Napoli have impressed most football fans this season by playing probably the most entertaining football seen in Europe. Coach Maurizio Sarri bases his style of play around an extremely quick possession game which sees the ball move between players at an extraordinary high tempo. Napoli averages 59 % possession per game in Serie A which is comfortably above the next two, Juventus and Roma. At the base of this team and a key part of constructing the impressive passing football the team plays is a 19-year-old midfielder from Guinea who is just short of two full seasons in top flight football. Amadou Diawara thrived at Bologna last season, but this term he’s taken a huge leap forward under Sarri’s guidance.
After starring for Bologna, Diawara signed for Napoli in August following a summer full of speculations surrounding his future. The move seamed a match made in heaven given his playing style and the style of Napoli, and so it has proven. Diawara competes with Brazilian/Italian regista Jorginho, who was Europe´s top passer last season, for a place in the side. At the beginning of the season, Jorginho was preferred in Sarri’s starting eleven, no surprise given Sarri’s willingness to work with his players on the training pitch until he believes the player to be ready having grasped Sarri’s preferred style of play. After Jorginho’s form started to dip a little, Diawara was trusted and his performances have vindicated Sarri’s belief in him. Diawara averages 80 passes a game at an excellent completion rate of 90%. He sets the tempo for the side and his role in constructing the passing game is very important.
Still, compared to Jorginho’s influence, Diawara has some way to go to become even more influential as Jorginho averages 101 passes a game at the same completion rate. Lately, Sarri has preferred Diawara as evident by his deployment of the 19-year-old in the Champions League clash against Real Madrid and in the Coppa Italia semi-final at Juventus.
Diawara doesn’t shirk these responsibilities either. His confidence shines through; this is a 19-year-old midfielder making his first ever Champions League knockout game at the Bernabeu against the reigning European Champions Real Madrid, runs Napoli’s game from the base of midfield and uses 105 touches to make his 98 passes. Clearly, this is a special talent. As mentioned, Diawara only had one season at Bologna before signing for Napoli and before his solitary year at Bologna he appeared in Lega Pro (the third division) for San Marino. His rise to the top in such a short space of time is incredible and here we take a look at his qualities.
Diawara plays as the defensive midfielder and boasts an imposing physical stature. He can tackle to win the ball, but it’s more common to see him anticipating passes and make interceptions. After being schooled in Sarri’s system, he’s also a really good presser. In the video below, you see a few clips of Diawara pressing opponents to force them to go backwards and you see him reading a pass, intercepting and passing to set his teammates on the counterattack.
Diawara might have the physique of a powerful ball winner and in truth he probably could be, but this is a very clever player, using his positioning and reading of the game as his main defensive features.
As you might have figured out, Diawara’s main strength is his passing. He passes well both short and long, he combines with other players, he can use his range to switch the play both towards the flanks and in behind the oppositions defensive line, he can use both feet and he’s extremely calm under pressure. In the video below you can see what I mean.
Amadou Diawara. 19-years-old. Breaking lines for fun. pic.twitter.com/zORCpYr8sS
— Running The Show (@RunTheShowBlog) March 2, 2017
Diawara uses his passing range to help Napoli dominate possession in their matches, and he can match his passing technique with the football intelligence needed to consistently maintain a good level of distribution from the base of midfield. The youngster consistently breaks the midfield and defensive lines of the opposition which you clearly see in the video. Diawara also has the speed of thought needed to thrive in Sarri’s ultra-quick football. In terms of passing ability, Diawara has everything.
Aside from his impressive passing technique, Diawara also has the technical ability and, perhaps most importantly, the confidence to dribble his way out of pressured situations if no passing options present themselves.
As you can see, Diawara has the audacity and arrogance to pull off stunning dribbles in the centre of the pitch. Only the really special players have the confidence and ability to pull off these kinds of skills.
Areas to improve
If we go back to the comparison with Jorginho, Diawara can look at his teammate for a defensive midfielder who can bring even more to the last third. Diawara averages 0.94 key passes a game, while the Brazilian averages 1.37 key passes a game. Diawara’s main job isn’t creating chances, but he would improve his game even further by improving this area of his game. Diawara is also yet to score for Napoli, and didn’t at Bologna either. Not his main job by any means, but it can’t hurt to score a couple of goals a season.
Under the guidance of a brilliant coach in a team full of exciting, talented youngsters, the emergence of Amadou Diawara has been fantastic. From third division football two years ago to now dominating Champions League games at the Bernabeu is nothing short of remarkable. That’s the kind of talent Diawara is, and now he needs to make sure he can keep this level of performance up. If he does, there is no telling what the young Guinean can go on to achieve.