Four young and upcoming players in the top-5 African leagues – data analysis
To finish our data analysis series on the top-5 African leagues, we’ll present four U23 players that stood out in different metrics and deserve more attention. You can check the previous pieces for the best players in Africa here:
- Best centre-backs data analysis
- Best full-backs data analysis
- Best central midfielders data analysis
- Best forwards data analysis
The players we have chosen are Chris Kouakou (central defensive midfielder), Ahmed Kendouci (central attacking midfielder), Salah Mohsen (striker or left forward) and Mohamed Amine Tougai (centre-back).
Chris Kouakou – 1999 – CS Sfaxien & Ivory Coast
Chris Kouakou is an Ivorian central midfielder who has played for CS Sfaxien in Tunisia for his whole senior career since joining them aged just 18. Now, at 21, Kouakou has already played over 50 games for his club, winning the Tunisian Cup twice and finishing second in the Tunisian Ligue 1 in the 2019/20 season.
Kouakou stood out in our data analysis on central midfielders in the top-African leagues in these statistics: successful offensive and defensive actions, direct passing, progressive runs, dribbles, defensive positioning and defensive duels.
A right-footed central midfielder, Kouakou can play both as a 6 or as an 8. He has the physicality needed to cover ground in front of the defensive line or to go up and down the pitch in a box-to-box role.
When playing as a defensive midfielder, he comes deep in the build-up and plays short simple passes. He could improve his tempo and play quicker from deep positions to accelerate the attacks but that’s something he improves when playing slightly higher up the pitch.
He’s one of the central midfielders with the most offensive duels per 90 (6.94), which is positive when they come from his forward runs but also shows he gets pressed a lot. Luckily, he wins most of these duels (95.5%) and doesn’t lose the ball when he plays himself into pressure.
As an 8, he’s capable of making off the ball runs from midfield and provide passing options between the lines or into space. He looks quicker and more dangerous when he appears between the lines, where he receives, turns and plays forward passes very often.
He’s also excellent at getting past players and running with the ball at his feet. His 2.51 progressive runs per 90 are the third-highest figure and he also completes 1.84 dribbles per 90, which is among the best central midfielders in the top-5 African leagues.
His passing stats are impressive, being in the top 10% for progressive passes and passes to the final third (9.37 and 10.46 per 90 respectively). He also manages to have an average overall passing accuracy (82.65%) despite playing lots of long passes (8.03 per 90) and being in the top 3% for average pass length in the top-5 African leagues.
When we look at his performance in the attacking third, Kouakou tries to be close to the edge of the box to try his luck with shots from far. This is why he’s above average in shots per 90 with 0.75 but below average in xG and touches in the box (0.03 and 0.33 per 90 respectively).
It’s his passing that stands out from his attacking contribution. He gets the ball into dangerous areas with 1.09 deep completions and 2.34 passes into the box per 90. These penetrative passes put his teammates into good positions to create chances rather than being assists themselves and despite his quality, he could still be better at creating chances directly.
Technically good. Keeps close control of the ball to create space and time to play even under pressure, passes with both feet and has a good passing range and accuracy. Strong runner with the ball at his feet.
On the defensive side, Kouakou is a quick and strong player who uses his long legs and power to recover the ball and win duels. He covers a lot of ground in front of the back-four and can defend on the wings covering the back of the attacking full-backs. He still doesn’t fully control his physical superiority and commits many fouls (2.09 per 90 top 30.4%). He’s also capable of pressing high with a lot of energy.
This excellent defensive behaviour leads to his excellent stats. Kouakou is among the best central midfielders in the top-5 African leagues in defensive duels (7.78 per 90, top 33.4%), success rate in defensive duels (69.89%, top 3.8%) and possession-adjusted interceptions (9.77 per 90, top 1.2%). On top of that, he’s also good in the air winning 55.1% of the 4.1 aerial duels he contests per 90 (both figures in the top 30%).
With these conditions, it’s natural that Kouakou excels in transitions. He launches counterattacks with long passes and joins them with powerful runs on and off the ball and is energetic to counter-press or track back and win the ball back in defensive transitions.
Kouakou is a complete midfielder who is standing out in the Tunisian Ligue 1 and ready for the next step in his career. He combines physicality, energy and the ability to progress with passes and runs, which makes him a player capable of dominating the middle of the park and contributing both ways.
Ahmed Kendouci 1999 – ES Sétif & Algeria
Ahmed Kendouci is an Algerian midfielder who has always played for ES Sétif in the Algerian Ligue 1. He has featured 65 times for the Black Eagles, scoring 14 goals and assisting another 13. He’s part of the current Algeria U23 squad and is expected to have a successful career for his national team.
In our data analysis on central midfielders, Kendouci stood out both for creating chances and for scoring them, being one of the best in most attacking statistics.
Kendouci is a left-footed central midfielder who can also play as a left midfielder even if he tends to drift centrally. Average sized (1.76m), he’s well-built and is fast for a central midfielder.
He doesn’t usually get too deep to take the ball and prefers to wait between the lines for the ball to arrive, which explains his low passes per 90 (just 29.78, bottom 14%). But once he has the ball, he’s excellent at getting it into dangerous positions. He likes to pass and move forward, using his passing quality and pace to accelerate the attacks and penetrate the rival defence.
His creative passing figures are out of this world as he ranks in the top 10% for the following metrics: shot assists (1.36 per 90), deep completions (1.33 per 90), expected assists (0.18 per 90), assists (0.23 per 90), smart passes (1.26 per 90), key passes (0.73 per 90) and through passes (2.42 per 90). He has a top passing quality to get the ball into dangerous positions and a great overview of the pitch to play in one or two touches. His great delivery from set pieces also contributes to these figures.
Kendouci has the technical quality to manipulate the ball in tight spaces and escape pressure. He’s also very creative with his first touch, can leave players behind with unexpected flicks and carries the ball forward at a very good speed.
But apart from creating chances, Kendouci also stands out as a finisher himself. He gets into the box a lot and poses a big goal threat, both with late runs into the box or runs in behind from midfield. His 1.89 touches in the box and 1.39 shots per 90 are again among the very best.
When it comes to scoring, he can create space for his shots with quick movements and dribbles and is a deadly finisher with very powerful shots from middle/long range. He also scores from wide angles as goalkeepers struggle to react on time to the speed of his shots. His 0.26 goals from 0.19 xG per 90 confirm this and both statistics are again among the best.
As a negative, Kendouci isn’t the hardest working player in defence. He has the pace and strength to cover ground, press and recover the ball but does it sporadically instead of consistently. He’s below average in almost every defensive metric but his decent defensive duels figures (6.71 per 90, 57.92% success rate) are a good point to build upon.
Any player with 0.49 goal contributions per 90 would be a great asset for any club. But considering Kendouci does it aged just 22 and from midfield, we can elevate him to the hidden gem status. He has a very high ceiling for anyone willing to bet on his development and should be on the watchlist for lots of clubs at a higher level.
Salah Mohsen -1998 – Al Ahly & Egypt
Salah Mohsen is an Egyptian forward who came through the academy at Enppi SC in Egypt, playing 37 games and scoring 10 goals from them, which convinced Al Ahly to pay 1.6 million euros for him in 2018. He has played a total of 69 games (16 goals) for the Egyptian giants and also enjoyed a good loan spell last season at Smouha SC in which he had 15 appearances and scored six goals.
He already has four senior caps to his name and was part of the U23 national team that participated in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Despite his young age, he has already won two Egyptian Premier Leagues, one Cup and two African Champions Leagues with Al Ahly, and the 2020 Africa U23 Cup of Nations with Egypt.
In our data analysis on the best forwards in the top leagues in Africa, Salah Mohsen really stood out in touches in the box and shots but was very close to the top in several other metrics as we’ll see now.
Mohsen can play as a striker or winger, mostly on the left, but his best version appears in and around the box. Combining good size (1.84m), outstanding pace and jumping power, he has everything to be a deadly forward.
Usually playing off the shoulder of the last defender and in central areas, Mohsen makes lots of runs in behind and gets into good scoring positions very often as proven by his 0.4 xG per 90 (top 15.5%). He’s a very good finisher with either foot and his head and also effectively dribbles the goalkeeper when he has the chance, which explains why he scores 0.44 goals per 90, slightly more than expected.
When he comes deeper and receives the ball, he’s very direct and likes to turn and run forward getting past players with his amazing speed. He’s not fantastic in tight spaces but still manages to stand out as a great dribbler both for quantity (4.06 dribbles attempted per 90 – top 26%) and success rate (54-69% – top 27.5%). With his pace, he knows he just needs to get the ball forward and he’ll beat the defender.
Looking at his passing profile, Mohsen is again a very direct player who will try to put the ball in the box as quickly as possible. His 0.63 key passes per 90 are among the best 11.4% of forwards in the top-5 African leagues and he’s also well-above average in crosses (1.65 per 90), passes to penalty area (2.35 per 90) and through passes (1.01 per 90), which explains his 0.13 assists per 90 (top 27.5%).
He’s also capable of acting as a target man, using his great jumping power to win aerials and playing with his back to the goal. He creates space and time to assist his teammates who arrive from the second line and is a dangerous presence in the box as the target for crosses, as seen in his 1.89 touches in the box per 90 (top 2.6%)
With his pace, strength, presence in the box, goalscoring instinct and ability to play wide thanks to his dribbling ability, Salah Mohsen reminds us of a young Cristiano Ronaldo from his EPL time. At his age, he has his best years ahead of him and if he can achieve a fraction of what the Man United star achieved, we’ll be hearing a lot of him in the coming years.
Mohamed Amine Tougai – 2000 – ES Tunis & Algeria
The last player we’re scouting in this analysis is Mohamed Amine Tougai, a 2000-born Algerian centre-back who plays for Esperance Tunis in the Tunisian Ligue 1. Tougai started his career at NA Hussein Dey in his home country and after 27 appearances for them, he signed for ES Tunis in January 2020 for 200 thousand euros. Since he arrived in Tunisia, he has played 20 games, winning two leagues. Tougai has played for the U18, U20 and U23 Algerian national teams and after 19 youth caps, he’s waiting to be called for the senior team.
When we looked at centre-backs in a previous data analysis, Tougai stood out as great in the air and playing long balls, being one of the few U23 players who appeared in the analysis.
Tougai is a right-footed centre-back. He’s tall (1.91m), has a good pace over long distances thanks to his long legs and also has good mobility to accelerate and turn. He’s excellent in the air, with great timing to get full advantage of his size, winning 71.23% of the 6.68 aerial duels he contests per 90, both statistics in the top 10% among centre-backs in the top-5 African leagues.
Looking at his data and playing style, we can say Tougai is made for possession-based teams that use similar tactics to Man City or Barcelona. In defence, he stands out for his excellent positioning and being very proactive. His 8.79 possession-adjusted interceptions per 90 (top 13.6%) confirm this.
Playing for a dominating team, he doesn’t get into many defensive duels (just 6.68 per 90) and the ones he gets in are more difficult ones as he’s often exposed compared to other centre-backs, which explains his poor success rate of just 59.46%.
On the ball, Tougai takes responsibility for the build-up with 42.48 passes per 90 (top 19.7%). His accuracy is very good too (88.36% – top 13.2%), playing mostly safe passes. However, he’s still capable of progressing from the back both with short and long passes. He’s above average in progressive passes with 7.69 per 90 and his accuracy when passing the ball forward is very good too (77.22%). He really stands out in his long passes, completing 65.88% of the 7.78 long passes he attempts per 90, both figures being among the best centre-backs.
In highly competitive leagues in which we usually find experienced and no-nonsense centre-backs, a player like Tougai stands out. He’s calm on the ball and a very good defender in a high line. He has room for improvement in defensive duels but that has to do with his style and his team’s tactics. With his size, pace and quality, he’s one to watch for dominant sides.