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Strengths and weaknesses of the coveted French midfielder

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It’s that time of year again. As the holiday hangover begins to take its toll, the legendary orange ball pops up here and there, players earn a unique type of kudos for wearing short sleeves, and the January transfer window s’ opens again.

Amid the endless flow of sources, whispers and rumors, some names have become a staple of the season. While Julian Draxler will apparently never be happy with his current club and William Carvalho has finally secured his transfer – however, to Real Betis and not Manchester United – Boubakary Soumare has become the last lifelong occupant of the gossip columns.

Lille OSC v Girondins Bordeaux - Ligue 1
Boubakary Soumare has been regularly associated with a range of clubs across Europe; from Newcastle United to Real Madrid | Sylvain Lefevre / Getty Images

The former Paris Saint-Germain youngster was caught by Lille in the summer of 2017, without a senior training session in the capital, and quickly established himself as the go-to midfielder for all clubs from the continent. Or that’s what the rumor will have you believe.

Despite a clear desire for senior minutes, Lille has gradually integrated Soumare into the first team. After two seasons without making more than five starts in the league, Soumare was part of Lille’s first XI until January 2020. Following a spell outside the camp, the young Parisian is fighting for a place in a competitive team this quarter.

Soumare has been described as “Paul Pogba without the baggage,” but aside from being a great talented Frenchman, the two don’t share an abundance of similarities. Unlike Manchester United’s number six, Soumare offers little presence in the third striker or effort on goal. In 68 Ligue 1 matches, Soumare has collected only ten shots.

The much-vaunted 21-year-old from Lille may not pose a direct threat into the opponents’ area, but his strength is unmistakably in the ball’s progression to those areas from the depths. Soumare won’t necessarily be the man to play the final pass – he has only one assist in Ligue 1 in his career – but the elegant midfielder is extremely adept at moving the ball in the final third.

This season, Soumare is averaging a ridiculous total of nine assists in the final third every 90 minutes. While this represents an increase from previous campaigns, Soumare’s ball progress throughout his nascent career is eye-catching.

Operating largely as one of two central midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, Soumare’s defensive production has been subject to more fluctuations. Overall, he offers more to his side on the ball than out of possession. Of course, at 21, Soumare is far from the full package, but a talented prospect with a wealth of attention.

Liverpool is one of the many sides touted as Soumare’s next destination. However, while the France Serial Minors international would undoubtedly benefit tremendously from training with some of the best in the game in his place, it certainly isn’t expected to impact the first team in the immediate future.

Other high-profile destinations associated with Soumare are Real Madrid and Manchester United, but Lille’s number 24 could be better served by joining a team slightly lower in the European hierarchy.

Newcastle United were set to bring Soumare to St James’ Park in the January 2020 transfer window only so the player could scupper the deal at the last hurdle. As the Premier League side with the fewest assists in the final third last season and in the current campaign, via FBRef, the much sought-after midfielder would be a welcome addition to a Newcastle side desperately lacking in any creation . In other words, if Steve Bruce can persuade Soumare to get on the plane this time around.

Crystal Palace suffers from a similar issue, line up regularly in the familiar 4-4-2 and need a youthful injection in the Premier League’s older side. If Soumare was aiming higher in the Premier League table, pairing with Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi – one of the division’s top ball winners, but a more conservative passer – is a tantalizing spectacle.

As France’s elite clubs face a major financial setback following the collapse of Mediapro’s TV deal, Soumare won’t quite command the previously touted extravagant price tag. As a young midfielder capable of impressive ball progression and available at a discount, Soumare’s name may not litter the columns of gossip any longer.