In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents playing in Ligue 1. This edition features Imran Louza of FC Nantes and Olympique Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara.

 

Imran Louza, 1999, Nantes – U21 France
by Marco D’Ottavi

Imran Louza was born in Nantes on May 1st, 1999. At age seven, he entered the Nantes youth academy and last year – during the last match of the season – he debuted with the first team. Last summer, he became part of the first team on a regular basis, playing his first game as a starter as right forward during the second match of the season against Marseille. Half a season later, he provided the assist for the second goal and scored the third in the impressive 3-1 win against OM, who were at the time second in the Ligue 1 table. During that match, he played as a central midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the same role that he used to play with the youth teams before moving forward on the pitch during his time with the Nantes B team.

During this season, Louza has been played by Christian Gourcuff as a right-winger, trequartista, and centre midfielder. Louza’s manager in the academy said that “he’s a smart player […] that knows how to adapt, and that’s why one could be tempted to play him in different positions.”

Louza is in his first season among the pros, but he’s already capable of bringing his intelligence on the pitch. His game is clean and neat, he rarely touches the ball more than necessary and – fittingly – his idol is Andres Iniesta. At Nantes, Louza is the second-best player for key passes per 90 minutes (1.5) and also the best Under 21 player in Ligue 1 in that category, which is impressive given he has played half his games in front of the defence.

These strong passing statistics are made possible by his above-average technique with his left foot, that allows him to find his teammates behind the opponent lines with accurate cutting long balls.

This is an ability that allows him to profitably play as a trequartista, even if he still needs to improve his finishing skills (he scored only two goals from almost two attempts per game). Nevertheless, Louza is also among the best for tackles (2.2 per match), passes made (42.9) and fouls (1.9). Louza is a player that can read games and has the ability of always being in the right place at the right time, his most natural development seems to be as a midfielder, a role that he plays with an authority that defies his young age.

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On the pitch, Louza is everywhere.

After these first twenty games before the Covid-19 enforced lockdown, it seems clear that Louza is not an offensive winger, a position in which his flaws are more evident: Louza is not a great dribbler (1.9 attempts per 90 minutes, with slightly more of half of them successful), nor does he have the speed and the pace to be decisive when starting from the wing. Louza is not an explosive player and he still needs to improve his physique if he wants to become an important player in French football.

His manager often highlighted the positive mental aspects of his game: at just 20, in his first season with the pros, Louza is one of Nantes’ leaders and he is performing well in Ligue 1. After the game, the manager said that his team could use “two Imrans”, and sometimes it really happens.

 

Boubacar Kamara, 1999, Marsiglia- U20 France
by Dario Saltari

At just 20-years-of-age, Boubacar Kamara already is in his second season as a starter at Marseille – the team from his hometown that he has always supported and played at since he was six. This already says a lot about his poster-boy charisma and the aura that surrounds him – elements that define his status in an iconic French team but that need a special talent to live on.

In fact, Kamara is more than a centre back that seems to have the composure and elegance of a much older player. He also is a player with technique that we don’t see too often in central defenders – even during the era in which the build-up from the back is more and more common.

Last year, during a season in which Marseille had many more defensive problems than it has now, manager Rudi Garcia already said that Kamara could have played in the midfield, maybe even as a playmaker. Indeed, that is happening more and more often with current manager Villas-Boas that, in the last 15 games he played before the lockdown, he has played 10 times as a deep-lying midfielder in a 3-man midfield. And, even if Kamara said to consider himself as a centre back, this seems to be a more sensed decision day after day.

First of all, from a defensive point of view, one of Kamara’s greatest weaknesses is covering deep, being particularly slow in the long runs and struggling when he’s forced to defend a wide area of the pitch behind him. In that regard, having two defenders behind him allows him to play with more freedom and ambition when running forward, marking or tackling. This makes Marseille even safer, as they only conceded 8 goals in the 10 games when he played in the midfield (3 of them were all conceded in the last home match against Nantes). The timing of his tackles is one of Kamara’s most defining talents, as he’s also a very technical player in his defensive readings and ability to take advantage of his body in 1v1s.

Boubacar Kamara l Highlights

Coming for the 👑Boubacar Kamara's time has arrived ⚪️🔵

Posted by Olympique de Marseille on Wednesday, January 1, 2020

 

The idea of playing Kamara as a deep-lying midfielder is mainly how Villas-Boas wants to improve Marseille’s ball possession, with better positional fluidity when building-up from the back. When OM builds up the play, the French midfielder naturally lies deep between the two centre backs with a salida lavolpiana that brings him back to his original role for a moment, in a defence that doesn’t have a particularly brilliant technique.

But Kamara is never passive in his interpretation of his position and knows when to move forward to give a passing line to the full-backs or the centre backs themselves. So, with him on the pitch, Marseille is much stronger at resisting the opponent pressing, a critical aspect for a team that, with Villas-Boas, is more and more careful in moving forward neatly and with the ball on the ground.

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The evolution of Kamara looks like what Tuchel has been doing during the last months with Marquinhos, a player that Villas-Boas himself compared to his new playmaker. On the other hand, the Portuguese manager has no proper playmakers in his squad and may have chosen to use Kamara just out of necessity. Football’s history is full of players that completely changed their careers thanks to an unexpected change of position. Maybe this will guarantee Kamara with the ultimate step forward towards being an elite player in Europe.

 

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