Mikayil Faye: The teenage defensive sensation who could be the future of Barcelona – scout report
A lot has been said about Barcelona’s finances and reported transfer ban, but that hasn’t stopped them from planning for the future. Most recently, they have beaten some top European clubs like Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund to sign 18-year-old defender Mikayil Faye, who has impressed this season during his time at NK Kustojia: Croatia’s second tier of football.
If this is the first you’re hearing of the youngster and feel surprised at La Liga giants Barca dipping into the second tier of Croatian football for future talent, it may surprise you even more to learn that Faye’s club, Kustosija, finished second-to-bottom in the 2022/23 season, finding themselves in the division’s relegation play-off system. If anything, this speaks volumes of how highly he is rated, evidenced further by the clutch of Champions League clubs chasing his signature.
It is believed that he will enter Barcelona’s second team (Barcelona Atlétic) first to continue to gain experience, with first-team manager Xavi keeping a close eye on his development.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of the defender, providing you with some insight as to how he has featured this season, while also discussing what role he may play in Barca’s tactics in a couple of years’ time. We will give an oversight into his profile – his position, physical factors and general role notes, before looking at what he can offer in possession. Finally, there will be an analysis of his defensive ability.
So just who is Mikayil Faye? The 18-year-old has experienced his first campaign in European club football with Kustosija but has only been present for the later stages of the season, having joined the club in February from Senegalese side Diambars FC. Faye is a former Senegal U17 international, playing in both the U17 World Cup and the U17 Africa Cup of Nations back in 2019, so his potential has been realised by those dealing with the National teams as well as Europe’s big dogs.
As you may have guessed by looking at his heat map from the 2922/23 season, Faye is a left-footed defender, capable of playing as a central defender or a left-back. Thus, he has a well-rounded set of technical attributes while also possessing the necessary physical elements as well. Standing at 6’1”, he offers a good physical presence thanks to his strength and decent aerial ability, enabling him to compete effectively in aerial and defensive duels. And we can’t forget to mention his pace: Faye looks a ridiculously quick individual in Croatia’s second tier and it will be interesting to see if that translates to a higher level of the game.
Other important notes about his game include his powerful long throws, his confidence in taking free kicks from shooting range, and his composure in pressure situations on the ball.
When playing in the left-back role, Faye has a real hunger to contribute to attacking phases and is especially quick to react in attacking transitions, as you see above. Throughout this scout report, you will see several references to his lightning pace, which comes in handy in these moments of transitions as he is able to get into supporting positions quickly without opposition presence. This supporting positioning is a big part of his role as a left-back.
Supporting possession is still an important part of his role as a central defender, he is just more engaged in this in deeper positions, like the one above. Faye, along with his central defensive partner, split as the ball falls to their goalkeeper, giving the team a wider shape but also dragging opponents away to free up the Kustosija midfielder arriving to receive the ball. This is a move we see a lot from Barcelona so there are already promising signs that Faye can settle into their tactics.
Over his 14 appearances for Kustosija, Faye has had a well-balanced experience of playing as a central defender and a left-back, testing his current ability in a range of defensive and attacking scenarios. His excellent physical traits complement his aggressive, attacking play style as a left-back, while his composure and confidence in passing serve him well in the central defensive role. This segment will look at those factors, linking to how he could fit into Barca’s tactics.
We kick things off with the aforementioned composure in pressure situations. Following a long ball into the deep zones of his side’s half, Faye is forced to deal with it with an opponent closing in and looking to steal the ball in a dangerous area. Not even close to panicking or resorting to just clearing his lines, Faye shields the ball well and gives himself the time to set his body position up to swing a perfectly-weighted lofted pass across the pitch to his right back who is in lots of space. Danger averted, just like that. The pass was executed with his weaker right foot, by the way – if you didn’t know, and if you saw just that clip, you would guess he was right-footed.
A major factor of Barcelona’s tactics is to build possession by playing through the thirds, with the defensive unit linking up with the midfield unit to break through that opposition midfield bank. While the Barca CBs usually have the luxury of having the closest full-back available for the easy pass (as Faye does in the image above), they also need to be able to switch things up and find alternative methods forward to catch the opposition off guard.
Faye achieves this in the shot above, ignoring the two wider passing options and instead hitting his central teammate with a line-breaking pass. If the forward was able to produce a more effective first touch at the time, Kustosija would’ve had a real chance of turning possession into a dangerous attack thanks to Faye’s initial pass.
It’s all well and good being able to play short/ground passes on a consistent basis but the ability to play more direct passes is just as important as it gives the player and the team a different dimension in possession. Faye has a tendency to try and hit these long passes into space, particularly the space between the opposition CB and closest full-back for his striker to run onto. This move from Faye occurs more often when playing as a CB rather than at full-back due to the nature of his role in the respective positions.
This map of his progressive passes gives us more insight into his direct passing habits. As you can see, the majority of the passes are into the channel as previously discussed, but he also likes to play the odd diagonal pass into the final third onto the opposite flank. He’s also demonstrated the ability to produce long balls into the penalty area from deeper positions, which may not be something we see all too often from Barca but is certainly a good arrow to have in the quiver.
Moving onto his attacking contributions as a full-back, we see more use of his pace and good supporting movement showcased in the analysis above. His teammate receives the ball from a deeper region, wide on the left flank. Where many players would’ve hung back to offer a backward passing option, Faye bolted forward, making an underlapping run into the final third, easily overtaking and beating his marker for pace.
Upon receiving the ball near the byline, an area where Barca like to build to before finding the final pass into the box, it’s all about having the composure but also knowing exactly what you want to do with the ball, which Faye did in this scenario. A quick scan of the penalty area informed his next decision and he played a lay-off pass to the oncoming run of a teammate.
While he will likely not have that many pure dribbling moments in a Barca team who like their full-backs to play supporting roles in possession, he has shown glimmers of being effective in this area. Beating anybody else to the ball in the image above, he could’ve passed to a nearby teammate and in hindsight, probably should have. But the majority of players would’ve done what he did in taking it upon himself to dribble past the oncoming opponent before unleashing a long-range shot on goal. While the shot went just wide, he showed good ball control at speed to beat the opponent.
This map shows us that Faye could be a player for defenders to fear if they see him running at them with the ball. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re a good defender, pace can be the deciding factor and be too difficult to defend against. Mainly from the left-back role, Faye has made a good number of penetrating carries into the final third and penalty area, adding to his attacking threat.
Due to the way the game of football has developed in the modern era, this is a notion that many full-backs, even the elite ones, can’t defend as well as their predecessors, with the attacking side of the game being the focus. Mikayil Faye puts that notion to rest. Being strong defensively is the bedrock of his role as a central defender and he takes that into his performances as a full-back.
Being effective in 1v1 situations, especially ones that result in the opponent going through on goal if you get it wrong, requires a balance of physical, technical, and mental traits – Faye has demonstrated that he ticks this box. He shows good anticipation to read the opponent’s early moves before quickly moving in to close him down, forcing the opponent wide before finally using his strength to overpower the player and steal the ball back for his team with an effective tackle.
He has shown similar abilities on several occasions, showing excellent confidence for someone so young. What is noteworthy in this example is that his defending occurs on the right flank, somewhere Faye rarely engages. Getting over there quickly into a strong starting position to confront the opponent is a testament to his pace but also his general defensive positioning.
Some of the aggressive traits he shows more when playing as a left-back do make an appearance when he plays as a CB – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. This is an element of his game that should not be stamped out, but he needs to learn to harness that power and fine-tune his use of aggressive reactions, especially when playing CB.
The example above, though, is one that shows him using aggressive reactions to good effect – the loose ball looks like it is the opponent’s for the taking but thanks to quick thinking and even quicker legs, Faye gets there first to clear the ball, allowing his side to push higher up and apply pressure to the opponent in their own half.
We’ve seen that he is effective in a range of areas before the opposition reaches the chance to shoot, but the map above shows us that he is not afraid to get in the way of shots, both from range and inside the box. This shows a level of fearlessness but also strong positioning and anticipation.
It is highly likely that many clubs will wish they snapped this gem up before Barca did – the teenager looks like he could be the next big thing. While it is easy to get carried away after watching him play, it is important to remember that he has been plying his trade in Croatia’s second tier – no disrespect to that division but it is a far cry from La Liga, which is where Faye’s sights will be set.
He will have to impress at Barca’s reserve setting first, but he has all the tools to be a major success – the only question really may be what do Barca see him as primarily? A left-back or a centre-back?