Brahim Díaz: The Swiss Army Knife of Attackers

Christian Bale, cinnamon, the Swiss Army Knife, Brahim Díaz: all known for their versatility. Wait, hold on. Brahim Díaz? That’s right. He might not have the public perception like the others, but his versatility across the front line has been key to Real Madrid’s La Liga title charge and Champions League run. However, it has not been the most direct route to the top for the (now) Moroccan international. 


In 2014, Brahim Díaz moved to the Manchester City youth academy from his hometown club, Málaga. There, he made his first team debut for the Cityzens in 2016, tallying a grand total of five appearances for the club across all competitions before his move to Real Madrid in June of 2019. In his initial season for Los Blancos, Brahim managed just six appearances, before being sent out on loan for three years to AC Milan. 


At the beginning of this club season campaign, he was recalled from his loan and signed a contract extension to stay at the Bernabéu until 2027. Many believe he was recalled to his parent club not due to exceptional performance (he delivered a respectable, but not impressive, 7 goals and 8 assists in 44 matches across all competitions for AC Milan in the ‘22/23 campaign), but rather to backfill the departing Marco Asensio, who himself was not a regular starter.


I share all of this with you not to paint Brahim as some Cinderella story that nobody saw contributing, but simply to illustrate that he was not expected to be a key contributor for Los Blancos this season. Realistically, he was squarely behind Vinícius Junior and Rodrygo in the wide areas pecking order. And with Carlo Ancelotti’s brilliant plan to maximize Jude Bellingham by making him an attacking midfielder specializing in late, well-timed runs into the box, Brahim found himself fourth in line for creative wide / attacking midfield options.



However, as often happens in modern football with several competitions and the ensuing stress it places on players’ fitness, injuries to teammates and the necessary general squad rotation thrust Brahim into the spotlight in no time. And he has more than delivered. What makes Brahim so special is not any exceptional traits (think Mbappé’s speed, Vini Jr. ‘s dribbling cleverness, etc.), but rather a wide swath of fairly uncommon traits that bestow upon him the oh-so-valuable label, versatile. 


In fact, comparing him to all of the attacking midfielders, wingers, and forwards from La Liga’s current top five teams (Real Madrid, Barcelona, Girona, Atlético Madrid, and Athletic Club), he rates as rather pedestrian in terms of goal contributions per 90.



I chose this sample group as it provides a few important aspects: 


  • Players from Real Madrid’s peers (the five teams are pretty clearly ahead of the rest of the league in the table) 
  • Attacking players that offer a wide variety of skills to compare to Brahim
  • Some of the best young (and overall) attacking talent in the wide areas of the pitch in the entire world (Vini, Sávio, Nico Williams, etc.)


All this considered, it makes for a great use case to test my claim that Brahim Díaz is one of the most versatile attackers in the world. In case you are wondering, Cristhian Stuani and Raphinha are the two that rate as exceedingly ahead of the rest of the sample group for goal contributions. 


So, what exactly makes Brahim so special? Let’s dive in.


Weak foot? What weak foot?


This season in La Liga, Brahim Díaz has by far the highest percentage of his shots taken (11 of his 25, to be specific) on his weaker foot. Even crazier? I do not think Brahim Díaz has a weak foot. Websites and football apps have his preferred foot listed as his left, but he’s actually taken thirteen shots on his right this season and eleven on his left, which is why I used his left for the “weak foot” comparison. 



Further evidence? While he hasn’t taken a set piece for Real Madrid, he took two during his time with AC Milan. Both times, he used his right foot. Whichever foot is actually his preferred does not really matter, as he takes shots with the same effectiveness from both. Being ambidextrous with his preferred foot is a major contributor to his versatility, as it means he can play just as effectively on either wing. A bonus over the famously one-footed lefty, Marco Asensio, and a huge benefit to Los Blancos.


Effective Crossing


Without a world-class center forward to aim at (sorry, Joselu), Real Madrid crosses the ball only the 14th most of the twenty teams in La Liga. However, when they do, Brahim Díaz provides their most dangerous option to do so.



He has BY FAR the highest cross accuracy of any player in the sample group with a meaningful number of attempts (yes, Fermín López technically has a higher percentage with his 3 completed crosses from 6 attempts). Consider Brahim’s 46.1% completion rate compared to the next highest for Ancelotti’s men, Toni Kroos and Rodrygo, who have a completion rate of 32%. Nobody else in the squad with a serious number of crosses attempted is above 25%. 


Brahim’s crossing ability offers something unique to Real Madrid. While it is not a skill that is commonly used in their tactical plans, it is something that can be leveraged when necessary depending on opponent and game state. 


Volume-adjusted Dribble Success


“Whoa, whoa whoa, hold on. Didn’t you just say that Vinícius Junior is an exceptionally effective dribbler early on in the article? But now you’re saying Brahim is as well?” … is what you’re probably saying. Allow me to explain.


Vinícius Jr. averages 8.88 take ons per 90 minutes. Take Ons are defined as “attempts to take on a defender while dribbling.” This figure is not only by far the highest of the sample group, but also one of the highest in the world. However, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon with dribbling statistics pervasive across football: the players with the highest volume never have the highest success rates. 



Intuitively, you would think players with a high volume of take ons and the perception as being the best dribblers in the world, like Vini, Sávio, or Jérémy Doku, would also have the highest success rates, but they rarely do. The best explanation I have for this is it is like three-point shooting in the NBA.


The players with the highest percentage of those shots rarely take the most shots, even though you would think that it is advisable given their effectiveness (Steph Curry the obvious exception to this rule). The reason they do not is because a higher volume of on-the-ball activities like shooting fatigues the player. So, the ones that would be best at it in a small volume shoot it more often, leading to a lower success rate with a higher volume.


My observation (although it is not backed by any substantive information) is that the same applies to aggressive dribblers. Players like Vinícus are more likely to be tasked or want to take players on, even when not optimal given any number of factors, which leads to a lower success rate. The players that are great at dribbling, but not exceptional, tend to have a higher success rate with a lower volume. Insert Brahim Díaz.



Within the sample group, he was the only player that scored in both the 75th percentile in both volume of take ons/90 and take on success rate. In case you are wondering, yes, that is Vini by himself on the right. You can see the trend’s formation even with this small sample group, but Brahim Díaz is the closest of the bunch to breaking the mold as both a high-volume and highly effective dribbler.


Defensive Workrate in the Attacking Third


In La Liga this season, Real Madrid ranks fourth in tackles in the attacking third per 90 minutes (2.29), and second in terms of the percentage of all tackles they commit in the attacking third (15.7%). Under Carlo Ancelotti, Los Blancos have not been known for their high press, but the underlying metrics still depict a team willing to try to win the ball back in their attacking third. Their most defensively-committed attacker? You guessed it.



Brahim has the highest number of final third tackles per 90 minutes of any player in the sample group, and by far the highest on Real Madrid. Furthermore, Luka Modrić’s 0.39 final third tackles per 90 ranks him as second on the team. The gap between the Croatian and the 11th most on the team (Nacho Fernández with 0.16) is the same disparity as with Brahim’s 0.62. The Moroccan does not just have the highest defensive work rate in the attacking third on the team, he has it by a considerable margin.


Unlike many of the other traits I have highlighted so far, this one is relatively new for Brahim. During his time at AC Milan, he ranked 3rd, 5th, and 7th on the team in his three years for the same stat, never having more than 0.44 final third tackles per 90.  However, his increased defensive effort makes sense. Using “role” players like Brahim to do the “dirty” work of trying to win the ball back in the attacking third makes sense, as it does not fatigue the stars of the team like Jude Bellingham or Vinícius, allowing them to operate better in the attack.


This also makes sense with his lower rates for AC Milan – he was more central to their attack. His first season with the club was his highest figure, then he saw a progressive decline as he became more important to what they wanted to do going forward. Being able to immediately walk into the Santiago Bernabéu and contribute defensively only highlights his versatility. 




Eight years after making his professional debut with Manchester City, Brahim Díaz has chosen to represent Morocco over Spain, with the player being eligible for the Atlas Lions on account of his paternal grandmother. Despite representing Spain for the 2016 and 2017 U17 UEFA Championships, the senior call-up never came for Brahim. 



In 2017, the Moroccan National Team reached out, but he rejected their advancements in favor of Spain. However, as time wore on, and the Spanish National Team never showed serious interest in involving Brahim, he opted to make the switch to Morocco. The move became official on March 10th of this year, and he was subsequently called up just a few days later.


What is La Roja missing out on? One of the most versatile attackers in world football at the moment. 


He genuinely does not have a weak foot, allowing him to play equally as effectively on both wings. He is an effective crosser, which allows Real Madrid to alter their tactics when necessary, and which fits in seamlessly to Morocco’s practice of finding Youssef En-Nesyri in the box from wide areas. Brahim also has one of the best dribble success rates for how often he attempts a take on. Finally, he is capable of doing the defensive dirty work even from advanced positions, which both his club and country benefit from.


At the tender age of 24, Brahim Díaz has already won the league title in England, Spain and Italy, and he has the chance to add to his trophy cabinet this season, with Real Madrid currently sitting seven points clear in first place with 10 matches left. After leading them past Leipzig with a Maradona-esque goal in the first leg, he’ll be crucial to Los Blancos’ chances of claiming a 15th Champions League in Wembley, but first, he’s going to have to get through his former club and the defending champions of the competition: Manchester City.


By: Spencer Mossman / @fc_mossman

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Denis Doyle / Getty Images