It’s that time of year once more. As the hangover of the festive period begins to take its toll, the fabled orange ball pops up here and there, players earn a unique type of kudos for wearing short sleeves, and the January transfer window creaks open again.
Amid the unrelenting churn of sources, whispers and rumours, certain names have become a fixture of the season. While Julian Draxler will seemingly never be content with his current club, and William Carvalho finally got his move – though, to Real Betis not Manchester United – Boubakary Soumare has emerged as the latest perennial occupant of the gossip columns.
The former Paris Saint-Germain youngster was snapped up by Lille in the summer of 2017, without so much as a senior training session in the capital, and has rapidly established himself as the must-have midfield anchor for every club across the continent. Or that’s what the rumour mill will have you believe.
Despite a clear desire for senior minutes, Lille have gradually bedded Soumare into the first team. After two seasons without making more than five league starts, Soumare was a fixture of Lille’s first XI until January 2020. Following a spell out of the side, the Paris-born youngster has been vying for a place in a competitive squad this term.
Soumare has been depicted as ‘Paul Pogba without the baggage’, but aside from being a tall, talented Frenchman, the two don’t share an abundance of similarities. Unlike Manchester United’s number six, Soumare offers little presence in the attacking third or efforts on goal. In 68 Ligue 1 appearances, Soumare has mustered just ten shots.
Lille’s highly-touted 21-year-old may not pose a direct threat in the opposition box, but his strength unquestionably lies in progressing the ball to those areas from deep. Soumare isn’t necessarily going to be the man to play the final pass – he only has one Ligue 1 assist in his career – but the elegant midfielder is hugely adept at moving the ball into the final third.
This season, Soumare is averaging a ridiculous tally of nine passes into the final third per 90 minutes. While this represents an increase from previous campaigns, Soumare’s ball progression over the entirety of his nascent career is eye-catching.
Operating largely as one of two central midfielders in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2, Soumare’s defensive output has been subject to more fluctuation. On the whole, he offers more to his side on the ball rather than out of possession. Of course, at 21 years of age, Soumare is far from the complete package, but a talented prospect with a wealth of attention.
Liverpool are one of a slew of sides touted as Soumare’s next destination. However, while the serial French under-age international would undoubtedly benefit hugely from training with some of the game’s best in his position, he would surely not be expected to make an impact on the first team in the immediate future.
Real Madrid and Manchester United are among some of the other, painfully high profile destinations associated with Soumare, yet, Lille’s number 24 may be best served joining a team slightly lower down Europe’s hierarchy.
Newcastle United were poised to bring Soumare to St James’ Park in the 2020 January transfer window only for the player to scupper the deal at the final hurdle. As the Premier League team with the fewest passes into the final third both last season and in the current campaign, via FBRef, the much sought-after midfielder would prove a welcome addition to a Newcastle side desperately lacking any creation. That is, if Steve Bruce can persuade Soumare to actually get on the plane this time.
Crystal Palace suffer from a similar problem, regularly line up in the familiar 4-4-2, and are in need of a youthful injection into the oldest side in the Premier League. If Soumare were to set his sights higher up the Premier League table, the pairing with Leicester City’s Wilfred Ndidi – one of the division’s best ball-winners, but a more conservative passer – makes for an enticing spectacle.
With clubs throughout the French top flight facing a significant financial setback following the collapse of Mediapro’s TV deal, Soumare will not command quite the extravagant price previously touted. As a young midfielder capable of impressive ball progression and available at a discount, Soumare’s name may not litter the gossip columns for much longer.