Boubacar Kamara scout report: Magnificent Marseille midfielder ready for a move to the Premier League
In every season of top-flight football, there are few stories more regular than utter turmoil going on at Olympique Marseille. In this season just gone – the 2020/21 campaign – André Villas-Boas, head coach since 2019, was sacked midway through the season after a debacle with the board over the signing of Olivier Ntcham – a player he was actively against signing. He offered his resignation, but Marseille decided to sack him in response to his comments where he stated ‘I don’t want anything from OM. I don’t want money’. Not exactly comfortable grounds for a player to thrive at.
Boubacar Kamara, instead, has performed well consistently for the last three seasons, starting regularly since the age of 18. Now 21, Kamara has been coveted by Europe’s elite since he was a teenager, but till this point he has remained at Marseille, accumulating consistent gametime for a team battling at the top of Ligue 1. Teams within the Premier League are now calling for his signature, and in this scout report, we will break down why he has garnered so much interest.
In this tactical analysis, we will cover his role at Marseille, his adaptability, and which team he might suit best in the English top flight.
Since day dot, Kamara has been with Marseille, joining the club in 2005 and has stayed with them ever since. He has risen through the youth ranks at a rapid rate, moving from what is essentially kids football to the U19 squad aged 15 years old, a couple of years earlier than the typical trajectory. Only a year later did he make the move to the Marseille B team, Then, the year after that, Kamara made his first-team debut, in the Europa League versus Konyaspor, a match where Marseille would keep a clean sheet.
He began his time in the senior squad filling in wherever he could gain meaningful gametime. That aforementioned match against Konyaspor was at central-midfield, the next game versus RB Salzburg would be in the deep-lying midfielder role, two games later he was featuring at left-back. It was the 2018/19 season where Kamara would embed himself as a first-choice starter as a centre-back. He played a pivotal role in Marseille building out from the back and was the shining light in a poor defence.
Standing at 5’10” / 178cm, he was always more suited to that space ahead of the centre-backs and was never going to spend the long-term in a back four due to his relatively short height for a central defender. He is no slouch aerially, but he is less of a liability up against shorter attacking midfielders than tall target men inside the area. It was the latter half of the 2019/20 season where he would make that transition into defensive midfield, a position that brought the best out of his defensive skill set.
Boubacar Kamara’s player profile, created by Sathish Prasad
Defensive duties first
Principally, Kamara is focused first on defending and little else. Marseille are not a side who aimed to keep possession more than their opponent in every game, but sometimes their quality on the ball shined through to maintain the ball for the majority of the game. This culminated into a 52% average for possession per game, and as a result, Kamara’s defensive actions need little possession adjustment. With this taken into consideration, Kamara has a reasonably high defensive output.
Boubacar Kamara’s defensive actions radar from the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season.
From the radar above, we can understand that Kamara has defensive acumen. Even if he doesn’t produce an insane amount of defensive volume, the 21-year-old will come away with the ball more times than not. 67.86% of defensive duels won is a mammoth figure, and a testament to the growth he has made as a defender with Marseille. Not to say he doesn’t have his drawbacks defensively, but he is up there with some of the better defensive midfielders in Ligue 1 in this department.
André Villas-Boas messed around with a few formations at the start of the season, but primarily he used a 4-2-3-1, where Kamara played as the left-sided midfielder in a double pivot with Valentin Roniger, but when the Portuguese coach utilised a single pivot formation (4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1), Kamara was the nominal pivot of choice. His defensive style remains the same in both systems, but his positioning is the biggest change. In a double-pivot, he can be slightly more aggressive in a formation that lends itself more to sparking quick counterattacks.
Here, we can see Kamara attempting to win the ball in an advanced position.
After winning back possession, Kamara positions himself higher to help create an overload centrally for Marseille.
Kamara tends to remain upright in his defensive duels, not looking to lunge in unnecessarily or concede needless fouls. If he can win the ball by nipping from under his opponent’s feet, then that’s ideal for Kamara. He enjoys winning the ball back and sparking measured attacking plays for his side. He can occasionally barrel into his opponent, conceding a foul that way, but for the most part, he guides his body well when looking to tackle the ball off of a ball carrier.
Fundamentally, he can get ball-side of the attacker thanks to his solid defensive positioning and game sense. He has good awareness and is seen frequently scanning the pitch – something that he has improved significantly over the last two years – and this allows him to predict the opponent’s passes, and it helps him to deduce whether to step out or hold his line. He currently only completes 1.07 interceptions per 90, but at a club that requires more from him off the ball, this could easily rise.
Kamara here intercepts a potentially dangerous pass versus league victors Lille.
Despite the through pass going past Kamara, he manages to keep pace with the PSG attacker.
Overall, he is an excellent defensive-minded midfielder. His game sense has developed so much thanks to the plentiful amount of minutes he’s earned at the French club. He wins 42.4% of duels versus dribblers and completes 35.2% of his pressures too, both around the 90th percentile across Europe’s top five leagues, and these represent a defensive midfielder who is hard to get past, regardless of who you are.
Kamara is able to stab the ball out from under his opponent’s feet, creating a potential counterattack.
Abilities as a progressor
On the ball, Kamara handles himself with aplomb, and he has demonstrated good passing range, vision, and ambition. He is central to Marseille’s build-up play, but this is part and parcel of being the central-most midfielder in the system. Jorge Sampaoli eventually switched to a 3-5-2, where Kamara plays like a #6, typically playing quick, zipped short passes between himself and the teammates around him.
Boubacar Kamara’s defensive actions radar from the 2020/21 Ligue 1 season.
From the above radar, we can tell that Kamara is heavily involved in Marseille’s build-up – he is only second to Roniger within regular Marseille starters for passes made per 90 (55.09). We can also understand that Kamara looks to move the ball forwards as often as possible, he plays 18.1 forward passes per 90 at an 81.8% success rate. These can range from simple passes into midfield, or rangier efforts into the wide areas or straight into the centre-forward of choice.
These direct balls into the forward line have become more prevalent with the introduction of Arkadiusz Milik from Napoli midway through the season. On top of scoring at a fairly prolific rate in his short time at Marseille, he has also been a useful towering presence upfront. For the most part, however, Kamara is playing short passes in midfield, as he seemingly has a strong understanding of when to pass the ball laterally or vertically, when to increase the tempo or decrease it.
Kamara here collects the ball as one of the deepest players on the pitch, with options ahead and to his right.
He passes the ball vertically towards a teammate before moving into space to the right of him to create a passing option as an avenue to evade the incoming pressure.
In possession, Kamara is very conscious of his surroundings, scanning all around him before receiving the ball if he can. When he collects the ball, he demonstrates a good first-touch, and occasionally he will smartly utilise his first-touch and momentum to drift into space to give himself more time on the ball. In this sense, he is quite a press-resistant midfielder, capable of evading pressure and laying off to a more progressive teammate is usually the port to call.
Although, Kamara can produce positive forward passes over a long distance. Despite only completing 4.45 progressive passes per 90 (60th percentile for Europe’s top five leagues midfielder’s), he manages 281.2 yards when it comes to progressive distance (82nd percentile), which suggests that the progressive efforts he does pull off are covering a lot of ground. These are typically efforts that leave the ground and are intended to be received in the air.
Kamara is smart in possession – here he looks up the pitch before receiving the pass.
He plays a pass to the right-winger in space, who has an on running striker to find with a through pass if he can touch the ball down cleanly.
Outside of his progressive abilities as a passer, Kamara is a capable dribbler of the ball, too. The volume of these efforts is not the highest, nor is the completion rate especially for a midfielder, but when required, he has pretty nimble feet to get him out of tight spaces. As mentioned earlier, he is rather good at stepping into space, but when under pressure from several opponents, he does better than most would. Not to say he keeps the ball every single time in these scenarios, but he’s not bad either.
Kamara drags the ball back here and steps into space, and eventually evading the pressure of four defenders to spark a Marseille attack.
Which move is best for Kamara?
Now, Kamara has several clubs that are interested in his services on the table. A good range of clubs too, from lower-league sides who he will be a certain starter for, to elite clubs looking to bolster their competition in midfield. Although teams such as Real Madrid and Lille have been interested in signing the Frenchman, in this piece we are going to weigh up moves to three Premier League clubs, as, according to reports, this is the league he is most interested in moving to.
One potential destination, and one that certain sections of the fanbase have been calling for, is Manchester United, with Ole Gunnar Solskjær seemingly looking to replace the McFred partnership that many onlookers see as the main weakness of this United team. At the moment, United have a double pivot of two players quite similar to one another in the sense that neither excels in any particular area of their game, but neither have any debilitating weaknesses either.
Kamara would be an upgrade on both players in that #6 role. He would not provide any immediate improvement to their goal-scoring or creative output, although he certainly has room and time to improve in this regard. On the defensive and ball progression end, Kamara is outperforming them both, and of course, the differing styles of play at each club has to be taken into consideration, but the potential upside for Kamara is awe-inspiring for this United side.
When you watch this United team, it is immediately obvious that the midfield is supremely easy to bypass – both midfielders are relatively simple to pass around or drag out of position, and Kamara’s defensive nous would help tremendously in this regard, and would overall lead to fewer goals conceded that last season’s tally of 44 – a tally nowhere near good enough to fight for the title.
One side that Kamara has been linked to an awful lot lately is Newcastle United, one transfer rumour that has come as a surprise to many onlookers. Fair enough too, Newcastle United does seem like a destination well below Kamara’s talent level if both of the Manchester clubs are interested in his signature. However, to become the big fish in a smaller pond might be beneficial for his career progression, and it would make for an easier transition into the Premier League. At £15m, you would not begrudge the Tyneside team for at least trying.
Their late run to surviving relegation from the top flight consisted of using a 5-3-2, and Kamara would no doubt slot in where Jonjo Shelvey currently plays, in the centre of the midfield three, and again, this would be a significant upgrade. From a defensive viewpoint, Kamara would provide far more solidity, he is harder to get past in 1v1 scenarios, but his positioning and awareness are far above that of Shelvey. In possession, Kamara would offer a similar passing range to Shelvey, whilst also being a bit more press-resistant in the process too.
It would be one hell of a pickup for Newcastle, and you feel it would be a transfer not too dissimilar to Mikel Merino a couple of years back. He was a midfielder who produced some magnificent performances for Newcastle, and in his short time up north, he earned himself a move to Real Sociedad, a club where he is now thriving. Kamara could perhaps earn himself a similarly big move back to France in a short period.
One club that Kamara has been linked to for a while is Chelsea. These rumours have died down since the emergence of former academy prospect Declan Rice at West Ham, but for the same reason, they have appeared again, with Kamara the alternative option to Rice at Chelsea. A big fee and stomaching their mistake in letting him go initially might be too much for Chelsea to go back in for Rice, and as such, Kamara is the one they will go for.
What Thomas Tuchel’s tactical plans are long-term is currently unclear, but at the moment, the main system of choice is a 3-4-2-1, where the double pivot of Jorginho and N’Golo Kanté has been supremely fruitful. However, when it comes to rotation, with Billy Gilmour now moving on loan to Norwich, their only backup in both these positions is Mateo Kovačić, a player who excites as much as he divides a fanbase. Bringing in Kamara would provide some much-needed competition.
Kamara has experience on the left side of a double pivot at Marseille, and he could potentially mesh well with Kanté. While Kamara would screen the back three, Kanté can engage in pressing higher up the pitch, which he was allowed to do so often in the latter stages of the Champions League last season with Jorginho protecting the deeper spaces, and this created an environment for Kanté to shine and arguably be the best player in the competition at that time. He would provide a mobile, but still a wise on-the-ball alternative to Jorginho.