There are few clubs, if any, who have as impressive a track record and reputation for player identification and youth development as Red Bull (RB) Salzburg. Over the last 10 years, in particular, we have seen a plethora of young and talented players coming through the system at the Austrian side before moving on to more high profile sides and leagues.
One of the secrets behind the success of RB Salzburg, and indeed the other sides who come under the Red Bull system, is that they have a clearly defined and well thought out system of playing. As Red Bull is a well-known energy drink, a key part of the marketing strategy that the company had when getting involved with football was to look to play in a high energy style both in and out of possession. This specific game model has led to the development of young players who are dynamic both positionally and in terms of how they look to play. This specific style does not, however, always translate when a player moves from a Red Bull club and the likes of Timo Werner are a case in point for this. The German international forward was dynamic and explosive when playing in Germany for RB Leipzig, but he had the luxury of playing for a side with a very specific style and a style that fit his strengths almost perfectly. Since moving to the English Premier League to join Chelsea, we have seen Werner struggle to fully adapt to a different style of play and raised expectations.
The next ‘big thing’ to come off of the RB Salzburg conveyor belt looks to be another German international, in the 19-year-old Karim Adeyemi.
Adeyemi is not a player who developed in the youth system at RB Salzburg. Instead, he initially came to the club in 2018 before joining FC Liefering, a feeder club for RB Salzburg, in the Austrian second division. It was clear from the point that Adeyemi moved to Austria that he was a special talent but he had not had a straightforward route to reaching this point in his young career. Adeyemi is from Southern Germany and he joined the Bayern Munich youth academy at a young age. Unfortunately, the youngster was inconsistent and he had some discipline issues which included being late to training and, as such, he was released by Bayern. This was not, however, the end of the journey for Adeyemi as it may have been for so many of his peers had they found themselves in that position and the youngster was picked up by another Bavarian side, in Unterhaching.
At Unterhaching, Adeyemi was given a personalised training routine from a young age and his mistakes in terms of discipline were dealt with more holistically than they had been at Bayern. As a result, the young forward began to blossom and it was not long before a list of Europe’s biggest teams were circling and scouting Unterhaching’s youth teams.
For some, it was a surprise that Adeyemi chose to move to RB Salzburg but in retrospect, he was simply betting on himself and working on the understanding that he would be going into an environment that was set up to allow him to succeed in the short term. Even then though, it’s unlikely that anyone at the club saw the explosion in terms of effectiveness and performances that we have seen from Adeyemi and he is now firmly embedded as a key player for a club who have already qualified for the knockout stages of the 2021/22 Champions League.
So far this season, Adeyemi has played 1240 minutes in the Austrian Bundesliga and as you can see from his data profile above, he is performing extremely well in terms of his attacking outputs.
At the time of writing this report, Adeyemi is averaging 1.02 goals per 90 from an xG per 90 of 0.74, this is an incredible output from such a young player. He is averaging 3.41 shots per 90, with 59.57% of those shots being on target. Apart from being a direct goal threat, however, he is also an all-around attacking dynamo with 6.46 touches in the opposition area per 90 and 7.33 dribbles per 90.
This attacking output also translates to his creativity in the final third and he is averaging 2.32 passes to the penalty area per 90 with 0.15 assists per 90 from an xA per 90 of 0.16.
Adeyemi is a forward player who is direct and aggressive in possession of the ball. In the final third, he is dynamic and quick over longer distances but also in short spaces. His ability to take defenders on 1v1 either wide or centrally creates havoc in the defensive structures of the opposition. He can carry the ball at speed past defenders and he has the composure and game intelligence to make the right choices when he drops into those spaces either in terms of finding passes or crosses or taking advantage of shooting opportunities.
Karim Adeyemi is developing such a reputation in the game that he is naturally drawing more significant interest from opposition defenders. Teams are aware that if they allow the young forward to receive the ball and turn, he is extremely difficult to stop. He has the ability to travel quickly with the ball but this is also combined with the ability to feint one way and go another and to quickly stop and change direction with quick and clean cuts to either side.
These abilities allow Adeyemi to drive into dangerous spaces with the ball and he is a threat, especially when drifting out to the left-hand side and cutting in, when it comes to breaking into the area at an angle and looking for low driven crosses or cut backs across the goal.
This is a typical position that Adeyemi will look to occupy in the attacking phase. RB Salzburg tend to play with two central strikers and of the two, Adeyemi will be the more versatile from a movement perspective. The young forward likes to drift out to the left-hand side and this movement causes the opposition central defenders significant problems. Does the defender follow Adeyemi out? If so, he leaves space behind that can be exploited and as such, more often than not, this movement allows Adeyemi to be positioned in pockets of space that allow him to receive on the half-turn.
This time, he takes possession in front of the fullback and he has the ability to get across the defender and then carry the ball into the area. In these positions, he is extremely dangerous as he understands how to position his body to take advantage of any rash challenges that the opposition defenders will make. If there is no challenge, he drives deeper and then will look for crosses or cut backs into dangerous positions.
Here, again, we see Adeyemi positioned on the left side of the pitch when he receives the ball and he has already outplayed one defender before cutting inside. From this position, he is aggressive in looking to access the penalty area as he knows that any contact can lead to a foul from the defender.
As he cuts into the area in this position he forces opposition defenders to come out and engage him before playing the ball across and into the space that they have left behind.
There is no doubt that one of the biggest strengths that Adeyemi has is his ability to carry the ball and take advantage of any gaps in the opposition defensive structure. He is aggressive and quick when taking possession of the ball and wherever possible he will receive the ball on the half-turn. In moments of transition, in particular, Adeyemi is very dangerous with the ability to take possession of the ball and drive at the opposition before they can get organised for their defensive transition.
We see a situation here as Adeyemi takes possession of the ball in transition after Lille have given away the ball. The Lille defence is disorganised and as soon as the German international picks up the ball, he immediately drives at the heart of the opposition defence and creates chaos for his team.
A part of what makes Adeyemi so dangerous when he is in possession of the ball is his balance and ability to shift his weight and explode in any direction. He is predominantly right-footed but he has also shown that he is comfortable performing a range of actions with his left foot as well. He has the ability to receive the ball in these positions and almost pause to slow the game down as he waits for the defender to jump to one side or the other. As soon as you, as the defender, do that with Adeyemi, however, he will explode in the opposite direction and outplay you quickly.
For all that Adeyemi impresses with his dynamism, creativity and ball-carrying abilities, it is perhaps his end product that is the most impressive aspect of his game. Prior to this season, there were slight doubts that the young forward would ever develop into a natural finisher but this season these concerns have been laid to rest.
What is impressive about Adeyemi’s finishing is the sheer variety of ways that he can finish and score. He is equally capable of running through on goal and deftly flicking the ball past the goalkeeper as he is receiving the ball in the area on the turn and slamming the ball into the goal.
Here, we see a situation when Adeyemi had the ball in transition against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Once again, we see his balance and dynamic movement profile, as he is a threat to attack outside or inside the defender.
This time, he chooses to attack down the outside, and his pace and balance take him comfortably clear of the defender before he finishes with composure past Jan Oblak, one of the best goalkeepers in the world.
This time, we see Adeyemi as he takes possession of the ball in the opposition penalty area while surrounded by opposition defenders. He takes one touch to create space and separation before firing a powerful drive past the goalkeeper and into the net.
What does 2022 hold?
In all honesty, it is a question of when and not if Adeyemi moves on from RB Salzburg and I would be hugely surprised if he does not make that move this coming summer. The likes of Liverpool, who have a history of targeting players from Red Bull clubs, and Manchester City have been closely linked, as have PSG who see Adeyemi as the perfect replacement should Kylian Mbappé leave in the summer to join Real Madrid.
I would not be surprised, however, to see the youngster make a return to Germany and a return to Germany with Bayern Munich.