Serie A seems to be somewhat of a hotspot for young midfield talent. With all these specialists on show, it’s no wonder Italian football is gradually disposing of the stereotype of “defensive football”, and is now embracing the talent upon their shores, and it has resulted in Serie A teams playing some scintillating football, lately.
A prime example of this is SSC Napoli, under ambitious coach, Maurizio Sarri. What cannot be denied, is that Sarri has transformed Napoli into arguably the most entertaining football team in the world, with his team receiving high praise for the progressive style of football being exhibited at the Stadio San Paolo. Sarri’s approach is so eye-catching for the neutral viewer because of the speed of play – ball circulation is very fast, and Napoli’s play style is possession-based. It is this possession game that has allowed the midfielders to flourish, and that included the 20-year-old Guinean, Amadou Diawara. The youngster impressed at fellow Serie A club Bologna, earning him a move to Naples to attempt to break into the first team. He has not been a first team regular at Napoli due to the excellence of the Italian midfielder Jorginho, but Diawara certainly was allowed the game time to showcase his abilities and prove himself to be a useful asset for Napoli.
Diawara is effectively the midfield metronome for Sarri’s side, as he controls the tempo of the game with his frankly excellent composure and passing range and accuracy. This has proved to be invaluable for Napoli when the Guinean has taken to the field, as Sarri’s quick progression possession game is greatly reliant on a defensive midfielder who can sit deep and fire passes in all directions, and competently recycle the ball during Napoli’s attacking phases. Diawara has fit in superbly to life in Naples, forming an almost telepathic understanding with teammates, and this is something Maurizio Sarri evidently focuses on in training, the ability all players to contribute to attacking phases using incisive, fast-paced ball circulation. With key players such as the Slovakian Marek Hamsik in close proximity to Amadou Diawara, it will be fascinating to see how the talented youngster can develop his game and if he can fight off the challenge of Jorginho to become Maurizio Sarri’s preferred choice as Napoli’s midfield anchor.
Primarily occupying Jorginho’s role in the side at the base of a midfield three, Diawara is the midfield controller for Napoli; he is crucial in the first and second phases of build-up, with circulating the ball being his main priority among jobs. Diawara is tasked with initiating the second phase of the attack, as he often collects the ball from the central defenders, and looks to progress the play further with a pass to a teammate in a more advantageous position on the field.
He is becoming adept at breaking the lines with penetrative passes, which is a skill that Sarri seems to be drilling into all of his players, and it’s certainly one that many can appreciate. This was particularly evident in his astounding performance at the Bernabeu in the Champions League (perhaps even more accomplished than Julain Weigl’s performance there too, a personal favourite of mine), which I urge you to observe if you haven’t already. However, one negative that Diawara has, is that he has very little scoring contribution – this could be down to his role in the team or his own lack of attacking ability, or both, but it’s an area of his game that I would like to see him improve upon when he makes that step up.
Midfielders measured by tackles (Y-axis), interceptions (X-axis), forward passes (size) and key passes (opacity). pic.twitter.com/rpCBVsvGpb
— FIRST 11 (@FlRST11) April 10, 2017
He averaged just over 90% passing percentage last season, which immediately puts him up there with the very best “regista” type midfielders in European football. Another standout statistic is his 0.7 key passes per 90; while this is second to Jorginho’s output, this stat still clearly shows his competence in build-up, and his growing ability to find the final pass from his deep-lying position. Also, a skill that has visibly improved since joining the Neapolitans last summer is his link up play with teammates; the Guinean’s decision making under pressure is always improving, which is an indispensable ability to master when playing as a deep-lying playmaker. The speed that he is processing his passing options seems to be much faster, which is a testament to his football intelligence.
Diawara stands at 6’0″ tall and is clearly very powerful, meaning he has a striking physical presence as the defensive midfielder, which he uses to good effect when in defensive situations. His dominant stature obviously makes him imposing when in one on one duels with opponents, but it’s his intelligence and reading of the game that I really admire. It’s almost as if the opponent’s pass is forecast to Diawara’s head – his interceptions and prediction of pass direction is very impressive, and if you go by the words of Paolo Maldini, “If I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake”, then you’ll realise how important Diawara’s perception of the game is, at just 20 years old. The fact that the Guinean averages over 3 interceptions per 90 demonstrates his intellect.
He has also shown himself to be well-versed in Napoli’s aggressive man-orientated pressing system. This, in simpler terms, means that he has to shut off passing options for opposing players, and Sarri’s men do this with a high press as well; Diawara is an integral part of this effective press. So, Amadou Diawara’s defensive game, while far from complete, is becoming a stronger aspect of his play – he is backing up his physique with the required intelligence and understanding to operate productively in Maurizio Sarri’s team.
One more thing I want to touch on is Diawara’s technique – specifically his ability to dribble efficiently and at speed with close control. You normally associate defensive midfielders with the physical traits of a destroyer with having the turning circle of a bus, but this statement is emphatically put down by Amadou Diawara. His technique is perhaps the most magnificent weapon in his armoury. He is nimble, remarkably quick on the turn and is proficient at beating his man with his dribbling. This skill often allows him to beat the opposition press with ease, as he weaves in and out of players to further progress the play. Don’t believe me? Again, I’ll point you in the direction of his masterclass at the Santiago Bernabeu in February. With his abundance of technical ability, it’s easy to see why Sarri believes Diawara to be of the perfect profile to feature regularly in Napoli’s renowned midfield in the coming seasons.
Amadou Diawara has all the tools at his disposal to become one of the finest in his trade. Boasting a unique skill set, it is easy to foresee Diawara making it to the top in his career, which, hopefully, has many fruitful years ahead. But in the immediate future, it’s time that he ramped up his pressure on Jorginho in order to become Napoli’s first choice number 6. Naples is where he can really further his career and hone in on his abilities to make certain he makes advancements on his game, so I expect an accomplished 2017/18 campaign where he truly cements himself as one of the most in demand prospects in world football.
Amadou Diawara is certainly one to keep a close eye on in the years to come.