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Ahmad Allee 2021/22 scout report – National 1’s very own Andrea Pirlo?

Earlier this month, the official Twitter account of Championnat National, France’s third tier, posted a clip of Bastia-Borgo’s Julien Anziani scoring a picturesque free-kick in his team’s recent 2-1 defeat at home to US Avranches. They bestowed the esteemed title of ‘Le Pirlo du National’ (effectively ‘the Pirlo of National’) upon the 22-year-old midfielder in that tweet. However, Ouest-France Sports journalist Dylan Le Mée replied to that post with the comment: “Je ne vois pas Ahmad Allée sur cette vidéo” (I don’t see Ahmad Allée in this video) — a comment that I enjoyed quite a lot.

Indeed, Allée (172cm/5’8”, 67kg/147lbs) is also a free-kick specialist which is one trait that might justify this comparison with the Serie A legend who rose to superstardom at AC Milan and Juventus but if we are to crown a ‘National 1 Pirlo’, there’s plenty more than just set-piece specialisation in favour of Allée taking that moniker, although set-piece specialisation is a trait that will always endear me to a footballer as someone who grew up in an era when sitting down and contrasting the poise and elegance of a David Beckham special alongside the controlled chaos of a Roberto Carlos rocket and the mesmerising technique of Juninho Pernambucano was a regularity.

Allée is a deep-lying playmaker from mid-table Stade Briochin — a club that’s only been in the third tier since last season, having achieved promotion from the fourth tier, Championnat National 2, the previous campaign. Allée played an important part in that promotion-winning 2019/20 season, with the 25-year-old Rennes academy product having been plying his trade at the Saint-Brieuc-based club since 2017 when he was released by Saint-Étienne.

Allée is a name that might be familiar to those who’ve followed French youth football since the early-mid 2010s; the midfielder came through Les Rennais’ academy at around the same time as James Léa Siliki, who is currently on loan at EFL Championship side Middlesbrough from the Brittany-based outfit. However, despite showing some promise during his days as a Rennes youth, the Duhak, Iraq-born midfielder of Kurdish origin with French citizenship never made an appearance at senior level until forging his own path with Stade Briochin.

Now playing in National 1, Allée remains a key figure for Les Griffons and though his contract status is unclear, I feel he represents an interesting opportunity for some Ligue 2 clubs to potentially find themselves a decent recruit from the league below, as Allée has been one of the standout midfielders in the third tier this season. He’s undoubtedly a player who requires a specific role in the squad and I don’t think he’ll eventually return to the heights of Rennes but provided his club utilises him in a specific role that accentuates his strengths and minimises his weaknesses, I feel there’s room for further growth in the 25-year-old at a higher level than we’re seeing him at right now.

So, what kind of player is Allée? What are these strengths and weaknesses I’ve referenced? And what kind of role should a prospective new club be looking to fill if they are considering the Stade Briochin man? I’ll attempt to provide clear answers to all of those questions and more via this tactical analysis and scout report, in which I’ll detail Allée’s role within Didier Santini’s strategy and tactics, highlighting what I’ve identified as some of the key strengths and weaknesses in his game, as part three of a series here at Total Football Analysis looking into the most exciting talents from France’s third tier. I hope that this tactical analysis piece shines some light on, for me, one of National 1’s most interesting players and clarifies exactly why I believe he’s someone Ligue 2 clubs should keep an eye on.

Passing

As mentioned above, Allée is a deep-lying playmaker; he’s comfortable operating as a lone holding midfielder, occupying the space in front of the defensive line, operating in either of the two slightly more advanced central midfield positions in a 4-3-3 ahead of that holding midfielder or operating in a double-pivot — with the player having made appearances in all of these positions this term.

His general playing style and role in the squad doesn’t alter too much depending on the position, as Allée is a specific type of player; he’s a ball progressor and dictator of play. Allée is the man you want if you need someone to help your team control the game, spread the ball around the pitch and create chances from deep. The 25-year-old has added a lot of threat to his team on the ball this term by constantly driving them forward and setting them up to attack from dangerous positions via his incisive passing. He’s not an extremely energetic player or someone to drive forward with the ball from deep — he’s not a dribbler. However, Allée is fantastic, for National 1 level, as a progressive passer and a man to dictate play from deep, as this section of analysis will hopefully highlight.

Allée is heavily involved in his side’s possession play, which is evident from the fact he’s played an average of 52.63 passes per 90 this term — ranking highly among National 1’s central midfielders to have played at least 600 minutes in 2021/22. His equally impressive 85.04% pass success rate also indicates the midfielder’s reliability in terms of ball retention, hence why his team entrusts him to play and receive the ball so much.

Moving on, however, it’s not just ball retention in which Allée thrives, but ball progression also; the 25-year-old has played a very high 9.02 progressive passes per 90 this season, with a solid 75.9% success rate. This isn’t the greatest success rate in the league, rather just a decent one but that wouldn’t concern me too much as Allée often opts for riskier passes when he does look to progress the ball and is relatively successful considering the areas to which he often aims to play the ball and the difficult types of passes he shows such confidence in pulling off.

Allée is reliable when looking to retain possession but also an exciting risk-taker when he turns his attention to progressing play upfield. He does look to progress the team forward at a relatively high frequency — highlighting his constant eye for a progressive pass — and he’s good at achieving success with these plays too.

It’s common to see Allée looking to drive the ball at pace and a good amount of power into teammate’s feet in central areas or the wings, while he’s also comfortable with aiming to slice the opposition’s backline open with a defence-splitting through ball for an attacking teammate to run onto, adding another element to his game for opposition defences to concern themselves with.

Allée particularly thrives when playing against a team leaving space to attack behind their backline and his teammates know this, so when this space exists and Allée gets on the ball, it’s common to see Stade Briochin’s attackers quickly turn their attention to making their run in behind the opposition defence, targeting that space. This is where Allée’s ability to progress the ball combines with his direct creativity. As far as deep central midfielders with the ability to actually directly set up a shot on goal go, you won’t find better in France’s third tier than Ahmad Allée. His presence in the side should give defences an extra element to worry about, which can be very beneficial for the creative midfielder and his team in numerous ways from a tactical perspective.

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Figure 1

We see an example of Allée sending a teammate through on goal into a 1v1 with the goalkeeper via a tricky lofted ball played in behind the opposition’s backline in figures 1-2. In figure 1, the midfielder has just received the ball in the chance creation phase on the edge of the final third, while the opposition are aiming to hold their line on the edge of the box to avoid collapsing inside their penalty box and giving Stade Briochin all of the valuable space in front of their box to control. However, with Allée on the ball in this kind of position, that space behind the defensive line is not safe and we see the midfielder scouting it out with a quick look after taking his first touch in figure 1.

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Figure 2

Moving on into figure 2, we see how the 25-year-old swiftly reacted to his teammate’s movement in behind the backline by driving a lofted pass over the backline with plenty of backspin. The pass was very well-timed and very well-weighted, gently dropping in behind the defensive line right into the runner’s path. This created a great 1v1 opportunity for the attacker with the opposition goalkeeper, highlighting the directly creative side of Allée’s game and how effective he can be as a deep-lying playmaker. His passing quality is second to none in National 1 in relation to what it takes to be a quality deep-lying playmaker, while his vision is also fantastic, as is evident from this example and how quickly he capitalised on the attacker’s movement into the small bit of space behind the backline.

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Figure 3

Allée’s long passing is an important element of his game; the midfielder has played 7.01 long passes per 90 this term with a 62.02% success rate — both numbers ranking highly among National 1 midfielders to have played at least 600 minutes of football in the 2021/22 campaign. Allée loves to look for opportunities to play it long into space behind the opposition’s backline, similar to what we saw in figures 1-2, but the midfielder also loves to spread the ball about the pitch and play it long by switching it out to the wings, which figures 3-6 show.

Firstly, turning attention to figure 3, we can see Allée receiving the ball in the left central midfield position, while making his way slightly more towards the passer who’s just released the ball and taking the opportunity to scan over his right shoulder while the ball is in transit. This allows Allée to get a better idea of how the pitch is laid out around him in terms of both his teammates’ positioning and the opposition’s positioning. As a result, Allée can be better prepared for any incoming pressure on him from defensive players and be better prepared for whatever action he’ll take next, having given himself extra time to think about that action via his scan.

Note how Allée intelligently opts to scan in between his opponent’s pass and the ball arriving at his feet. In this time, the ball is moving — not with his teammate who could take it in another direction. It’s generally an appropriate time to scan in between touches or as the ball is travelling, and Allée demonstrates intelligent decision-making by scanning at this particular moment, while he also scanned just before this in between his opponent’s touches prior to making this pass.

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Figure 4

As the ball arrives at his feet, Allée can cushion it with the inside of his stronger right foot while turning out and opening his body to the part of the pitch he intends to attack. Allée receives the ball well in space when getting onto the receiving end of passes with room to turn, as we see here.

It’s worth noting, however, that Allée isn’t always so good at receiving the ball under pressure. He actually lacks great agility in his game and isn’t a very good dribbler of the ball. This is one thing that can work against him especially when playing as a lone holding midfielder, as press-resistance is so important in deeper areas of the pitch. Lacking this can significantly stifle the team’s progress upfield with the player often getting forced to just send the ball back to the backline under pressure or, worse, it can lead to a turnover in a very dangerous position to be losing the ball.

As a result, I think Allée tends to work better in a double-pivot than as a lone holding midfielder, as while he’s got the technical skills for the position, this can help with relieving some of the pressure on him as his partner can offer support and/or attract defensive players to him, away from Allée. Alternatively, Allée can work as an ‘8’, but I personally prefer him deeper where he can affect the game earlier and truly use his ball progression skills to the greatest extent, while Allée will also struggle receiving the ball with his back to goal under pressure in advanced areas of the pitch where opposition defenders are, of course, even more likely to be.

So, to get the best out of him, I feel that due to a small lack of press-resistance, Allée may be better off used in a double-pivot. Given the ball in space, however, as we see in figure 4, Allée is capable of receiving the ball very well and opening out his body to the area of the pitch he intends to play into.

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Figure 5

Moving on into figure 5, at this point it becomes clear that the 25-year-old is aiming to switch the ball out to the ball-far wing, with the central options ahead of him blocked off by two opposition players, one of whom we see starting to press the midfielder in the image above, and Allée having knocked the ball slightly more to the centre with the outside of his right foot while getting his head up to pick out his option on the right-wing once again.

Furthermore, we see Allée intelligently position himself between the defensive players and the ball in figure 5 while knocking the ball away from them, towards the middle of the park. Again, this demonstrates some intelligent decision-making, with the midfielder doing well to protect the ball from the opposition by positioning his body as a barrier between the potential tacklers and the prize, ensuring he’d have enough time to set himself up to switch the play as intended.

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Figure 6

Lastly, in figure 6, we see the result of this move as Allée managed to successfully find his teammate on the right-wing. The receiver doesn’t have the best body shape or approach to this ball and ends up knocking the ball back rather than taking it and immediately running at the full-back who reacts well and forces the receiver back, but that takes nothing away from the excellent vision and technique on display from Allée in this passage of play to receive well, turn out, protect the ball nicely and find this player on the opposite wing with a very well-weighted long pass.

There are plenty of examples of the Stade Briochin man hitting switches like this in 2021/22 with a lot of success; he loves setting the wingers in his side up for 1v1s with the opposition full-back and he’s great at achieving this via his long passing ability, which has been a valuable element of his game this term.

Shooting and free-kick threat

Allée has scored an impressive seven league goals this season (six non-penalty goals) from 3.03 xG — demonstrating his immense goalscoring threat as a central midfielder. Another reason I prefer Allée in a double-pivot if he is to play as a deeper midfielder is that it affords him greater freedom to get forward with late runs and occupy space from where he can shoot. Giving the midfielder this freedom to get forward and shoot has been beneficial for his side this season, as is evident from his impressive goalscoring record.

Granted, he’s well outperforming his xG (which is also still decent for a deep midfielder) and his 21.2% conversion rate is unlikely to be sustainable but at the very least, Allée can present a goalscoring threat from range and potentially earn his side corners/rebound shot attempts from high-value goalscoring positions via his shots so I still feel giving him this freedom is worthwhile. Allée is excellent at hitting the target with his shots, managing this with 57.58% of his 1.79 shots per 90 this term, which further highlights the fact that he’s not wasteful when getting forward into shooting positions, rather he’s good at, at the very least, hitting the target and testing the opposition ‘keeper — further backing the point that even if he doesn’t score, he can earn a corner/rebound for his side.

Additionally, two of Allée’s six non-penalty goals this season have come via direct free-kicks. As mentioned in the intro of this scout report, Allée is a set-piece specialist and his two free-kick goals this season have demonstrated this. This adds some value to him as a player, as it adds another element of threat to his game both in terms of his ability to score free-kicks and his ability to assist teammates via indirect free-kicks and corners. While he doesn’t typically play on the wing, Allée possesses very nice crossing ability and presents a great threat via this ability when standing over a free-kick/corner.

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Figure 7

The position we see Allée lining up his shot from in figure 7 is in his sweet spot for shooting, whether it’s from a free-kick or from open play, as was the case in this example. The right-footed midfielder loves to caress the ball to the far corner of the net with the inside of his right boot; he doesn’t generally put a tonne of power on the ball — though doesn’t hit particularly weak shots either, by any means — rather, he ensures that the shot is hit with the best possible placement, aiming for the very corners of the net, making it difficult for the ‘keeper to get to it even if it’s not hit with 100% of the power he could possibly put on it.

This technique has worked very well for Allée this season and it’s clearly a way of striking the ball that he’s very comfortable with. As a result, I feel it makes complete sense why Stade Briochin have encouraged the 25-year-old to roam forward like this in 2021/22, resulting in Allée impressively boasting the mid-table side’s highest goals tally at this stage of the campaign.

Adding goals from midfield is usually a goal for any team or midfield player and Allée is well capable of providing that for his side.

Defensive contribution

At 172cm and 67kg, Allée isn’t a very physically imposing player, and this is obvious when observing the 25-year-old’s game both on and off the ball; Allée’s got a very poor record aerially, generally avoiding aerial battles which is for the best but is a notable weakness in his game. Meanwhile, another element contributing to Allée’s lack of press-resistance and struggles with playing with his back to goal is his lack of physicality. Allée also struggles to knock opposition players off their stride and off the ball when driving forward into Stade Briochin’s half, particularly when they’ve gotten past him and built up a head of speed — Allée isn’t the man you want chasing a player down and competing with them physically in a battle of strength, for example.

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Figure 8

We see an example of this in figures 8-9. Here, Allée (the deeper of the yellow shirts in midfield) was played past by the opposition who’ve split Stade Briochin’s midfield line with a lovely through ball that’s sent a runner off into space to attack Les Griffons’ exposed backline. Part of the criticism here comes for Allée’s positioning. As the deepest of the midfield three here, Allée got drawn way too far forward and when the opposition capitalised on this by playing through Stade Briochin’s midfield, Allée left the backline exposed.

This is another negative in his game — his positional game off the ball isn’t always of the greatest quality and this is another point in the column against playing him as a lone holding midfielder, as I don’t think he has the well-roundedness in his game for such a role whereas the extra support afforded by a double-pivot could be a better fit.

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Figure 9

As the opposition charged forward, running at Stade Briochin’s backline, Allée tracked the dribbler and attempted to get physical with him to stifle his progress and help his side regain possession — if not regain possession himself. However, the midfielder lacked the necessary physicality to really make a dent in the attacker’s progress, which is a problem but one that could’ve been avoided had the midfielder’s initial positioning been better and prevented the opposition from progressing beyond him in the first place.

Of course, there’s often a mental struggle for a player in this position about when to go and when to stay and this is where decision-making becomes such a crucial part of their game — the best players will get it right more often and vice versa. Allée does get it right plenty of the time but not enough to where I feel this couldn’t be classified as an area in his game that could potentially be exploited by the opposition, as was the case in figures 8-9. Allée is generally a weaker defender should the opposition progress beyond him and pick up some momentum in their run whereas if he stays in front of the play, he can stifle the opposition’s attack via his defensive positioning, which should be the aim for him rather than getting dragged into physical battles, which is likely what the opposition aimed for here to expose a weakness.

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Figure 10

While Allée isn’t a physically dominant player, that’s not to say he doesn’t offer a lot defensively. On the contrary, Allée has achieved an impressive 10.21 successful defensive actions per 90 in National 1 this term which ranks him very highly among the French third tier’s central midfielders for this particular metric. That didn’t come from defensive duels, however, as Allée’s record with engaging in defensive duels and succeeding with them is not so stellar at all, with physicality, again, playing a big part in that. Rather, the midfielder has just been excellent at reading the game and shutting down opposition attacks when managing to keep play in front of him, as opposed to behind him like we saw in the previous example.

Allée has managed to pull off 6.14 interceptions per 90 this season, which ranks extremely highly among National 1’s central midfielders for 2021/22, highlighting how his ability to read the game and quickly react to opportunities for cutting out a pass and regaining possession for his side have been vital in his defensive game this season. Even though he’s not good in defensive duels or aerial duels and isn’t a physical player by any means, Allée, overall, ranks as one of National 1’s most solid valuable midfielders, defensively, thanks to his ability to make interceptions. Of course, this is only relevant for a prospective new club as long as they intend to use Allée in such a way that his strengths are promoted and weaknesses hidden as much as possible but as long as that’s the case, the 25-year-old can contribute a lot to his side without the ball.

We see an example of Allée pulling off an interception as the ball is played into his team’s half of the pitch in figure 10. The midfielder was alert to the threat of movement and reacted instantly to this pass being played towards the opposition man roaming around in space behind him. As a result, we see Allée regain possession just inside his own half, creating a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity for his side, with the opposition sitting very high in their rest defence at this point and lots of potential runners available ahead of the midfielder to aim for. This exhibits how Allée’s key quality in defence can combine with his key quality in attack to make him a significant threat in the transition to attack phase, should he wish to try and exploit space behind the backline via a lofted through pass in this type of situation.

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Figure 11

It’s also common to see Allée drop deep and cover for the centre-back should he get pulled out of position, as we’ll see in figures 11-12. Here in figure 11, the ball has been played down the wing for a player to chase. With the opposition getting past the full-back but still occupying the wing, the ball-near centre-back is pulled out of position to confront the runner, leading to space potentially opening up between that centre-back and the other centre-back, which the attacker on the ball could exploit. However, as we can see in the image, Allée intelligently plugs that gap, providing an extra layer of security for his team in the penalty area.

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Figure 12

Moving on into figure 12, we can see that it’s lucky for Stade Briochin the midfielder did plug that gap, as the cross made it past the centre-back, which could’ve really hurt Les Griffons. However, Allée was positioned well to intercept the ball, turn out, drive forward and get the ball out of danger for Stade Briochin. It’s very common to see the midfielder plugging gaps in the backline like this should they open up, and he’s done a very good job of doing that in 2021/22, again highlighting his awareness of the movement around him and excellent reactions.

Conclusion

To conclude this tactical analysis and scout report, I find Allée to be a really fun player to watch; he’s excellent at dictating play from deep and acting as a deep-lying playmaker directly setting up goalscoring chances for his side. His passing, vision and bravery are, perhaps, his greatest strengths in terms of his on-the-ball performance, while he lacks press-resistance and dribbling ability which can hamper his performance on the ball. That said, a significant goal threat from midfield and set-piece specialisation to boot hand a boost to Allée’s value.

Without the ball, Allée’s lack of physicality lets him down to an extent and in certain situations, this is a big weakness. However, he does make up for this in his general performance with excellent reactions and ability to read the game, helping him to make a lot of interceptions. Again, I feel this is a player who is capable of doing this at a higher level and I’d be interested in seeing Allée take on a move to Ligue 2 if the opportunity arose.