On Thursday night, Roma thrashed the dreams of the fairy tale story that was Bodo/Glimt’s European journey.
It was a special night. After a late 2-1 loss last week in Bodo, Norway, 10 miles north of the northern pole circle, the headlines were not about football at all. Instead, the focus was on a physical fight that had taken place after the match between Roma’s goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos and Bodo’s manager Kjetil Knutsen. Roma says Knutsen assaulted Santos, Bodo says Santos attacked Knutsen.
Whatever happened, it created tension between the clubs, the players, the managers, as well as both clubs’ sets of supporters. A tension you could cut with a knife, which has been out in the open all week.
But when push came to shove, at the second leg of the matchup at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday night, Roma used it to their advantage. The stadium was boiling before, during and after the match – just like it so famously does during the Derby della Capitale against Lazio. Roma was 3-0 up after half an hour and the team had never looked more motivated this season, bar the derby against Lazio which ended in a 3-0 victory for Roma.
In the end, Roma beat Bodo 4-0 after a goal from Tammy Abraham and a hattrick from Nicolò Zaniolo. However, although he was not on the scoresheet, there was one player more important than the goal scorers – Roma’s captain Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Pellegrini, born in the Roman neighborhood of Cinecittà, and has been a supporter of AS Roma his entire life, much like the rest of his entire family. He grew up in the club’s academy after being spotted by club scouts at age 8, whilst playing for his neighborhood team Almas Roma.
At the academy, Pellegrini was a success. But upon being promoted to the first team, and fighting for a spot there for two years, he moved to Sassuolo for regular game time – and got his big break. He recorded 11 goals and 7 assists in 54 appearances for the Neroverdi, and two years after the move, Roma exercised their buy-back clause and bought him back for more than ten times what they had sold him for. And Pellegrini has been a key player for Roma pretty much ever since.
The 25-year-old is an elegant playmaker. He has his base in the central midfield and his main task is to create for his teammates and take part in the build-ups. His strengths are his passing, his vision, his execution of that vision, his dead balls, and his overall immaculate right foot. But he is, most importantly, the heart and soul of this Roma side. He will run into the ground before he stops fighting for the club crest – and that brings us back to why he was Roma’s most important player on the pitch against Bodo on Thursday night.
Pellegrini recorded an impressive 7 chances created and 2 big chances created, as well as an assist. But his main contribution was how he motivated his teammates and the fighting spirit he instilled in them.
It was evident that this meant more to him than anybody else on the pitch. Roma was not going to get knocked out against a team that had embarrassed them with a 6-1 win in the group stages and fought one of their own in Nuno Santos last week in Bodo.
Pellegrini made sure that nothing other than a thrashing of the Norwegian side was acceptable, which showed as Roma had their guns blazing all night. The 25-year-old’s passion for the club and for the club’s reputation was the engine in Roma’s tank.
For a player to have that type of passion for the club, for the city, and for the supporters is very rare. It makes Pellegrini a part of a dying breed in the modern world of football.
”Playing for Roma means the world. I feel that many of my teammates did not know what Roma (as a club) was. I want to transmit that feeling because I know what it is. So, one of my greatest motivations every morning when I walk through the door is to make them understand what Roma means. What it means to play for this team”.
”Roma is not a joke. Roma is not a stepping stone. Roma is Roma. You do not explain it, you live it. Every time I enter the Stadio Olimpico with the teams and the referees I get goosebumps. That is what I want my teammates to experience”.
That feeling of his has probably been enhanced by the fact that Pellegrini almost did not get to play for Roma, as he suffered from heart arrhythmia as a youngster and was almost forced to quit playing football.
So, every time he is on the field, he demands absolutely everything from his teammates, who has gotten the privilege – as he sees it – that he almost did not get. To play for Roma.
Nothing short of the best is enough for him. And maybe that is why he is the ideal captain for Roma. He might not have the same status in the city or the club as previous bandieri as Francesco Totti or Daniele de Rossi – but he shares their passion for the club.
And as for Thursday night’s 4-0 win against Bodo/Glimt, that was one of the main reasons why Roma are now through to the next stages of the Europa Conference League and Bodo is not. Capitano Pellegrini was firing on his men every second he was on the pitch, both verbally and by leading by example.
After the match Pellegrini was asked by the Italian version of Sky Sports about what he thinks he brings to the team as captain and said: ”What I try to do every day is to pass on to my teammates what I live by, wearing these colors as my skin”.
That quote sums up what this entire article is about, essentially. Pellegrini is part of a dying breed of footballers. We must cherish him until he decides to hang up his boots to, lets face it, probably talk about Roma with his friends at some café around the city of Rome – whilst sipping a world-class espresso.
September 4th, 2020. A date that will go down in the history books of Benfica.
It was the day the club made the signing of the then 21-year-old Darwin Núñez official. No ordinary signing. Benfica is a club that has traditionalized a transfer strategy of signing promising players cheap, developing them, and then selling them to the top-five leagues with a nice profit. But with Darwin, they splashed 24 million euros and broke their transfer record, and the transfer record in Liga NOS, for an Uruguayan kid from Almeria in the Spanish second-tier division.
Benfica’s sporting director, the legendary AC Milan and Fiorentina player Rui Costa, was fully convinced that the club had made a coup even though they spent a record fee on the 21-year-old. Something they had to do because there was a big interest for Darwin in Europe, already at this point.
– Due to the competition we had to fight, apparently many people in Europe are thinking the same as we are. He will be one of the great strikers of this decade in world football, Rui Costa said during the player presentation.
And Rui Costa was right. After a first season at Benfica where Darwin learned the league, the increased standard of quality contra the Spanish second-tier, as well as the club’s philosophy, style of play, and system, the now 22-year-old became an instant hit in his sophomore season.
With 26 goals in 33 appearances across all competitions so far, the Uruguayan scored against Bayern Münich, Barcelona, and Ajax in the Champions League, where the goal against Ajax sent his side through to the quarter-finals.
In January 2022, Benfica had to fight off interest from the Premier League for Darwin as the club turned down an offer of 50 million euros from West Ham. A risky decision, but smart in retrospect as clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United are now said to be interested and willing to pay more than 50 million euro.
Style of play
Darwin is primarily a striker but can also operate from a wing, preferably the left wing.
He is a dynamic player with great pace, strength, and an explosive acceleration. Something that makes him a big threat on counterattacks, attacking spaces, and runs behind the opposition defense.
Although his excel qualities lay in the goal-scoring department, he has a nice chance-creating ability as well. A good eye when to make sticks in behind the opponent’s defensive line to set his teammates up.
As shown by the heatmap above, Darwin tends to operate through the central channel as well as the left channel. This is much because he often opts to collect the ball by winning it or receiving it on the left side, to then cut inside and shoot. A move he has specialized in and somewhat trademarked. This is a pattern that can be seen regardless of him playing as a left-winger or as a central striker.
Darwin also likes to drop deep to collect the ball in the early build-up, to then progress it up the pitch and set his teammates up through either the wide or central channels. Overall, he likes to be involved in the game. Regardless of if it means to start attacks or finish them off.
Strengths Darwin is first and foremost a scorer. To help him score there are a few tools in his box that helps him more than others.
Explosive pace. The 22-year-old has an impressive and dynamic pace which gives him an edge to his game. When receiving passes into spaces to attack and when using it to beat his defender with a change of tempo, for example. That, combined with a big frame (187cm/6ft1) makes him a tough opponent to beat or push off the ball. An upper hand against many opponents.
Presence in the box. On top of the physical aspect, which helps a lot in the box, one of Darwin’s other main strengths is his overall presence in the box. His understanding of the game and anticipation make him a threat in the sense that he knows where to be and when to be there. For a goal scorer, the importance of this cannot be emphasized enough. Especially combined with his physical frame and his finishing abilities – which will be discussed further. And, much like he does on the rest of the pitch as well, he scans spaces well in the box too.
Finishing. This is Darwin’s main strength. Looking at the statistics, he scores 0.27 goals per shot. That means that every third shot he takes, he scores with. A very impressive track record. Comparing it with Robert Lewandowski, who’s applauded as one of the best scorers in the game, Lewandowski scores 0.21 goals per shot with a similar number of shots taken as Darwin.
But that is a rough comparison, though, because there are a lot of other factors that are decisive for the outcome. Like tougher opposition for Lewandowski, quality of the chances in which the shots have been taken (for both players), etc. Nevertheless, it is impressive by Darwin.
Looking further into his finishing numbers, he takes 3.72 shots per game and hits 56.5 percent of his shots on target. Out of those shots on target, he scores 49 percent.
Weaknesses Close control. His touch on the ball could be described as raw. It is not bad, necessarily, but it harms parts of his game.
In buildups and linkup play Darwin struggles as his touch, combined with his lack of coordination, and somewhat lack of composure, makes him a fragile focal point. Transitioning play through him, as a focal point, has proven unsuccessful for Benfica and the managers he’s played under. This is an area of his game that he must improve to become a more complete striker.
Transitioning play through him by him dropping down, collecting the ball, and progressing it is another scenario, though. Because then he can use his pace and athleticism to break lines and start attacks, which he has successfully proven that he is capable of.
Raw shots. Looking at Darwin’s shooting technique, it can be described as raw. He has the precision, but the strike on the ball is still somewhat raw and untrained. This is an area that has been improved since he joined Benfica, though, which to an extent can be seen as well in the increased number of goals he has scored in his sophomore season at the club. But if Darwin tunes this even further it will give him an even bigger edge as a striker and it will add more goals to his tally.
Conclusion Darwin Núñez is a bona fide goal scorer. He is a part of a somewhat dying breed of striker. The type which has the athleticism, the size, and who both scores and assists goals.
His talent and quality are undeniable. He scores a lot, is an effective finisher, and has an edge with his pace and physical frame. If played as solely a number nine with the mission to score, he could probably do a good job already in one of Europe’s top-five leagues. But there are areas to his game in which he can improve and become an even more complete striker. That improvement could be the difference between making it at a top club and making it at a club just below the top club for him.
The 22-year-old has registered 26 goals and 2 assists in 33 appearances for Benfica this season, with goals in the big and important games against Barcelona, Bayern Münich, and Ajax. Something that testifies to him being a dependable player.
His strengths outweigh his weaknesses, and that is why clubs are prepared to pay big money for his signature in the summer. Given his age, his ability, and his accomplishments, it would be surprising if he did not play in a top-five league come the end of the summer transfer window.
Just over a week ago Liverpool won their first title of the season, the first title since the Premier League title in 2019-20. After a dragged-out penalty shootout against Chelsea at Wembley Stadium, the Reds were crowned victorious in the Carabao Cup when Kepa Arrizabalaga blasted his penalty high over Caoimhin Kelleher’s crossbar.
In this final, there was a noteworthy absentee, though. The Reds’ leading goal scorer in the competition: Takumi Minamino. The Japanese international had recorded four goals and one assist in five appearances on the road to Wembley. Together with Kelleher, Minamino was perhaps the biggest key player for Liverpool’s title. But there is a bigger perspective.
Minamino’s performances in the Carabao Cup this season have highlighted his importance to this Liverpool team as an ideal backup to Roberto Firmino.
With the additions of Diogo Jota and Luís Diaz to Liverpool’s front three, Jürgen Klopp has added tactical flexibility. The Portuguese and the Colombian provide the central striker position at Liverpool with a prolific goal-scoring prowess, something Firmino and Minamino do not provide to the same extent. But as Liverpool supporters who have followed Liverpool under Klopp’s leadership are aware of, the German prefers the Firmino and Minamino type of striker in bigger and more important fixtures. Something that means Firmino’s and Minamino’s presence is still of great importance to Klopp’s selection.
As Minamino has mostly played in the Carabao Cup this season, his underlying numbers there are hard to come by and the sample size of those numbers in the Premier League is too small and therefore misleading. Therefore, the following discussion will be based on observations and analyzing his numbers in general.
To begin with, Minamino’s general numbers indicate that he is an effective presser. Per 90, he completes a big number of pressuring actions with good efficiency and success – above the Premier League standard of around 25 to 30 percent. That means that the ball is successfully recovered within five seconds of the pressuring action. The fact that Minamino places himself above this standard shows he is skilled at identifying pressing triggers, reads the game well and knows how he should press. Three vital characteristics for a Klopp system.
Moving on, the Japanese international is slightly below Firmino in shot-creating actions per 90 minutes. This could indicate a few things. Maybe he does not have the ball to the same extent as Firmino during a game, maybe Firmino is more skilled on the ball with setting up his teammates with shooting opportunities. It is hard to know, but the fact is that Minamino historically averages around 1-1,5 less shot-creating action per 90 than his Brazilian counterpart, who averages around 2.5 shot-creating actions per 90. But with that being said, Minamino’s numbers are not bad in this aspect, it’s more that Firmino’s are good.
Diving into their respective goalscoring abilities, both Minamino and Firmino are performing more or less on par with their xG this season. It should be noted, however, that Minamino has scored nine goals this season, contra Firmino’s eight goals – and Minamino has scored more whilst having played 500 minutes less.
Quite telling statistics that Minamino is a more clinical/efficient goal scorer, at least this season. Comparing, per 90, Minamino’s five appearances in the Carabao Cup to Firmino in the Premier League, where the Brazilian has made eight 90 minute appearances in total, Minamino has a goal conversion of 25 percent contra Firmino’s goal conversion of 20 percent. So, there is not a big difference, but Minamino holds a bit of an upper hand in the scoring department this season. Also, Minamino only missed one big chance in five Carabao Cup appearances.
However, it should be noted that the statistics above do not show which player has gotten the most or best chances to score.
Looking at these three departments, which are the three key departments for a false nine role in Klopp’s system, Firmino and Minamino are statistically fairly equal this season. But that is only one conclusion.
The other conclusion is that Minamino’s 2021-22 season so far has changed the narrative that he is a flop signing. He has been a key player behind a title and the £7.25m investment Liverpool made in signing him from Red Bull Salzburg is not a big one due to three reasons.
One, Minamino has been one of the main factors behind a title being won. Even though it is ”just” the Carabao Cup.
Reason number two is that if Liverpool would like to cash in on Minamino this summer, or if the player wants to leave for more playing time, the club will at least recoup double of the investment it made in bringing Minamino to Anfield.
Reason number three is that if the club decides to keep Minamino, they have a more than good enough backup player to Roberto Firmino who is aging and has struggled with injuries this season. Not to mention Minamino being able to play anywhere across the front three, which also is a big asset.
As the World Cup qualifiers came to an end, Georgia finished second to last in group B. A let down for the nation who aimed at competing for a playoff spot, as they fell on the goal line in the EUROs playoffs against North Macedonia.
But in the midst of the darkness of not making it to the playoffs, there’s been a constant light of beacon for Georgia. A 20-year-old kid from the country’s capital, Tbilisi, who has given the nation hope for the future: Kvicha Kvaratskhelia.
– Khvicha started his career at Dinamo Tbilisi. This club has raised many great Georgian players and I am sure Khvicha will be included in this list soon. He later signed for Lokomotiv Moscow, but only six months later he was sold to Rubin Kazan where he plays today, Georgian journalist and football expert Lasha Kokiashvili tells FootballElements and continues:
– Khvicha soon became a leader in Rubin. He had complete confidence from the coaches and never had a problem with getting playing time. His favorite position is left-winger, where he feels best. The key to Rubin’s success was Kvaratskhelia, with whom his team started showing offensive football. This was followed by a logical continuation: Top clubs in Europe started following him and there were a lot of talks about a potential transfer this summer. But ultimately he stayed.
Kvaratskhelia made his international debut in 2019. But it wasn’t until 2020 that he was fully introduced as a regular in the national team – and then he made immediate success. In his first two games in the UEFA Nations League, he had an assist against both Estonia and North Macedonia. But he didn’t get full recognition on a larger scale until the World Cup qualifiers started in March 2021, as he scored goals in consecutive games against Spain and Greece.
As a player, Kvaratskhelia is very fast, has quick feet with a lot of flair, is a fast thinker and is a very hard worker. He is a winger who is a constant goal threat, but he can also create chances out of nothing as shown against Sweden in the World Cup qualifiers, for example. He excels in one against one situations and handles himself extremely well in closed-off areas. His style of play reminds you a lot of a young Lionel Messi. The dribbles are not anything complex, but, instead, he uses his speed, low point of gravity and intelligence to get past defenders. Either by sprinting past them or by fooling them with tricky body movements.
– He is style of play is totally attacking. He never stops. It does not matter who is standing in front of him or how many defenders are going to try and stop him. When he gets the ball he only thinks of attacking. Sometimes he runs so much that at the end of the match he seems tired. But that’s okay, he will learn to distribute time properly. He is still very young.
But despite being only 20-years-old, Kokiashvili holds Kvaratskhelia extremely high.
– I can say that Khvicha is not only the best young player in our country now, but he is the best Georgian player. Period. When we talk about talents, I would definitely mention Giorgi Chakvetadze who I think is no less talented. It’s just that injuries have made life very difficult for him. But he is also very young and can play great football. My advice would be to watch him too.
The tricky winger quickly gained interest and recognition from big clubs around Europe after his performances in the World Cup qualifiers, and Milan’s technical director Paolo Maldini, and sporting director Ricky Massara, were rumored to be admirers. But despite interest from many big clubs, Kvaratskhelia stayed a Rubin player. Why? Lasha Kokiashvili explains:
– First of all, his transfer fee. Rubin wanted €20 million for Kvicha and that is not a small amount of money for a boy who is from Georgia and plays for a mid-level Russian club. A lot of clubs can not risk paying that amount, so they prefer to buy talents from France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany instead.
– The second reason is his agent, Mamuka Jugheli. Jugheli likes to take Georgian players to play in Russia and have them there for a long time. He is not a top agent. I can not say that he is a bad agent, but I want better for Khvicha. I think Jugheli finds it difficult to represent Khvicha better and even hinders his development a bit. He has mentioned in a lot of interviews that he had contacts with the best clubs in Europe and that he had visited European countries to negotiate. Although, there is nothing that confirms this. Khvicha is still at Rubin and that is the reality.
– The third reason is non-EU citizenship. This is a problem for European clubs as there is a limit in many leagues. Against the background of all this, Khvicha remained in Rubin and that had a bad effect on him. Until the last moment (August 31st), Khvicha believed that he would move to a club in a top-five league – but the transfer did not take place. That was the main reason for his bad start to the season.
Kvaratskhelia ended the 2020-21 season with four goals and eight assists in 23 appearances. But, as mentioned by Kokiashvili above, his start to the 2021-22 season has been slower. In 14 appearances so far, the 20-year-old has only managed to score once and provide two assists.
What has not stopped, though, is his success in the national team. In November he scored twice against Sweden in Batumi, Georgia’s second-largest city, to more or less end Sweden’s dreams of winning the group ahead of Spain. Against a defense consisting of Emil Krafth (Newcastle), Victor Nilsson Lindelöf (Manchester United), Joakim Nilsson (Arminia Bielefeld) and Ludwig Augustinsson (Sevilla), Kvaratskhelia ran riot. He could not be stopped by the defense that had just conceded three goals in the previous six games, albeit Nilsson is not a regular starter for Sweden.
He ended the World Cup qualifications with four goals in seven appearances. That is just the beginning of a very successful career, Kokiashvili thinks.
– He has everything to play football on a grand level. First of all, he has faith. He knows what he is doing and he knows what he needs to do in the future. Khvicha is well aware of what talent he has and what it can become one day. His dream is to play for Real Madrid and win the Champions League. Secondly, he has a mentality that will help him play great football. The main thing now is to leave Russia soon and move to a club where he will have a lot of playing time and the confidence of the coach.
Where do you think a good place for that would be? – I think Bundesliga and La Liga are ideal for his football. Teams score a lot of goals in both of these leagues and they love to play attacking football. Khvicha would fit in perfectly with the teams of these two leagues. However, I can comfortably say that he would fit in very well in all top-five leagues. Khvicha is a great talent and he needs the right club and the right coach.
In recent years, the Belgian Jupiler Pro League has provided European football with many great strikers. Victor Osimhen, Jonathan David, Roman Yaremchuk and Mbwana Samatta to name a few. Then there is one striker who has scored more goals than any of the aforementioned and who is still in the league, waiting to join Europe’s top five leagues: Paul Onuachu.
Since the end of the 2020-21 season Onuachu has been rumored to teams like Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, Dortmund, Tottenham, West Ham – but looking back at his early career it was not for certain that Onuachu was going to play professional football.
Growing up in Ojo, Lagos State in Nigeria, it was difficult to make ends meet for Onuachu and his family. There was not always food on the table for him, but he kept dreaming of becoming a professional footballer.
He then got scouted at a local youth tournament and signed for an academy in Togo. But after eight months he returned home and could not find a club thereafter. No club wanted to sign him. As time went on, his father kept on pushing him that he needed to do something with his life and help out contributing to the family. At last, Onuachu listened. He decided to do something else in life – but then he met one of his old coaches who helped him get a place in FC Ebedei’s academy. And that was the turning point of his career.
He became a prolific goal scorer for Ebedei’s youth team and soon their affiliate team, FC Midtjylland, in the Danish first-tier division, offered him a scholarship to come play for them. So, at 18 he traveled to Denmark to start his professional career.
The first two years at the club he was a substitute player. The third year he spent on loan at second-tier team Vejle BK. But thereafter he established himself as an important player for the club.
From 2015 to 2019, he won two league titles with Midtjylland and one Danish cup title. Overall, he scored 74 goals and provided 23 assists in 181 appearances for the Danish side and that led to bigger teams opening their eyes for him – and to him getting his first call up to the Nigerian national team in March 2019 at age 24.
In August 2019, he was signed by Belgian side Genk for six million euros and it has been at Genk Onuachu really has made a name for himself on the European scene. His first season ended in ten goals and two assists in 29 appearances. Although not bad, perhaps one should not make too much of those stats as it was his first season in a new country, new league and new team – but the season after that he really showed his class.
During the 2020-21 season, Onuachu scored 35 goals and 5 assists in 41 appearances for Genk. 0,85 goals per 90 and 0,95 points per 90. He became the top scorer in the Belgian Jupiler League with 33 goals in 38 appearances and got awarded Player of The Year. On top of that, he helped Genk win the Belgian cup and scored two goals in the final.
So, how is Onuachu as a player?
At 201cm (6ft6in) Onuachu is a big-framed striker. It makes him a tremendous asset in the opposition’s penalty box, as he has a big and dangerous presence. As many players of his size could be clumsy, Onuachu instead is very intelligent in the his use of his frame. He knows exactly how to use it to his advantage, for example, to protect the ball and retain possession or to win aerials in the opponent’s penalty box/other key areas of the pitch.
Further, Onuachu is a clinical finisher. He rarely shows nerves in front of goals and is very competent in scoring with both his feet and his head. But another reason why he scores so many goals is his positioning in the penalty area and his anticipation. He knows exactly where to be and when to be there, an essential characteristic for a striker which Onuachu uses so well.
That said, he is also a good creator. As he is often targeted for long balls from his teammates, he has developed a skill set to keep the ball and create chances for his teammates in the next phase of the attack thereafter.
Onuachu is a prototype target man. He is a monster in the box, he has the size and knows how to use it well to his advantage, he can retain the ball and be the focal point of attacks – but he can also set up his teammates with intelligent passing. He is limited when it comes to speed and pressing, but you cannot really expect a target man to provide that for you. His focus is to be where he is needed in the box to score, be a focal point in attacks and to retain possession whilst his teammates join in the attacks. And for that Onuachu is a special breed in European football.
He is a late bloomer, but his quality has been noticed, acknowledged and wanted by some of the best clubs in Europe who are now interested in acquiring his services.
He’s come a long way from the streets of Ojo, Nigeria, and almost quitting as nobody wanted him. Paul Onuachu is now one of the hottest striker names in Europe – and he is yet another proof that you should never stop believing and pursuing your dreams. Because if you work hard enough and believe, preparation will meet opportunity.
Barcelona’s academy never died. After Riqui Puig, Monchu, Jandro Orellana and Carles Aleñá, La Masia has seen the rise of another talent at the heart of the pitch: Pablo Paez Gavira, or shortly referred to as ‘Gavi’. At 172 centimeters, ‘Gavi’ is not among the tallest players. Yet it is the combination of a low centre of gravity and the footballing IQ that provoke ‘wow’ reactions among football fans. Hailed as a big talent since he joined Barcelona’s academy in 2015 from Real Betis, his performances with the first team in this pre-season has earned him more and more traction as more fans discovered the young gem.
He describes himself as ”a technical player, agile and who arrives into the penalty area”. Fans could observe how glued the ball seemed to be onto his feet. Note that these characteristics are rare in Barcelona’s academy. He’s only 16 years old, but it felt as if he had always played with the first team. Links seemed to be constructed very easily on the pitch, building bridges in real-time during the match as he released the final ball. Girona and Gimnastic, Barcelona’s first two opponents in the pre-season, found it hard to lure Gavi. His press resistance is no surprise. However, it is his ‘strength’, or better said the ability to hold the ball despite multiple challenges from the opposition without losing his balance. Perhaps one could argue that Carles Aleñá and Riqui Puig hold similar characteristics: But the resistance to opponent challenges seems better, more solid. His own manager at Barcelona, Franc Artiga, had commented on his improvement:
”Physically, this year he has evolved a lot.”He has made the change and is now a very strong player. This physique complements his technical quality and decision-making. He now has the quality to protect the ball. His lower body helps him and has made him more competitive in the youth teams.”
Though Franc Artiga has left Barcelona as his contract was not renewed, the comments are still relevant. Under Sergi Milá, his development has not slowed down, as expected. Perhaps Gavi’s versatility is the most impressive, able to carry, deliver the final ball or score himself through late arrivals in the opponent penalty box. All of these can be noticed in the same match. Without a doubt, it is hard to not be excited about the sixteen-year-old. His notion of anticipation only aids his actions as deception is also one of the main traits of his game. One step ahead of his opponent, a simple body turn allows him to surpass his opponents. Perhaps he has learned from Busquets or Pedri, who also use their body orientation as a simple but effective tool to outshine their opposition. Only years of practice under brilliant managers could forge the brain he now can boast of.
The difference to most players is that is happy to contribute defensively without diminishing his offensive output. A main trait of the ‘hypercompetitive’ Gavi, as Franc Artiga said it: he can perhaps be too competitive at times, rushing too much for the win. Though he can control the game and adapt to the required rhythm for the team, he can tend to be a bit impatient when it comes to winning. Unlike most, he rarely loses the ball, and should this happen, fans can be assured it will not happen in dangerous areas.
“He plays and executes on instinct. More experience will help him be able to read the game, and not act so much on instinct”
Though the former description might make Gavi seem like the ultimate talent every club should bet on, fans should not expect a starter right away from Pablo Paez Gavira. He still needs more experience to rely less on his instinct and more on his understanding, despite already being excellent. It can only go upward from here for the sixteen-year-old: ‘Gavi’ has a bright future and he simply has to continue what he’s doing until he fully develops: Though he could step in to help the first team, he still has time to develop more and more, commit fewer errors and improve.
Paris Saint-Germain has one of the most prestigious and effective academies in France. Not only from the Parisian region that’s the hailed by the likes of Thierry Henry and Kylian Mbappé for its’ street football. The same street football that helped form the aforementioned players to who they were and are. But the PSG academy is very present around all of France.
The results it’s had speaks for themselves. In world football today you could form an elite-level starting elven by only players who’ve left PSG before establishing themselves in the senior squad.
One name that’s not on the list, due to the high-level competition, is Adil Aouchiche. But don’t let that fool you. Seen to pure talent, Aouchiche is better than many of the offensive players which have just been mentioned.
Who is Adil Aouchiche?
Aouchiche was born in the Parisian suburb Le Blanc-Masnil on July 15th 2002 to parents of Algerian descent. He started in the PSG academy at age 12 after having spent the majority of his early years in Tremblay FC.
The now 18-year-old Aouchiche was not only the rising star in the PSG academy but in the French youth national teams as well. In the U17 EUROs, he was the tournament’s top scorer with 9 goals in 5 games, including 4 goals against the Czech Republic and a hattrick against Sweden. Later that year, as France won bronze in the 2019 U17 World Cup, Aouchiche was the main creator as he registered 1 goal and 7 assists in 7 games. More than a goal produced per 90.
After the tournament, he got to feature 5 times for PSG’s senior side in which he scored 1 goal. A goal that made him the second youngest goalscorer in PSG history. But in the end, Aouchiche left PSG for Saint-Etienne in the summer of 2020. He was a part of the senior squad, was very highly rated, but didn’t see a realistic path for himself to a spot in the lineup as he was fighting against the likes of Neymar, Kylian Mbappé, and Angel Di Maria. Therefore, he left to get game time.
Player profile, strengths and weaknesses.
The first aspect of Aouchiche’s game that must be highlighted is how well-rounded he is offensively. The 18-year-old is very completed in the way that he’s both a goal-scoring threat and as well as being an orchestrator pulling the strings of the attacks. Much like Kevin de Bruyne at Manchester City. Although, he excels in chance creation. This past season he created 59 chances (12th in the league) and 12 big chances (11th) in Ligue 1, as well as 4.89 in shot-creation per 90. This all resulted in 5 assists. Adding to this, he’s a big threat at set-pieces too with his passing foot (corners, long-range free kicks, etc).
Furthermore, he’s very tricky to control as he’s very unpredictable and his technique makes it tough to dispossess him, even in crowded areas where Aouchiche is excellent at maneuvering the ball. He’s got excellent flair as well. He succeeded 53.2 percent of all his dribbles in Ligue 1 this past season, which should be seen as an acceptable achievement given it was his first season at senior level.
Defensively he contributes a lot as well. On average he executed 20 pressuring actions per 90 in Ligue 1 this past season, where he succeeded in 28.1 percent. Meaning his team regained possession within 5 seconds of the pressuring action being executed. To that, it should be added that 28.1 percent is really good seeing to the European standard which is around 20-25 percent.
Aouchiche is a player beyond his years. He’s more mature in his decision-making, vision, and execution than most players his age. He’s got excellent technique, excellent passing-foot to match his vision but above all, he’s a difference-maker. He’s yet to prove that more at senior level, but it’s hard to count the times he’s stepped up in PSG’s and France’s youth team when the going got tough or when it mattered the most. And that itself says a lot about the winner’s mentality he’s got.
The areas of his game he still needs to improve are mainly gaining experience. At this season you’ve seen that he hasn’t fully adapted to senior football yet. Instances where he doesn’t get away with things he did at youth level. It could be making one dribble too much and losing the ball for example. But these are things that come with time. One should remember that he’s still just 18 years old and has a lot to learn. But with that said, he’s far ahead of most players his age.
Like most skilled attacking players of French origin, Aouchiche has at many times been compared to Zinidine Zidane. Like most young players, it’s unfair to put that pressure on him, and it’s hard to decide whether it’s an accurate comparison to make. But what’s certain is that Adil Aouchiche deserves to be compared to the best. He’s that good of a talent.
Speaking from personal opinion, he’s a world-class talent. The only thing he needs is continued game time to keep on growing, improving, and adapting to the men’s game. Adil Aouchiche is 100 percent a player to watch for the future and his impact at club level will only grow with time. He’s now got one senior season under his belt, in which you could see clear improvement at the start and end of, so it will be even more exciting to follow him in the coming.
Said Aweys Ali was born in the Somalian capital Mogadishu on 1 January 2000. The 21-year-old started his club career at Somali club Waxool and made his debut for them during the 2016/2017 season. He subsequently moved to Mogadishu City Club in 2018.
Since joining Mogadishu City Club, Ali has not yet established himself as their undisputed number one goalkeeper. Last season (2019/2020) he started some matches but was on the bench for others. In late September 2020, towards the end of the last campaign, he suffered a bad leg injury. It took him four months to recover from the injury as he only returned to the first team in early February 2021. He has started the last five league matches of the 2020/2021 Somali Premier League.
Despite Ali’s tender years, he has already started six matches for the Somalian national team. All his international appearances came in 2019 including in 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying matches and the 2019 CECAFA Cup.
Standing at 1.88m+ Ali is a good height for a goalkeeper. His size gives him an aerial presence and provides him with the ability to be commanding when dealing with aerial balls. However, he is not as dominant in this area as he should be. He appears to lack the vertical spring to tower above opponents to claim aerial balls. He, therefore, needs to work on improving the timing of his leaps and the height of his spring as this will aid him when performing jumps to collect the ball. He can improve the timing of his jumps by working repeatedly on training ground exercises that force him to have to claim aerially balls when challenged by opponents. Alongside this, he could implement a squat-based exercise regime focused on increasing the strength and power of his leg muscles. In turn, this would increase how high he can jump. Together these exercises would enable him to enhance his aerial dominance and make him more effective when dealing with aerial balls.
In the international matches reviewed Ali generally preferred to tip or punch crosses or high balls into the box away from goal and push or flick shots away from goal rather than attempt to catch them. This was sometimes the right thing to do to deal especially when dealing with powerfully struck crosses or shots. In other instances, it created uncertainty for his teammates as he did not catch or collect the ball and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. Instead of tipping or parrying the ball for a corner which his team has to defend or into an area where an opponent could take a shot at goal or produce a goalscoring opportunity. Having the ability to catch crosses when under pressure or catch threatening shots can give confidence and reassurance to the defence as well as give the defence and team as whole a rest if they are facing sustained pressure.
In more recent matches against Horseed (See full match) and Raadsan (See full match) in the 2020/2021 Somali Premier League Ali seems to have made some improvements in terms of catching crosses and high balls. In these matches, he demonstrated his ability to claim crosses and high balls rather than pushing them away from goal. However, he still needs to improve this area of his game if he wants to play at a higher level. This can be done by performing different training ground drills that focus on his ball-handling from different types of aerial balls for example whipped balls, floated balls, looping balls that come towards him at varying speeds and heights. He also needs to focus on enhancing his shot-catching skills to enable him to better deal with shots fired at him that are capable of being caught. Again, this requires work on the training ground with the goalkeeping coach whereby they strike different types of shots at him from different angles, heights, and speeds and he has to try and catch the shots. Repeating this over time will improve his handling of shots. If he can improve his ball-catching skills from aerial balls and shots this will give him the platform to better judge when he should catch or parry an incoming cross or shot.
To be an effective goalkeeper you need to have quick reflexes and reactions. Ali certainly has these traits. He has decent hand-eye co-ordination that enables him to react quickly and decisively to unexpected, and/or close-range shots. He can divert these shots away from the goal by quickly lifting his arm/s or a leg to block goal-bound shots. He is also able to move in one direction to try and reach a shot but rapidly readjust his feet and body position when the ball is deflected in a different direction and still be able to outstretch his arm/s and or leg to prevent the ball from going into the goal.
When preparing to face a shot Ali adopts a partially crouched stance with his arms spread marginally away from his body and lower arms raised upwards towards his chest with his hands facing away from his body. At the same time, his legs are bent somewhat allowing him to push off them to generate the spring necessary to dive towards the direction the ball is heading in. A good example of where this stance benefitted him was in the stunning save he made versus Eritrea in the 2019 CECAFA Cup (See second half). A low cross was played into an unmarked Eritrean player near the penalty spot. They hit a right-footed shot with bend and whip towards Ali’s right corner. As the ball flew towards the corner of the net, he was able to quickly shift his feet a few paces across his goal line. His partially crouched body stance and slightly bent legs enabled him to dive to his right side, extend his arms and make a fingertip save to parry the ball onto the post and away from danger. This also highlighted his good footwork, quick reactions, and agility as he moved across his goal-line smoothly and quickly to save the incoming shot heading towards the corner of the net.
Ali has shown himself to be effective in 1v1 situations. When facing a player in a 1v1 situation, he bends his legs slightly and places them quite wide from each other. Simultaneously he has a partially crouched stance and his arms close to his body and bent at around a 120-degree angle. This body positioning helped him block a 1v1 in the first leg of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe (See full match). The Zimbabwe player charged towards goal via a counter-attack and Ali raced from his goal to close down the player. The player sought to beat Ali by placing a shot past him on his left-hand side and into the goal. However, Ali’s slightly bent legs enabled him to quickly and easily outstretch his left leg to block the shot and prevent a certain goal. His stance for dealing with 1v1’s is good although it can be improved if he spread his arms a little further away from his body to make himself a larger obstacle to beat while also making it easier for him to extend his arms if he needs to save a shot in these circumstances. He can implement this by moving his arms slightly wider from his body in 1v1 training ground drills so that it becomes second nature during matches.
Ali has adequate ball control, short and medium-range passing, and composure on the ball for a goalkeeper. He is relatively comfortable passing out from the back but tends to play simple sideways passes to his teammates as opposed to forward ground passes. To help the build-up play he should look to play more forward ground passes. However, he should refrain from doing so if there is an obvious risk of his pass being intercepted due to the likely close proximity between where the interception would occur and the goal. His calmness on the ball under pressure was exemplified in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier first-leg win over Zimbabwe. A bouncing ball was kicked towards him and as he sought to bring the ball under control he was sharply closed down by a Zimbabwean player. As the player approached, he controlled the bouncing ball on his chest let the ball bounce, and then side-footed the ball over the pressing player’s head to his teammate standing behind the opponent who then cleared the ball. The ball control, accurate pass, and composure he showed here allowed his team to maintain possession. Whereas he could have chested the ball and kicked it out of play in turn surrendering possession to the opposition.
It was noticeable that Ali did not take goal-kicks that required a long kick up field, in the games reviewed. This was left to his teammates. Due to the number of games reviewed where this took place including 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and Somali Premier League matches it is likely that he did not take these types of goal kicks because his kicking technique is poor. He cannot have a hugely successful career as a goalkeeper if he struggles with his kicking to the extent that teammates must take all of these types of goal-kicks. He, therefore, needs to work hard on improving this aspect of his game. He can do this by placing balls inside the penalty box in every training session and continuously attempting to kick the balls as high and as far away from his goal as possible. As part of his kicking technique, he should look to lean back as he strikes the ball and makes sure the laces of his boot go under the ball to generate the power and upwards trajectory needed for a sound goal-kick.
An impressive aspect of Ali’s game is his communication and leadership skills. During matches, he is constantly communicating with his defenders, telling them where to stand and where to position themselves when he has the ball and is looking to throw or pass the ball to a teammate. He is also vocal at set-pieces organising his defenders and gesticulating where he wants them to stand despite being significantly younger and less experienced than most of his teammates. To be this confident and assertive when building up the play from the goal and defending set-pieces shows his leadership qualities and a willingness to take responsibility for decision making.
Ali has demonstrated that he has the tools to develop into a solid goalkeeper. He has the potential to become a mainstay for his country and one of the better goalkeepers in East Africa. He could reach an even higher level if he can make the required improvements and do so quickly.
Potential Future Clubs
Since returning from injury Ali has established himself as Mogadishu City Club’s number one goalkeeper with some impressive performances in the Somali Premier League in recent weeks against Horseed, Raadsan and Dekedaha (See full match).
Providing Ali maintains his current form a potential transfer to a foreign club in a stronger league should hopefully present itself for him. If it does, he should be willing to move. However, he should only move if he has a clear pathway to becoming the first-choice goalkeeper.
Let’s look at two clubs that would be a good step-up for Ali and where he could become number one goalkeeper:
Saint George SC
Saint George is Ethiopia’s most well-renowned and successful club. They have won the Ethiopian Premier League title on numerous occasions, most recently in the 2016-2017 season.
Having reviewed the Saint George squad it is evident that they need to sign a new younger goalkeeper. Currently, they have Patrick Matasi as first-choice goalkeeper and Lealem Birhanu as the back-up goalkeeper. Both are in their mid-thirties and coming towards the end of their careers. They will therefore need to sign a younger goalkeeper who can either be first-choice straight away or supplement the squad with a view to replacing Matasi as first-choice in a years’ time. A good option for them would be Ali. He is only 21 years of age, has international experience, decent fundamentals physically and technically for a goalkeeper with plenty of room for development, and would likely be available for a very low fee.
Transferring to Saint George would be ideal for Ali. He would have the opportunity to develop his goalkeeping attributes while representing a prestigious East African club and playing in a better league. The transition from Somalia to Ethiopia would not be too significant from a footballing and personal point of view making it easier for him to adapt. Additionally, as their first-choice goalkeeper is 33 it is likely that if he moved there, he could be an understudy for 6-12 months and then become first-choice goalkeeper. Alternatively, if he performed well on arrival he could become first-choice earlier.
Al Amal Atbara
Al Amal Atbara is currently in the Sudanese Premier League and has played at that level for numerous seasons. Last season (2019-2020) they finished in an impressive fourth place. They have had an acceptable start to the 2020-2021 season and currently find themselves in sixth place. They will be hoping to improve as the season progresses and cement a top-six spot.
Looking forward to the 2021-2022 season if Al Amal Atbara wants to have a successful season and potentially challenge Sudanese giants Al Hilal Omdurman and Al Merrikh they will need to have an astute summer transfer window. One position where they need to improve and do so wisely is in goal. Their first-choice goalkeeper is Akram Salim is 34 and is heading towards retirement. They, therefore, need to sign a younger goalkeeper who can be an upgrade on him. A good choice would be Ali. He is only 21 years old, would be a low-cost option, and could provide long-term stability in this position. Alongside this, if he were first-choice and was able to improve his weaknesses he could potentially become a valuable asset for the club who they could make a profit on after 2-3 seasons.
A move to Al Amal Atbara would be great for Ali. They are a respectable club that performs in a more competitive and higher quality league. He would therefore experience training and playing against better players that would help him improve his game. Moving to Sudan from Somalia would be a relatively smooth change for him and it is unlikely that it would take long for him to adapt to his new surroundings if he joined them. In turn, he would be able to focus purely on football and improving his skill set every day rather than having to worry about settling into a new country with a totally different culture and lifestyle.
Additionally, Al Amal Atbara’s number one goalkeeper is 34 and they will likely be looking for a younger first-choice goalkeeper for next season. Therefore, if they signed Ali for next season, they would probably be doing so with the intention of making him their first-choice goalkeeper. Becoming a first-choice goalkeeper at a club like Al Amal Atbara and being provided with plenty of first-team opportunities would help him grow and develop as a goalkeeper rapidly. Such an opportunity to be a regular starter at a club like Al Amal Atbara is unlikely to be available at many other clubs of their stature for him.
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.
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.
Many might only remember SebastiánCoates as the 21-year-old Uruguayan centre-half that came to England and never seemed to settle, either at Liverpool or at Sunderland. Coates joined Liverpool after having been named “Best Young Player” of the Copa Ámerica when Uruguay won in 2011. People that knew him from his time in South America, more specifically in Uruguayan top-tier side Nacional, spoke of him very highly as well – but he never managed to show it consistently and in 2017 he left England after two seasons in Liverpool and two seasons at Sunderland to play for Portuguese side Sporting CP.
But what has happened since?
– His move to Sporting has made his career. In England, he never got his genuine breakthrough. At Sporting, he has found his home and is a recognized, respected player, the author of the Twitter account “Uruguayan Heroes” tells Football Elements.
But it didn’t happen overnight. Despite becoming a regular in the Sporting lineup, the Uruguayan international had some up-and-down performances prior to finding his feet. Today, though, he’s regarded as one of the best defenders in Liga NOS. He’s helped Sporting win 3 Taca da Liga titles and 1 Taca da Portugal title.
But, seemingly, the best is yet to come. Throughout the 2020-21 season, Coates has played the best football of his career. He’s led his team both by being commanding and by leading by example. He’s stepped up in crucial moments, like in Sporting’s latest match against Gil Vicente where Coates scored two late goals (84th, 91st) to give his team a 2-1 win. But, perhaps most of all, by stepping up and playing on a level he’s rarely shown before.
– He’s a much more complete player (than when he came), he is our captain, our leader on the pitch, off the pitch, and in the locker room. He’s respected by all, his peers, administrators, and fans. With our current coach, Ruben Amorim, he is allowed to play more upfront, especially when we are down like yesterday, in which he scored two goals, says the guys from Sporting160 EN – a fan-driven account and podcast dedicated to the team.
– Coates is experiencing the best season of his career. He had an up/down time last season and the one before, but, overall, he has been one of the best CB’s in Portugal since he moved to Sporting. His level this season has simply been ridiculous. Incredibly commanding. Very strong, both in the air and on the floor. A proper captain, the author of Uruguayan Heroes continues.
As a result, Sporting is on its way to win the club’s first league title in 2020 years. They’re currently sitting eight points clear on top of the table ahead of Porto with 19 matches played. Ex-Braga-, Valencia-, and Wolves winger Pedro Goncalves has led the way offensively with 14 goals, and Coates has held down the fort defensively.
In the national team it’s been tougher, however. Coates is fighting for his place with national team icon, and captain, Diego Godin and his successor Josema Gimenez. However, it’s been widely speculated that he might get a chance in the near future due to his impressive displays in Portugal.
So, what once looked like a failed talent in England has now found his home in Liga NOS and Sporting CP. Sebastián Coates is yet another example of a late bloomer and a testament that you don’t have to make it by the time you turn 21. He’s currently playing the football of his career at 30-years-old and is on the verge of making history in Portugal. He’s loved by the supporters, recognized across the league, and has truly made a name for himself.