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FEATURE | Boubacar Kamara – FFP-strapped Marseille’s shiniest gem & Swiss Army knife

When Leonardo spots a player for the club he works at, it is worth noting his name down for future reference. The new Paris Saint-Germain Sporting Director kept a keen eye on Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara during his one-year long stint at AC Milan. While he has now returned to PSG to replace Antero Henrique, Kamara continues to be one of the hottest talents in French football today.

The youngster’s emergence has come at the right time. Jean Clair Todibo’s departure from Toulouse came months after Issa Diop’s exit and that left many looking out for the next French defensive sensation in Ligue 1. while Todibo is yet to make an impact at Barcelona, Diop already has made waves at West Ham in the Premier League.

The gap left by both for the next Ligue 1 defensive talent is one that Kamara looks very much set to fill. He doesn’t just have very capable idols in Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti to look up to, the 19-year-old has abilities of his own that bigger clubs will soon take notice of. Marseille had to fend off interest from clubs like Arsenal, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester United before they handed the then 17-year-old his first professional contract.

One thing that separates Kamara from the likes of Todibo, Diop, Varane or Umtiti is his immense versatility. He can play centre-back, left-back and defensive midfield roles and has been praised irrespective of what position he plays.

This past season, the hometown boy appeared as many as 31 times in Ligue 1. Although he played as a centre-back about 25 times, Kamara played at left-back twice and impressed in that position too.

While he didn’t play as a defensive midfielder in 2018/19, the previous campaign saw Kamara play there regularly under former manager Rudi Garcia in the initial rounds of the UEFA Europa League. Despite being sent off against Vitoria S.C., he was praised for his mobility. Weeks after that spell in the first team, Garcia revealed that he saw Kamara more as a midfielder than as a defender or a full-back.

The Frenchman had played alongside Luis Gustavo in a 4-2-3-1 shape and according to Garcia, that suited him more than anything else.

It is not just there where stories about Kamara’s versatility end. The first game that he played for Marseille was in a defeat to Sochaux in the Coupe de la Ligue Round of 16 and he started the fixture as a right-back. While he was later replaced by a more orthodox option in Hiroki Sakai, Kamara’s right-footed efficacy can help him slot in across the back four.

In today’s day and age, it is rare to find a left-back who is right footed. Be it any prominent left-back in the world, they will predominantly use their left foot. Kamara doesn’t. His composure and pair of blessed feet allow him to deal with tough situations very easily.

Garcia showed faith in Kamara in 2017 over individuals like Doria, a Brazilian prospect who was sold to Santos Laguna and with Rolando not getting any younger and Adil Rami unpredictable, Kamara rose to stardom at the Stade Vélodrome.

His adventures at left-back were aided by the sale of Karim Rekik to Hertha Berlin. Like Rolando, Henri Bedimo and Patrice Evra were approaching the twilight of their careers. Although Garcia did rope in Jordan Amavi from Aston Villa, Kamara was seen as someone who could play in that position whenever the need arose.

What the 19-year-old from a Mauritian descent brings to the table is not just maturity beyond his years and calmness in high-pressure situations, but also his ability to rapidly correct his mistakes and bolt back when the opponent plays a ball beyond the defence. His recovery speed is impressive and allows him to make last-ditch challenges whenever needed.

This past season, Kamara made 2.2 tackles per game, notching 1.5 interceptions per match in the process too. Married with his fine passing radar, his raw assets and inoffensive swagger are reminiscent of PSG’s Marquinhos. It is no coincidence that Thomas Tuchel used the Brazilian as a defensive midfielder many times in the Ligue 1 in 2018/19.

Marquinhos is certainly a better player overall, but Kamara has more than set off on the right foot. When the bigger clubs come back to France hunting for a young defender who can replicate his compatriots in the future, Kamara is the man their gaze will fall upon.

K.P.

 

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