Nordic Gems: Alhassan Yusuf

Nordic Gems is a series of mini-articles in which I present the statistical profiles of some of the most exciting young players in the Nordics. These are supposed to be short articles, not extensive scouting reports with video clips and intricate analysis. I’ll just give you some basic background information, strengths, and weaknesses, and determine their current level as well as try my best to estimate the players’ potential level. The aim is to offer a simple but overarching understanding of the players in question.

Statsbomb recently compared 20-year-old Alhassan Yusuf to Tottenham’s Tanguy Ndombele, one of the most hyped-up young central midfielders in Europe. Ndombele is one of the most press-resistant players out there and is an outrageously skilled dribbler and line-breaking passer. His skill set is rare and highly coveted, so let’s explore what Yusuf is all about, and whether he lives up to the comparison.

Name: Alhassan Yusuf
Age: 20 (Jul 18, 2000)
Height: 175 cm
Country: Nigeria
Position: CM/DM
Foot: Right
Club: IFK Göteborg
Market value (Transfermarkt): €1.00m
Rumors: Wolves, Club Brugge, Anderlecht

Soon after turning 18, Kano-born Alhassan Yusuf was signed by Swedish club IFK Göteborg from Nigerian Tiki Taka Academy. Despite his young age, he grabbed a starting spot only a few months after arriving, and he has since been considered one of Allsvenskan’s biggest prospects. The young Nigerian is now ready to take the next step in his career. Let’s look at some of his strengths and weaknesses.

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Ball carrying: Yusuf is a skilled and eager ball carrier, capable of transporting the ball up the field during counter-attacks or just gaining some space in the build-up. This is probably his biggest strength, BUT he isn’t able to beat his man in the same fashion as Ndombele.
Key stats (per 90): 1.69 accelerations, 1.76 progressive runs, 1.56 succ. dribbles

Involvement: Due to his great stamina, he is always open for a pass and is never invisible. He is great in both offensive and defensive transitions.
Key stats (per 90): 66 passes+dribbles+shots, 43 received passes

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Ball retention: Frequently passing it short and simple, he is good at maintaining possession. He’s also fairly comfortable receiving under pressure and is seldom dispossessed.
Key stats (per 90): 90% pass accuracy, 54% dribble success rate, 1.86 non-dribble offensive duels won

Progressive/long passing: While Yusuf most commonly plays it short and simple, he is more than capable of finding line-breaking passes or long switches.
Key stats (per 90): 5.86 acc. progressive passes, 79% progressive pass accuracy, 2.98 acc. long passes

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Defending in general: Yusuf performs sliiiightly under average in pretty much every defensive category. He isn’t *bad* at anything though. His defending barely a weakness and can definitely be improved upon, but he is no traditional ball winner. He’s pretty good at covering ground anyway.

Finishing: Well, his finishing doesn’t really matter, since it isn’t his role to score goals. He does get into some good scoring positions from time to time but pretty much never scores. Very minor issue, but a weakness nonetheless.

Yusuf’s heatmap from Allsvenskan 2020 facing right via Wyscout

Yusuf has been deployed as one of two central midfielders in either a 4–2–3–1 or a 4–4–2 this season. He’s capable of playing both left and right, and the heatmap, which shows where he has received the ball this season, reveals a pretty typical area of operation for a central midfielder. He’s a versatile midfielder. Nothing extraordinary here.

Ok, we have now reached the stage where I pick out a player or two in the top 5 leagues that resemble Yusuf. So is he the new Ndombele?

Weeeeell, I’m sorry to report that’s not quite the case. I mean, it is a fair comparison, and their output isn’t all that different. But their playstyles are different in the sense that Ndombele dribbles to evade pressure and Yusuf dribbles to conquer space. Relatively, Yusuf is a better carrier but worse dribbler than Ndombele. Additionally, their passing styles are different. Yusuf most commonly passes it short, and if not, he goes long. And he is good at that, no doubt. But he doesn’t have the same ability to frequently break lines and play disguised passes as Ndombele does.

Instead, the player I’ve found has the most similar statistical profile and playstyle to Yusuf is Chelsea’s Mateo Kovačić. Even though Kovačić plays slightly higher and in a midfield three, their output is remarkably similar. They are both of smaller stature and have average defensive and offensive output, but they are great ball carriers, decent dribblers, good and versatile passers as well as hard workers.

The nimble Nigerian midfielder has not yet outgrown Allsvenskan yet and doesn’t dominate games per se, but he could definitely move on to a better league and do well given his young age. Right now, I’d say he plays at a *good* Allsvenskan level, which roughly translates to middle/lower tier Championship/Eredivisie-level.

Oof, it’s really hard to tell how good he’s going to be, but he definitely has a very high ceiling. As with players like Ndombele and those with somewhat similar profiles, they could end up being world-beaters or not-so-good-at-all. Without being too sure, I’ll say that he’ll reach the level of a mid-table PL team, which nowadays is really, really good. However, if he does reach that level within 3–4 years, I’d bet that he reaches an even higher level. Let’s see where he goes next.

Most of the data is taken from Wyscout, and the personal information is from Transfermarkt

Football addict. Data enthusiast.