Jonathan Bamba: Lille OSC’s Hidden Gem
Jonathan Bamba has exploded on the scene for Lille OSC and been widely regarded as one of the brightest prospects in Ligue 1 since he broke into Saint Etienne’s first team last season. Bamba had been at Saint Etienne for six years before breaking into the first team. He started out his professional career in his hometown club of Alfortville for six years before moving to Les Verts in 2011 making his senior debut against Paris-Saint Germain in 2015 after several loans.
Bamba is very much top of the lists in much of the Premier League betting when it comes to the next player to arrive in England from France.
The coaching staff felt he needed time and experience in the French top flight before making the transition into the first team to have any serious impact. A series of stellar and consistent performances at Paris FC, Saint-Trond and Angers earned him his stripes and an opportunity to create a lasting impression.
And perform he did as he ended the campaign with seven goals and nine assists in 34 appearances earning a call-up to the French Under-21 squad playing three times. His ability was undeniable; a player with raw talent but needed guidance and consistent playtime to channel his inconsistencies into results.
‘The move to PFC has made me stronger. I hope to return to Saint-Etienne and impose myself. I came to save PFC, so it is a big disappointment [they were relegated]. My stats are not brilliant either, but here I have matured. Before I ran everywhere, but I learned to channel myself’ (Le Parisien)
An ongoing contract dispute saw him leave Les Verts on a free transfer to Lille OSC this summer. Impressive form and his proven ability as an effective goal scorer with a return of seven goals from thirteen games promoted Lille OSC to gamble on him. The forward was chased by a number of clubs including Crystal Palace, Newcastle United and Inter Milan but it was Lille OSC who won the race for his signature and secured the talented forward for five seasons with his best years ahead of him.
Jonathan Bamba primarily plays as a wide forward but is equally comfortable at centre-forward too. The Frenchman is an attacking inside-forward who utilises his extreme pace and flair as his primary tools of attack. The forward is deceptively proficient out of possession as he is in possession. An impressive ability to maintain close control of the ball makes him a constant problem for defenders. With a direct approach, Bamba has the ingredients to become a top class goal scorer.
Jonathan Bamba possesses incredible dribbling ability alongside his lightning quick speed. His direct approach is a rarity in an age of diminutive attacking playmaking wingers and forwards. Bamba possesses incredible control in close quarters. Young players usually lack ball control when pressured by the opposition but Frenchman has this unique ability to create and find space to make use of his outrageous pace.
As Bamba receives the ball, he is being closed down by three Spanish players with his back towards goal. With limited passing options, the Lille forward notices the space behind the Spaniards. Getting into space would give his two teammates an opportunity to run into the box. The temptation would be to hold the ball up and play a short pass towards his oncoming teammate. Doing so would actually slow the attack down and allow for the Spanish defence to reorganize itself.
The French forward takes a touch towards the byline and manages to utilise the small space to get the ball away from the Spanish defenders. The transition from back to front negates the two markers and causes panic amongst the Spanish defence.
Bamba’s dribbling ability has bailed him out of certain situations where a novice dribbler may have struggled. Not only does this make him dangerous in the final third but particularly on the counter-attack. The French forward prefers to position himself ahead of his teammates when defending to give himself plenty of space to run into leaving the last opposition defender in fear. That brings us to his incredible speed. His acceleration has tormented defences in the Ligue 1. His pace gives him the added advantage of being able to carry the ball from deep especially on the counter-attack.
Let’s take this example against Paris Saint-Germain, where Bamba starts in a very defensive position to collect the ball from his centre-back. The Belgian right-back, Thomas Meunier closes in on the French winger but his composure keeps him stable. Jonathan Bamba allows Meunier to close him down and in doing so opens up space behind Meunier utilizing the space left in behind.
One of the biggest developments during his loan spells was his movement and positioning. The French forward learned to drop deep to collect the ball allowing other players to run in behind. When you possess the speed and dribbling ability of Jonathan Bamba, getting back into a defensive position can vastly improve your football intelligence and positional awareness. He is afforded more room to scan the field of play and assess his decisions. The young forward is still inexperienced in this regard but improved during his loan periods, specifically at Angers.
“At Angers, from what I can see, he is working on his defensive contribution. In this team, if you don’t, you won’t play. He has grown in maturity, in consistency. I think he also won on an athletic level, he’s stronger in his game.” – Christophe Galtier
Let’s look at this example in a France under-21 game against Spain, where Jonathan Bamba pulls away from the right-wing position to come collect the ball and in the process brings Angeliño with him. This creates space for Nordi Mukiele.
The Spanish midfield is so engrossed in making sure Bamba does not reach the ball, they fail to mark Nordi Mukiele. Bamba is able to bypass the three Spaniards and play a through ball creating a two v one situation for the Spanish centre-back.
Finally, we come to his goal scoring ability. Jonathan Bamba has been in fine form for Lille OSC this season scoring seven goals in thirteen games but his goals aren’t coming in the form of tap in’s or penalties. The wide-forward has scored a variety of goals through counter-attacks, deep runs, and direct movement.
I decided to compare Jonathan Bamba with some of Ligue 1’s top strikers this season across the top four to see how he fares in comparison. He is the second top goal scorer amongst the four, being one behind Edinson Cavani who is flanked by two of the world’s best players in Neymar and Kylian Mbappe. This makes Bamba’s goal tally much more impressive given the service at Paris-Saint Germain.
These attributes should display Bamba’s effectiveness. Attacking score, shots on target, total attempts and chances created in open play have been used to assess Bamba’s offensive contribution from a statistical perspective.
Memphis Depay seems to be the clear winner across all four categories. His resurgence this season has been impressive and warrants these figures but this isn’t to show Bamba’s deficiencies but rather enhance his contribution which has been nothing short of spectacular. Having scored seven goals, Bamba has taken 20 total shots, 11 on target with a further conversation of seven goals. He is clearly an extremely efficient forward with an 82% conversation rate from total shots to shots on target. The Lille forward has even created 17 chances in open play for his team, further validating his attacking contribution. An attacking score that beats Cavani and Germain and only marginally lower than Depay has proven his effectiveness and efficiency for Lille OSC this season.
As Lille start to build on a move, we can see Jonathan Bamba’s starting position is deeper but enough space for him to run into. Saint-Etienne’s midfielder is slow to track Bamba’s run even after the ball is passed to the young Frenchman. The area of the pitch where he receives the ball is where he enjoys much of his success, being isolated with the full-back. Facing the prospect of taking on two defenders, Bamba decides to place a shot into the bottom right corner and scores.
One For The Future
Jonathan Bamba remains a raw, unfinished article but has already shown enough promise for his new club in his first few months. We’ve seen him perform for Saint-Etienne and now Lille OSC but the real test will be when he enters a goal drought. How he reacts and performs here should give us an indication of how far he will come as a player. Saint-Etienne has produced and nurtured the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turning into a world-class centre-forward for Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal FC. Luka Jovic, Jadon Sancho, and Abel Ruiz are part of the golden generation of forwards coming through in world football and represent the type of forwards we will see from now on. For now, Bamba is performing superbly for his new side and will need to continue his impressive form if Lille is to finish in the European places this term and be considered one of the top strikers in Europe.
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