Bordeaux's Senegalese forward Henri Saivet (C) celebrates after scoring a goalBordeaux's French midfielder Adam Ounas runs with the ball16, 2015 at the Matmut Atlantique stadium in Bordeaux, southwestern France. AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS TUCAT / AFP / NICOLAS TUCAT (Photo credit should read NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s almost become a mini tradition within Ligue 1: over the past couple of seasons a young attacking player between the age of 18-22 makes a leap towards mainstream stardom with a highly successful season. 2014-15 was Nabil Fekir under a resurgent Lyon. 2015-16 was Michy Batshuayi under a floundering Marseille and Ousmane Dembele with Rennes. Before that were the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eden Hazard, players who have gone on to become international stars at Dortmund and Chelsea respectively.

Ligue 1 has gained the reputation for being a league where high upside players can be had for affordable prices. Because of the wayward finances of some clubs in France and having to abide by the rules of DNCG, there have been instances where pretty talented players have been sold for rather cheap prices. Dembele for example went to Dortmund this summer for only a reported 15M despite some signs that he could be a genuine top tier player going forward. You would think that level of hype would demand a higher transfer fee but combine the factors of Rennes not being the greatest financially and limited time remaining on his contract and what you got was a value fee.

Adam Ounas from Bordeaux could be the next one to join the list. In his age 19 season, he produced 0.44 goals per 90 which isn’t too shabby a rate on a club that was managed by Willy Sagnol, who from all accounts looked overwhelmed at the position. Highlighting the next exciting attacking player is not an exact science but let’s give it a shot:

Is he a shot monster? Well he shot 3.1 times per 90 as a winger at age 19 so that’s promising.

Are those shots coming from good locations? Well not quite but some of the shots that are inside the box are higher quality so there’s something to work with.

ounas-1

Can he dribble? Well 6 attempted dribbles per 90 at least tells us that he tries a lot to run at them

How about as a playmaker? Nothing of note really yet but forgivable seeing as he’s still 19 on a mediocre Ligue 1 side

ounas-2

How about his decision making?

Well let’s get to that.

So here’s the thing. Adam Ounas profiles quite well statistically especially considering Bordeaux are a club without a recognizable star like Lyon have or being on a super team like PSG are. As a shot taker, the ability to create semi decent shots consistently is a skill and to this point Ounas’ skill set would dictate that he can grow into being that type of player. Taking over 3 shots per 90 and accumulating a decent xG90 rate is promising stuff, and again, he’s only 19. This is the type of profile as a team you would love to get cause the upside is massive.

But yet I can’t shake off this feeling of not totally being in love with him despite the numbers. To be clear, Ounas is a very talented prospect but perhaps it’s the amount of times he settles for long range screamers or how many times he would cut into the final third with throughball opportunities or opportunities to recycle possession, but ignore them. While the talent is massive, I don’t think he uses it anywhere near as efficiently as he could. Some of it is due to environmental factors surrounding him (poor coaching, shaky roster etc..), some of it is also due to him being 19 years old, but it also as well comes down to a probable contrasting idea of what a good shot is versus what isn’t.

Good

There’s the old saying of players being worth the price of admission because of how electrifying their dribbling can be. Dembele last season was the perfect example because he made fools out of everyone last season, plus those dribbles at times led to him either creating good opportunities for himself or for his teammates. While Ounas isn’t quite adept at doing the latter, his ability to shift and juke past multiple defenders is quite frankly fun as hell to watch:

There’s a value to be had for a winger who can constantly get his team from the middle third to the final third by himself. With a better attacking structure, this can lead to creating high quality chances on enough occasions that it would become a massive boost for a club. Hazard was arguably the best player in the PL in 2014-15 because of his insane ability to do one man dribbling crusades into the box and create for others. Riyad Mahrez won plaudits for his ability to do both that and also be a threat to shoot. Ounas right now is somewhere in between: he can get into the box decently enough but it’s mostly for him to shoot first and pass second.

Where he thrives as with most pacey attackers is in transition. There are very few players in Ligue 1 who can keep up with him in non structured scenarios even if his decision making isn’t quite there yet.

This is Adam Ounas at his best. Even if it’s not always efficient, the volume of these opportunities can tilt the scale towards his favor.

Bad

The same ability to create a shot out of very little can be Ounas’ worse enemy as well. Take for instance this play

ounas-3

Now yes, a throughball pass to Khazri could very well end up being a shot from the wide space of the penalty area or even a cross. In the hierarchy of throughball chances created, this would be much lower down. But still that opportunity carries a considerably higher chance of something good happening than just launching a shot from Ounas’ location. Those type of distance opportunities get connected at around a ~3% clip. So what happens?

Oy Vey!

Now if this was something resembling a one off then it would be fine enough. The very best teams in the world can create systems where they can repeatedly take good-great shots and well, he doesn’t play on one of those teams. As an inverted wide man on a Ligue 1 club with very little attacking structure, that role can at times lead to wayward shots. The thing is that these moments aren’t few and far between and games featuring Ounas have these groan inducing shots. Here’s another example:

ounas-4

In fairness, there isn’t much in the way of throughball opportunities here as Lyon congest the pitch. Really there’s only two options: recycle the ball to a nearby teammate and continue to probe for a better opportunity (which does carry the risk of nothing good ever emerging) or pray that a shot in that scenario does anything of worth. What happens here?

It’s situations like this that give you a greater appreciation for teams who train their players to value possessions and not give defenses an out, especially defenses that generally defend deeper. Ligue 1 is a league where generally teams defend with lower blocks so what they’re looking for is crosses from further out and bail out shots like this. The more teams probe around and carry the threat of goal, the better. Of course there’s a billion factors that go into being able to construct that type of offense but the point still stands. I would also guess that Ounas is also one of numerous players who have a higher opinion of the probabilities of these type of shots going in. Soccer in the end of the day is about probabilities; the more times you can create high quality chances, the better chance you have in winning. Instances like this don’t help with that.

How he stacks with his peers

The obvious comparison is with Nabil Fekir, both in terms of their body composition and their general style of play. Both are left footed who in a perfect world like to cut into the middle all the time. It can even be argued that when it comes to athleticism, Ounas has an advantage over the Lyon starlet. During Fekir’s breakout season, he got to play the majority of it as a second striker which allowed him more freedom to roam around and dictate at his pace. He’s more cerebral than Ounas and used it to maximize his shots from open play. At times it feels like Ounas is just rushing possessions for the sake of it, ending up with 23 yard shots that had minuscule chances of going in.

It can’t be denied though that there is also statistical merit towards the comparison between the two. In fact, even with all his flaws in structured scenarios, Ounas production stacks up quite well compared to some of the young attacking talents that have plied their work in France over the past two seasons:

Players Minutes xGxA p90 NPGA p90 Shots p90 xG per shot Dribbles p90
Fekir 14-15 2877 0.51 0.69 2.75 0.11 3
Carrasco 14-15 2922 0.45 0.49 2.34 0.09 2.71
Silva 14-15 2390 0.43 0.45 1.28 0.19 1.51
Batshuayi 14-15 996 0.67 0.81 3.25 0.19 1.9
N’Jie 14-15 1603 0.61 0.79 2.75 0.16 2.13
Dembele 15-16 1702 0.53 0.85 2.85 0.12 4.87
Ounas 15-16 1241 0.45 0.44 3.12 0.09 3.19

It’s an accomplished list. Fekir looked like a budding superstar before knee problems got in his way, Carrasco has gone on to do well with Atletico Madrid, and Dembele was the brightest thing in Ligue 1 last year before hitting the jackpot by going to a manager like Thomas Tuchel. Plus, this list doesn’t even include the likes of Thomas Lemar and Maxwell Cornet, who so far profile quite well going forward. The only player in this list who has the potential to not look so great is N’Jie and even his development since leaving Lyon could be explained away through unfortunate timing, injury, and now having to play for the worst Marseille side in decades. It’s a credit to his talents as a player that Ounas can produce this level of results even if the process behind it isn’t the most cerebral.

It is interesting that in his first two starts to the season, Ounas played much more on the left side in something resembling a 4-4-2/4-2-2-2, a staple of new manager Jocelyn Gourvennec. Playing a naturally left footed player on the left side does eliminate some of the bad habits of taking the type of bad shots that have made Andros Townsend a household name, but it could also make it hard to get traction in the middle of the park and Ounas’ crossing isn’t really a strong suit. To this point it’s been a mixed bag: an encouraging performance versus Lyon but an infuriating one against Angers a week later.

Conclusion

In relation to players such as Batshuayi or Fekir, Adam Ounas is possibly more of a risk. There are a lot of rough edges to his game but  he’s not turning 20 until November and to this point has not even played 2000 career Ligue 1 minutes. Plus, with all due respect to Bordeaux last season, he didn’t play with a lot of talented attacking players. This time around they’ve signed attacking talents like Francois Kamano and Jeremy Menez alongside an accomplished passer in Jeremy Toulalan so that excuse can’t be used. Plus, their January signing in Malcom so far this season looks like a genuine talent. The hope for both him and the club is perhaps with the elevated talent and better structure, it can lead to more opportunities for higher quality chances which in turn will produce results.

There are a number of talented wide players who if you could fix their shot locations to an acceptable amount could become stars. Ounas is one of the poster boys for that. His gifts technically are superb but they go to waste when he settles for hopeful shots. The good thing though is he’s young enough as a player where he could absorb the teachings of coaches who tell him to knock it off with some of his habits. If he can find a happy medium between creativity and efficiency, Adam Ounas could be the next Ligue 1 starlet.

  • Ron IsNotMyRealName

    This summer would have been the time to take a low-price punt on him, IMO. After this season he’ll be too expensive to be worth the risk.

    You have to be very careful with Ligue 1 players because of how the league has deteriorated, much like Serie A. There are really only 3 leagues you can trust these days.

  • Paul Tiensuu

    I generally agree with points you make. Ligue 1, and France in general, is probably the most profitable market at the moment. I would hardly look outside it if I was playing moneyball in Europe. Make it your main source of players, add poaching leftovers from really big clubs, and an eye on smaller German clubs and good scouting of South American leagues, and you’d have the profile of Monchi’s transfer behaviour, btw

    I would only make a couple of points about Dembelé’s transfer fee that still seems incredibly cheap by all standards, knowing that many clubs were interested, he had been watched at place by a number of head scouts and football/sporting directors of big clubs, such as Fernandez from Barcelona, and there were reports of bids higher than 25 million € turned down (from Barcelona).

    Firstly, that €15M sum comes from Sport Bild, and nowhere else. It differed from all other reports. Cies has it at €25M. L’Équipe had it at 15 millions instantly, and bonuses to be added according to performances, according to 20minutes up to 52M. It never caught my eye what the conditions of paying the bonus would be, however. The point is just that the 15 million euros may as well be just a guess.

    Secondly, this is a history not only of Rennes’ financial state. It is also a history of a mixed ownership: Stade Rennais owner, multi-billionaire Francois Pinault, is also the owner of Kering who are the major owner (86% I think) of Puma who are the official kit supplier for Dortmund (contract until 2020). So the dealing between Rennes and Dortmund was always going to be easier because of the same man profiting at the both ends of the deal, and Pinault went reportedly to Germany himself to negotiate this transfer. You can imagine Pinault bagging a lot of money to his company by selling Dembelé to Dortmund, with their fanbase in wealthy and football crazy Germany and constant attraction of CL football providing great markets for shirt sales, and still yielding nice profit to Stade Rennais from the bonuses (if there were any, but for a clearly talented kid with just half a season under him it would make sense to tie the fee largely in performances) if Dembelé ends up doing really well. Maybe same argument could have been made for selling him to Arsenal, but the contract (with Puma) ends earlier, prospects of getting to play may be lower, German market may be even more appealing for shirt sales and maybe even Wenger for some reason was not interested and never bid. Or wouldn’t bid as much, stingy as he is.

    A third but probably negligible point is that his contract saga with Rennes was already a troublesome affair and they could have lost him for free already 2015 if Mickaël Silvestre hadn’t intervened. Although, the whole trouble was probably only about Dembelé’s prospects of field time at Rennes, since Montanier, who now takes credit for bringing the kid up, apparently didn’t rate him back in 2015 and had told this to the kid himself. But as said, this was probably negligible, since the manager had changed since then.

    • Ron IsNotMyRealName

      Ligue 1 is weak. If you’re a club in Italy or Germany, sure it’s probably good enough. But if you’re in the PL, it’s very very risky to buy from there. Kante went well, but a bunch of other guys haven’t.

      As for Dembele, Silvestre clearly sold below value to Dortmund to keep Dembele from going to the PL and tormenting Manchester United, likely at Liverpool. Dembele should have been valued higher than Martial. Probably the best Ligue 1 18 year old since Eden Hazard. Liverpool really should have been willing to pay up for him.

      There will be other really good young players in France, but there won’t be ones like Dembele very often.

    • Abel

      thanks, this was very useful!