a half-volley past the Nigerien goalkeeper and into the net.

Simplicity and smart decision-making are noticeable aspects of Gebremichael’s wing-play. He positions himself cleverly so that he receives the ball facing the opposition’s defence whether that be on the touchline or infield. This allows him to either drive towards the defence in a more central area or if in a wider position exploit the space behind the full-back by simply kicking the ball forward into the space and using his fantastic pace to run past them and reach the ball first. This is a simple yet effective strategy that he deploys to bypass opponents in wide areas and put crosses into the box. When space is limited in wide areas, he does not take unnecessary risks in possession by trying to force dribbles or overcomplicate his actions. Instead, he generally makes sensible decisions in these circumstances by making a simple sideways or backward pass to retain possession for his team and then making an off-the-ball run to provide a passing option. This shows he has good intelligence and judgment as he can decide when it is appropriate to try and beat his opponent and when it is better to make a simple pass to maintain possession for his team.

The only limitation in Gebremichael’s wing-play is that he is not a tricky winger who will often manipulate the ball, produce pieces of skill and weave past opponents. This can sometimes make him predictable and too easy to defend against especially if his off-the-ball runs are anticipated and thwarted. This is because he will generally look to push the ball ahead of an opponent and run after it or take a touch, pass the ball and run in behind his direct opponent. To add an extra layer to his wing play he should look to improve his close control in tight areas so that he can evade pressure more easily in these situations. He can do this by working on training ground drills that force him to receive the ball surrounded by players and having to use quick, delicate touches to manouvere the ball away from them and escape the pressure. He should also try to incorporate a few tricks, body swerves, and shimmies when traveling with the ball to confuse and deceive defenders to make it harder for them to nullify his impact during matches. Again, he can work on this in training ground exercises whereby he repeatedly faces different players in a 1v1s and tries different skills, shimmies and boy swerves to go past them. This will help make such actions instinctive for him that he can then replicate in matches without thinking.

When Gebremichael is deployed as a centre-forward in a 4-4-2 he is more inclined to focus his work on the left side of the pitch. He naturally drifts to the left and picks up positions on the shoulder of the right-sided centre-back to be primed to make a run in behind them to receive a through-ball or ball played over the top of the defence. He also takes advantage of playing in a striking duo to make subtle off-the-balls in behind the defence. He does this by dropping deeper and feigning interest in receiving the ball with his back to goal on the edge of the final third while his strike partner stays higher to occupy the centre-backs. While the centre-backs are distracted by his striker teammate stood beside them, he waits until his midfield teammate in possession looks up to play a forward pass. As soon as they do, he immediately makes an arching run to spin in behind the right-sided centre-back for the ball to be quickly chipped forward over the right-sided centre-back’s head into his path in the left channel. These runs allow him to receive the ball in space facing the goal behind the defence.

In a lone centre-forward role Gebremichael has shown that he can cover the pitch laterally to offer passing options and try to help link up the play. He does not simply stand between the two centre-backs and wait for the ball to be played to him. This is especially important as he is slight in build and struggles to hold up the ball with his back to the goal while a defender pressures him. He, therefore, understands that he needs to be moving across the attacking third and making runs in behind to allow him to receive the ball without an imposing centre-back beside him who can outmuscle him. 

Gebremichael has shown himself to have good goalscoring capabilities. He was the top goalscorer in the Ethiopian league in 2018/2019 season with 18 league goals and scored over 50 goals for Mekelle during his four years in the club’s first team. His pace and off-the-ball runs described above allow him to arrive at goalscoring areas just inside the box in most games. Most commonly on the left side of the box. Once there, his good balance and the composure he exudes combined with his comfort for finishing with either foot enables him to be relatively clinical when chances present themselves. A good example of him displaying these traits in action is the goal he scored versus Bahir Dar Kenema in the Ethiopian Premier League in December 2019 (See full match). His teammate played a hopeful outside of the left-foot forward ball from the centre of the pitch. He instantly chased after the ball realising that he could reach it first. As he raced past the nearest defender towards the bouncing ball, he had the composure to detect the goalkeeper had left his area and was charging towards him. Before the goalkeeper could get close to him, he used his balance and technique to meet the ball as it dropped with his left instep, guiding a delicate looping effort over the goalkeeper and a covering defender into the goal. He is also a competent penalty taker having scored a number of goals through this method. This further illustrates his finishing ability but also shows he has decent mental fortitude as taking penalties is inherently pressurised and stressful for the penalty taker.

Long-term potential

Having analysed Gebremichael in numerous matches for club and country he has the potential to become a very useful player for a club in Europe’s 8th-12th best leagues.

Gebremichael’s best attributes such as his finishing, off-the-ball runs into the left channel and the box, and coming off the left wing to link with teammates through quick interplay means that he can reach the limits of his potential if used as an inverted left winger as opposed to a central striker. Any future club he joins should use him in this type of role.

Potential Future Clubs

Gebremichael was expected to flourish at Saint George this season however things have not gone to plan so far. He has mainly been used as a substitute. He will be expecting to get more game time between now and the end of the season. Irrespective of this he has shown the qualities he possesses at Mekelle and for the Ethiopian national team over multiple years that should interest clubs across Africa and in Europe.

As a next step, Gebremichael could stay in Africa and move to one of east Africa’s giants like Al Hilal Omdurman or Simba SC or a good North African club like CS Sfaxien, JS Kabylie or Al Ittihad. There are also decent European clubs he could join. However, he should only move to Europe if he will be given a reasonable amount of time to adapt and an opportunity to play. At 22 years of age, he cannot afford to transfer to a European club and be stuck on the bench for a few seasons. That would be seriously detrimental to his progress and invariably impact how he develops.

So, let’s take a look at two European clubs where Gebremichael could make an impact relatively quickly and flourish: Viking Stavanger (Viking)

Viking finished in sixth place in the 2020 Eliteserien (Norway’s top division). They finished eight points behind the fourth-placed team Rosenborg who will play in the 2021/2022 UEFA Europa Leagues qualifiers. They will be hoping to improve their league position in the 2021 Eliteserien and reach the European places.

Viking’s best wide player and a key component of their attack Zymer Bytqi departed the club in January for Turkish Super Lig (Turkey’s top-flight) club Konyaspor. This has left a hole in their attack with a new left winger needed to replace the 22 goals and assists he produced for the club in the 2020 Eliteserien. To replace him is not an easy task for the club. They already have an experienced French winger called Yann-Erik de Lanlay who will be expected to replace Bytqi this season. However, they cannot rely purely on de Lanlay, who at 28 is not getting any younger. They, therefore, need to invest in a younger player who can play on the left-wing and provide goals and assists. An astute purchase to rotate with de Lanlay would be Gebremichael. He is only 22 years old and has attributes that they lack in their squad such as searing pace and goals from wide as besides Bytqi very few goals came from their wingers last season. Additionally, he is a versatile player who can also play as a centre-forward or right-winger if required which would give the manager more tactical flexibility and a wider range of available selections for his attack. From a financial standpoint, he will probably be affordable for them as Saint George, his current club, could be willing to offload him relatively cheaply as he is not currently a regular starter.

Transferring to Viking would be great for Gebremichael. The Norwegian league is a decently competitive league with many good players in it. He would be able to challenge himself against better players in training every day and during domestic fixtures. This will help him develop and become a better and more well-rounded player.

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