AFCON 2021: Four U23 talents still playing in Africa ready for a big move to Europe – scout report
With AFCON 2021 starting in a few days, lots of clubs in Europe are starting to lose their best players. EPL stars like Sadio Mané, Mohamed Salah or Riyad Mahrez are among the most well-known African players and everyone knows how they play and how important they’ll be for their national teams.
In this tactical analysis piece, we have provided a short scout report on four U23 players who are still playing in Africa and maybe less known to the average football fan. For these players, shining in a tournament as important as the AFCON 2021 means the possibility to be seen and scouted by the world’s best clubs and the opportunity to make their first steps out of their countries.
Karim Konaté, 17 years old, ASEC Mimosas & Ivory Coast
Karim Konaté is a 2004-born Ivorian striker who plays for ASEM Mimosas in his country’s Ligue 1. Despite his young age, he has scored at least 13 goals in 24 appearances and has been capped twice by Ivory Coast.
Konaté is an explosive striker who excels with his movements in the box and the final third but can also contribute from the second line. He stands at 1.78m / 5’10’’ and has excellent physicality, which will probably continue to improve given his young age.
He’s quick and very aggressive in his movements in the box, showing instinct and intelligence to score most of his goals from inside the six-yard box. He’s very focused and always ready to catch any rebound or loose ball in the box and score. His finishing is still very inconsistent so he relies on getting into very good positions to score. He also has an excellent jump that allows him to anticipate the goalkeeper and win aerials to head crosses. Konaté also runs in behind with great speed and is a big threat against teams that press high.
Watching his shots map below, we see that Konaté scores mostly from very high-xG positions and he doesn’t need to be very accurate as most of his shots are tap-ins. It’s worrying that he hasn’t scored any goals from difficult positions, which shows his finishing is still not very good.
However, his intelligence and instinct are rare in a 17-year-old striker and it’s a matter of time until his finishing gets to a decent level. Despite missing some clear chances, he scores the clearest ones and has scored 0.91 goals from 0.73xG per 90 in the games in which his stats are available.
When looking at his game outside the box, Konaté has good technique, can control and pass the ball accurately with either foot, carry it at high speed and combine in tight spaces. He likes to drift wide to create from there and can create some chances for others with his combinations at the edge of the box. He also does well to attract defenders and then release the ball at the exact moment. With his dribbling skills, Konaté can carry the ball forward through the middle or from the wings and also create space to shoot with quick and accurate movements.
Konaté will have to compete for playing time with the likes of Sébastien Haller (Ajax) or Christian Kouamé (Anderlecht) so it will be difficult to see a lot of him in the AFCON 2021. However, his scoring capacity and excellent speed may come in handy at some point for The Elephants and he’s expected to have some opportunities to show his qualities.
Abdul Fatawu Issahaku, 17 years old, Dreams FC & Ghana
Abdul Fatawu Issahahu is a 2004-born Ghanian winger or attacking midfielder who started his career at Steadfast FC and is now on loan at Dreams FC in the Ghanian Premier League, where he has scored six goals in seven games so far. He was the best player at last year’s U20 AFCON despite playing against much older players and he already has four senior caps to his name. He’s considered one of the top talents in Africa at the moment.
Fatawu is a right-winger who likes to receive the ball close to the touchline and create from there, either by cutting inside to use his dominant left foot or advancing by dribbling or quick combinations by the touchline.
His positioning on the pitch is quite basic as he usually wants to receive to his feet and his movements are mostly towards the ball possessor. He would benefit from some more movements in behind or between the lines.
Also, when the attacks come from the left flank, he usually gets himself around the edge of the box to take advantage of his shooting ability but by doing this he misses chances to poach goals in the six-yard box or the far post.
When he receives the ball, Fatawu usually tries to get forward, normally by dribbling by the wing or with direct long passes. He’s slightly better at running with the ball than at breaking lines with his passes being a decent ball progressor but not standing out in this department. His long passes are very interesting so he often gets into deep positions around the midfield line where he can receive free and launch passes to the opposite flank.
Fatawu has the explosiveness and pace we all expect from a winger. Despite his relatively small size and young age, he’s very difficult to stop once he starts running and uses his low centre of gravity to his advantage to turn with the ball and dribble past opponents. He dribbles to both sides using his acceleration and is very difficult to stop by defenders. He also uses the rivals movements very well in his favour, attracting them and accelerating to catch them on the wrong foot and beat them even when they have some space to react.
When it comes to passing the ball, Fatawu possesses the technical ability and the vision but he’s still inconsistent. His passes can be fast and tense, advancing in tight spaces and combining very well with his teammates. However, sometimes he just puts the wrong weight and misses easy passes.
When he has more space and time, especially in attacking transitions, he shows his quality to assist using his great passing range, be it with low or high passes. He still needs to show he’s capable of assisting against low blocks but the signs he’s given so far are promising.
Finally, his elite-level strike translates into a very rare and exciting shooting ability. Fatawu takes lots of speculative shots both from open play and set-pieces. His shots are usually very powerful but he manages to keep them on target most of the time.
In the map above, we see Fatawu’s shots from the available games. In yellow we see his goals, including one from 50.7 meters, in blue his shots on target and in red his shots off target. We see he tends to shoot from very speculative positions on the right side but still creates danger with those shots.
Many voices are asking for Fatawu to start for Ghana despite competing with the likes of the Ayew brothers or Kamaldeen Suleimana, one of the most exciting players in France. He can surely contribute something different and if he’s been trusted to play some games despite his young age there’s no reason to think he isn’t ready to shine at the AFCON 2021.
Ibrahim Adel, 20 years old, Pyramids & Egypt
Ibrahim Adel is a 2001-born Egyptian forward who plays for Pyramids in his country’s Premier League. In his 58 games for the first team so far, he has scored 19 goals, becoming one of the most interesting talents in Egypt and earning his first caps for the national team.
Standing at 1.73m / Adel is fast, very agile and lively in tight spaces. He possesses great stamina and is always running both in attack and defence.
Adel plays all around the second line and can come deep to help progress the ball but tries to finish the attacks in or around the box. He’s very dynamic to advance with combinations and get into the box and intervenes in the attacks a lot, being in contact with the ball very often. Regardless of the positions, he starts in – can play as a false 9 or winger from either side – he likes to move and appear everywhere.
He has excellent ball control, can leave his marker behind with his first touch and is very quick to turn and accelerate the play. He uses the sole of his right foot to manipulate the ball very accurately, creating spaces with feints and quick movements. Adel also knows how to use space, feinting and letting the ball roll across him to turn. Skilled in 1v1, he uses his agility and skill to change directions and then gets past his rival with his acceleration.
Adel does very well in quick first-touch combinations to advance into the final third. His middle/long-range passes don’t always have the perfect weight of them but they’re still accurate enough. He also plays good layoffs when he receives with his back to the goal. He also has the quality to assist, both with crosses and cutbacks. Not selfish, he passes the ball to better-positioned teammates even when he has the chance to shoot.
His movements in the final third are very good and he can get into scoring positions in different ways. He does well when running in behind but also knows how to create separation to receive cutbacks or anticipate in the box, being more lively than the rivals. On top of that, he can create his own shooting opportunities with dribbles and is a very good finisher from all positions.
In defence, his work rate both to press and track back is excellent, he’s aggressive in tackles and recovers lots of balls for a forward. Has scored some goals by recovering the ball high up the pitch and finishing himself.
We have used our exclusive xGOLD tool to find statistically similar players to Adel in the top-5 leagues and the closest match was Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino with a 94% similarity. The radars below show how both players rank in various metrics when compared to players in their leagues.
We see Adel is an excellent finisher as he scores much more than expected, getting most of his shots on target and with one of the best conversion rates in the league. He’s very active in all phases of the game from his very high passes, dribbles, touches in the box and defensive duels per 90. He also creates a lot with his passes and ranks excellently in xA, passing accuracy, passes to the box and key passes per 90.
Adel will face a lot of competence to get into Egypt’s team. However, his ability to play anywhere in the second-line or upfront and his scoring record make him deserve the chance to at least enjoy some minutes and prove what he’s capable of. His stats are similar to those of Firmino, so he should be very compatible with Salah too.
Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane, 22 years old, Esperance Tunis & Tunisia
Mohamed Ali Ben Romdhane is a 1999-born Tunisian midfielder who has always played for Esperance Tunis. In 84 games for the first team, he has scored 12 goals, which is great for a midfielder. He has 15 caps for Tunisia and has won plenty of titles, including four Tunisian Ligue 1 and one CAF Champions League.
Ben Romdhane is a right-footed central midfielder who can play in a variety of positions and roles in midfield depending on the tactics his team uses. Usually the most attacking player in a midfield three, he could also adapt to playing in a double pivot or as the 10 in a 4-2-3-1. What’s clear is that he needs at least one and usually two midfielders playing behind him to take full advantage of his range of movement and attacking threat.
Physically, Ben Romdhane stands at 185cm / 6’1’’ and is very coordinated and elegant in his movements. He has a good pace thanks to his long legs and can cover big distances at a good speed effortlessly.
On the ball, he usually moves the ball quickly from side to side, using his great technique to keep the attacks fluid and get the ball to the wingers in good conditions. After that, he’s excellent at running into the box and getting into scoring positions.
Ben Romdhane’s first touch and body shape when receiving between the lines are excellent. He can easily turn and face the goal with simple and elegant touches before rivals can press him. Once he turns, he can either run with the ball and carry it forward with his great technique and long legs or play quick switch long/medium passes to the wings to then continue his runs into the box. He reads the game very well to switch the play and create space and time for him to get into scoring positions.
He shoots a lot and scores from different positions. He has an excellent shot from distance, both in open play and set-pieces, and also gets into great scoring positions in the box. This unpredictability makes him a difficult to defend player and he uses that to his favour in his movements.
Despite his size and physicality suggesting the opposite, Ben Romdhane is a skilled dribbler with excellent technique and creativity to get away from rivals and play in tight spaces. He loves to use stepovers and feints to force rivals to move or attract them before going the other way or releasing the ball. He’s intelligent with these moves and they usually have an intention apart from just dribbling the player and he tries to create space for his teammates and force rivals out of position.
In defence, he works hard but is the least defensive-minded player in ES Tunis’ midfield. He uses his long legs very well to recover the ball and has all the conditions to become a box-to-box midfielder who can help in all aspects of the game.
We have used our exclusive xGOLD tool to find statistically similar players to Ben Romdhane in the top-5 leagues and the closest match was Man City’s İlkay Gündoğan with a 92% similarity. The radars below show how both players rank in various metrics when compared to players in their leagues.
Looking at the radars, we see Ben Romdhane dominates his league in terms of shots, xG and non-penalty goals. He’s very active in the box and most of his shots are on target. He’s also above average in dribbles per 90. On the creativity side, he has very high xA per 90, passes the ball a lot and with great accuracy and gets the ball into the final third very often. Defensively, he’s kist ok in defensive duels and possession-adjusted interceptions per 90 and wins a fair share of his defensive duels but doesn’t stand out in any metric.
Ben Romdhane has already attracted interest from clubs in Europe in recent transfer windows. If he has a good performance in AFCON 2021, it could be what clubs need to finally make a decision and bring him to Europe. He has all the qualities to be a very good player at a top league but needs to move as soon as possible before he starts to look “too old” to invest in him.