Mohamed Lamine Soumah: Guinea’s Diminutive Playmaker
Mohamed Lamine Soumah was born in the West African nation of Guinea on 7 July 2002. Despite his young age, he has been a regular starter for AS Kaloum in the 2020/2021 Guinean Championnat National (Guinea’s top division). Soumah has had a meteoric rise at the international level having played for Guinea’s Under 17’s, Under 20’s and senior national side within the last two years. At Under 17 level he represented Guinea at the 2019 Under 17 African Cup of Nations (AFCON).
He also played for Guinea’s Under 20 side in the 2019 and 2020 Under 20 West African Football Union (WAFU) Zone B Championship. The 2020 edition was a qualifying tournament for the 2021 Under 20 AFCON. Most recently, he made his debut at senior level in Guinea’s 2021 African Nations Championship (CHAN) campaign playing 67 minutes against Tanzania in a 2-2 draw.
Position and Role
Soumah most commonly plays as an attacking midfielder behind a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. This is the position he usually played for Guinea at Under 17 and Under 20 level as well as for his club AS Kaloum. He also played in this position in his debut game for Guinea at senior level. Occasionally he has been deployed as part of a midfield trio in a 4-3-3 formation, occupying one of the two central midfield berths, whether that be the right-sided or left-sided central midfielder. This happened a couple of times when he played for Guinea at Under 20 level.
As Soumah rarely played as a central midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation the focus will be on his apparent responsibilities when played as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. In this attacking midfield position, he was expected to receive the ball in the midfield and attacking thirds and use his technical ability to retain possession, carry the ball towards goal to destabilise defences and create chances for his teammates.
There did not appear to be much expectation on him to score goals. From a defensive point of view, it appeared he was instructed to drop back as the opposition started to build up the play and press the opponents’ midfielders when they received the ball in the midfield third.
Attributes and Style of Play
Soumah is very short in stature standing at around 1.60m. He is only 18 years old and may grow a few centimetres taller. Being so small is somewhat problematic as players of such height are rarely successful in better leagues. This is usually due to players of this height lacking the physical presence to withstand the physicality of high-level football but can also be due to coaches being unwilling to accommodate such small players in their teams.
La pépite 🔹 de l'AS Kaloum Mohamed Lamine Soumah auteur de la magnifique ouverture du score dans le classico contre le @HACofficiel.
👏 Ovationné à sa sortie par les supporters au stade 🏟 du 28 Septembre 👏
Talent à suivre 🧐
La marque panafricaine 🌍#GUISPORT ❤️💛💚 pic.twitter.com/9TiXu2Smak
— GUISPORT (@Guisport_) February 14, 2020
Alongside his small stature, he also lacks upper body strength. He can be easily brushed off the ball and struggles to retain possession when physically pressured by an opponent. He therefore needs to strengthen his upper body by incorporating a strict strength and conditioning programme that adds lean muscle to his arms, shoulders, chest and core. This will help him handle the physical rigours of high-level European football.
Not only will a strength and conditioning programme improve Soumah’s strength it will also enhance his stamina, which appears to be a weakness in his game. In the second half of matches, he seems to suffer physically which made him a peripheral figure for his side. It was noticeable how the crispness of his first touch and the smoothness of his close control deteriorated markedly as matches entered the latter stages.
Additionally, later in matches his passing accuracy fell glaringly as the number of misplaced and underhit or overhit passes he produced increased. This resulted in him losing possession more frequently than he should have. Improving his stamina via the method explained above will help him increase his effectiveness later in matches as he will be less tired. In turn, enabling him to produce the same quality of first touch, close control and passing that is evident in the first half of matches.
Soumah’s stamina issues also impacted the effectiveness of his defensive actions because his ability to close down and disrupt opponents in possession decreased significantly later in matches. Although Soumah is very short and needs to improve his stamina he has some impressive physical traits. He has an incredibly low centre of gravity that allows him to twist, turn or spin in an instant in different directions to shift the ball away from opponents marking him and wriggle free of their pressure.
His low centre of gravity is particularly useful in tighter spaces where he has less room to operate as it makes it easier for him to manoeuvre the ball and change direction to create enough separation between himself and a nearby opponent to retain possession. An example of how he utilises his low centre of gravity is when he receives the ball with his back to an opponent usually from a throw-in or from a pass played from a deeper teammate into his path.
As the ball is played towards him, he has the agility and balance to take a clever touch with the inside or outside of his boot to flick the ball to the right or left past an opponent running towards him and simultaneously spin in the direction of his touch. This touch and spin sometimes enabled him to escape the pressing opponent and drive forward with the ball or play a pass free from pressure. More commonly it resulted in the pressing opponent fouling him as he rotated away from them.
In addition, Soumah is deceptively quick despite his slightly ungainly running style. He has a great blast of acceleration over the first 5-10 yards that allows him to drive past opponents with the ball in the midfield area, separate himself from them and enter the final third with chasing opponents floundering behind him. This can be observed in Guinea’s 2019 Under 17 AFCON match versus Morocco (See full match).
What is more, he can maintain his top speed over longer distances when carrying the ball. This is especially beneficial when there is a counter-attack as he can cover the ground quickly while carrying the ball upfield. However, he does not display his speed and ball carrying ability often enough during matches. He should therefore aim to increase the number of times he drives with the ball past opponents in the midfield third as this will help him push his team forward and pose more danger for opposition defences.
He can do this by positioning himself facing the play when he receives the ball in the middle third. Something he already does well as discussed below. On receiving the ball, he then needs to quickly identify where the space is behind the opposition’s midfield and utilise his close control, agility, balance, explosiveness and speed to drive past opponents with the ball into the identified space, similar to his compatriot Mady Camara.
Soumah usually has an exquisite first touch as can be seen during AS Kaloum’s 1-1 draw with Hafia in December 2020 (See full match). What stands out about his first touch is that he knows how to vary his first touch depending on his next action. For example, he will take a heavier first touch if he knows he has space to drive into or is looking to push the ball past an opponent with his first touch.
Whereas on other occasions he will take a very delicate first touch to kill the ball dead and draw in an opponent then quickly shift the ball around the opponents tackling leg to elude their tackle. Also, despite being a predominantly right-footed player he is comfortable receiving the ball on his left foot and displays an impressive first touch with both feet. This means he can receive the ball at more angles thus increasing the number of positions he can place himself in to receive the ball.
Soumah combines his superb first touch with his quick, nimble feet enabling him to dodge opponents’ challenges and retain possession. This was evident in Guinea’s 3-1 over Mali in the 2020 Under 20 WAFU Zone B Championships (See first half and second half). His excellent close control means he can manipulate the ball rapidly to ride challenges and escape pressure.
In particular, he takes swift touches before releasing the ball which makes it harder for opponents to get near to him. The speed and decisiveness of these touches are evident in the quick one-touch passes he produces and the quick turns and dribbles he performs to beat his markers before driving forward into attacking areas or making a pass. The touches he takes tend to maintain the flow of the build-up phase or attacking rhythm, or speed it up if the tempo is too slow.
He therefore rarely slows down attacks or loses the ball due to technical flaws in his first touch or close control. Instead, his laboured and/or heavy touches in the wrong areas and dallying on the ball tends to arise later in matches when he is tiring. The technical ability Soumah possesses is evident in his ground passing.
Soumah generally plays well-weighted, correctly angled, incisive forward ground passes directly into the feet of more advanced teammates or into space for them to run on to. This means that his teammate can control the ball easily and take the ball in their stride while having just the right weight and angle to trickle past opponents looking to intercept the pass.
He does not tend to play many floated passes or switch of play passes but due to the positions he generally takes up in the midfield or final third these passes are not usually needed. As he plays so few of these passes it is hard to discern whether he plays these passes with quality and consistent accuracy. To execute ground passes with the precision Soumah usually demonstrates requires not only technical excellence but also great vision.
His vision, particularly his peripheral vision, enables him to see his attacking teammates movements in the corner of his eyes and feed pinpoint, well-weighted passes into their path that others would not see. His good peripheral vision also allows him to quickly identify when an opponent is moving towards him from his right or left side. Meaning he can change his position to receive the ball, turn with the ball or pass the ball quickly before an opponent gets close enough to pressure him and make a challenge.
Soumah does well to regularly position himself facing the play when he receives the ball in the midfield and attacking third. This allows him to see the pitch in front of him and make decisions on the ball based on the movements of his teammates in his line of vision. For a player of his age to have the intelligence and appreciation of how to position himself in that way consistently is impressive.
Master class Mohamed Lamine SOUMAH, buteur sur penalty avec le Syli U20 🇬🇳⚽️ face à la Guinée-Bissau 🇬🇼.
💛💚 #TeamAsk #Gbingbinso #Icicestkaloum pic.twitter.com/Y76dQnwZ7R
— As Kaloum Officiel (@KaloumOfficiel) November 25, 2020
Many attacking players look to receive the ball in the final third without appreciating the importance of their body position when receiving the ball and how that can impact on what actions they can then take. The intelligence Soumah displays in his body positioning when receiving the ball is also evident in his decisions on the ball, when he is not tired. Despite his young age, he comes across as a wise player in terms of knowing when to carry the ball and when to release the ball quickly.
He seems to get the balance just right most of the time which means he rarely loses the ball. However, it should be highlighted that his decision making starts to flounder as he gets progressively more tired. Therefore, as stated above a key area he needs to improve is his stamina as it will help him make better decisions throughout the game rather than just for the first 60 minutes of matches.
An area where Soumah should look to improve is his off-the-ball runs into the penalty box. He tends to stay outside of the box and look to probe and create opportunities. Rather, he should also be making runs into the box to offer himself as an extra option to receive the ball and attack crosses. These types of forward runs pose a great threat to opposition defences.
He did make this type of run against Guinea Bissau in the 2020 Under 20 WAFU Zone B Championship match (See full match). In this game, he made a smart run behind a Guinea Bissauan defender into the right-hand side of the box and the ball was played to him. He quickly turned and sidestepped a defender with the ball, and they stuck out their leg to block his path and fouled him.
Soumah won a penalty which he subsequently scored, highlighting how impactful such runs can be. He should therefore make these runs more often as once he is in the box with the ball at his feet, he has the skill and agility to dribble past players and create chances, score goals and win penalties. Making these runs more often will significantly improve his worth to his side and help him take his game to the next level.
There are potentially some question marks over Soumah’s mentality. It looks as if he can go missing and become ineffective when his team are losing. This was evident in the difference in his level of performance in the first and second halves versus Gambia in the semi-final of the 2020 Under 20 WAFU Zone B Championship (See first half and see second half).
In the first half he was heavily involved in the match. He was Guinea’s most dangerous player producing slick turns and incisive dribbles and passes. Whereas in the second half after Gambia took the lead for the second time at around the 60th minute mark he was barely noticeable for the rest of the game. He failed to show for the ball like he was in the first half and when he did get the ball his touches were ponderous and his through balls, in particular, were overhit and inaccurate.
It is important to caveat this by saying that it may be more of a stamina issue than a mentality issue which explains his drop off in performance after his team fell behind in the second half. To make a definitive determination on his current mentality, more footage of games where his team are losing would need to be reviewed.
Soumah has displayed a high level of ability across multiple matches for his club and in international fixtures. He certainly has the potential to become an influential player at a renowned club in a top 8 European league.
Nevertheless, what may unfortunately limit Soumah’s opportunities to advance his career and reach his full potential is his height. As explained above he is only around 1.60m. Although he may grow taller in the next few years, many clubs will simply not consider him irrespective of his ability because of how small he is.
Potential Future Clubs
Soumah has been a key player for AS Kaloum this season and should remain at the club until the end of the 2020/2021 Guinean Championnat National. After the season finishes, he should be open to taking the next step in his career. Currently, Soumah has the level of ability necessary to cope with a move to a team in Europe’s top 10 leagues. So, let’s take a look at two clubs playing at that level that would be perfect for his next move:
Vitesse have had a good season in the Dutch Eredivisie (the Netherlands’ top league) and finished in 4th position. This earned them passage into the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League. As they will be playing European football next season there is some areas of their squad that need to be enhanced in terms of quality and depth.
One specific position where Vitesse lack depth and should be looking to improve longer-term is in the attacking midfield position. Their main attacking midfielder is 27-year-old Moroccan international Oussama Tannane. He is a good player who is having a decent season statistically contributing nine assists and seven goals in 29 appearances. Nevertheless, he faces little competition due to a lack of depth in this position plus they should be aiming to sign a youngster with potential who can replace him over the next couple of seasons.
The ideal signing, they could make is Soumah. He is only 18 years old plus he has the creativity and quality on the ball to effectively aid their attacking phases of play. Additionally, he would be far cheaper than a player playing in Europe of similar quality and could act as an able deputy to Tannane for a year or two before replacing him. If he joined, providing he performed as his talent suggests, the profit they could make on him would likely be astronomical compared to what they paid for him. It therefore makes sense to sign him from a business standpoint too.
Transferring from AS Kaloum to Vitesse would be a logical move for Soumah. They are a stable and less renowned Dutch club who invariably finish in the top half of the Eredivisie. This would suit him as he would be in an environment where he will be able to develop without immense fan pressure or concerns over the club’s status in the league.
Besides this they have a young squad and are willing to give plenty of first-team opportunities to talented young players. If he joined, it would therefore be on him to illustrate in training that he is ready for first-team football as the ethos of the club and manager indicate that they would have no reservations providing him with first-team game-time.
It would also be beneficial for Soumah to join a club like Vitesse because his most obvious weakness, his stamina, could be improved due to the scientific and technological resources available at the club. They would be able to pinpoint exactly when and why he has stamina issues and develop a nutritional and fitness programme to help improve his stamina. This is something that would not be accessible to him in Guinea and in many poorer European clubs.
Strasbourg are a French Ligue 1 (France’s top league) club. They are experiencing a poor season finding themselves near the bottom of the league but will avoid relegation as things stand. They will certainly be looking to enhance their squad next season to ensure they, as a minimum, enjoy a comfortable season in midtable.
Strasbourg have a decent squad but there are obvious holes in it. They need to improve their centre-back options especially as Mohamed Simakan is moving to RB Leipzig in the summer. Whilst they also need to add another attacking midfield player to supplement 27-year-old Adrien Thomasson, who is the only recognised attacking midfielder in their squad.
Focusing on their need for another attacking midfielder, Soumah would be an astute capture. He is a highly talented young attacking midfielder who has great technical quality, vision and attacking intelligence. He would therefore be capable of providing an alternative option to Thomasson in certain matches for example if Thomasson needs a rest or where opponents are playing a very deep block as Soumah has better vision and the ability to produce eye of the needle passes.
Furthermore, he would be easily affordable and significantly cheaper than equivalent players the club would be targeting from other French or European clubs. If offered the chance to sign for Strasbourg, Soumah should readily accept it. They are a solid French club that have the infrastructure in place to help him improve the weaknesses in his game and enhance his strengths.
This includes the coaching team, training facilities and sport science department. All of which can assist him in improving his game. In addition, he would be facing talented midfielders in training every day like Jean-Eudes Ahoulou and Jean-Ricner Bellegarde who will push him hard and force him to adapt his game and improve his level if he is to become a regular in the first team. He would not have the opportunity to train alongside such good young players at many other clubs who would be interested in acquiring his services.
It should also be noted that if Soumah joined he would likely be Thomasson’s understudy and so could easily be afforded plenty of minutes off the bench within six months or even earlier depending on how impressive he was in training. As Thomasson would probably be Soumah’s only direct competitor for a starting position, if Thomasson were to get injured or if Soumah could show he was deserving of a place in the team ahead of Thomasson he could start matches and establish himself as a valuable player quickly.
At many other clubs where there are three or four players vying for the attacking midfielder berth it would be harder for him to convince the manager he is deserving of a starting role. Considering Soumah’s background moving to France would be an easier transition for him than moving to other European countries.
He is Guinean and is likely to be able to speak French which would make it easier for him to interact with his teammates and understand his manager’s demands and instructions. In turn, allowing him to focus on showcasing his abilities and fitting into the team’s style and tactical system rather than struggling to communicate with his teammates and manager and having to worry about learning a new language.
By: Daniel Ajuh
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / l’Association Sportive de Kaloum Twitter