French football is synonymous with producing exemplary talent throughout the decades of football. From Just Fontaine and Raymond Kopa to Michel Platini and Lilian Thuram, the number of players to strike it big in the country is seemingly endless. The conveyor belt of producing prospects has not slowed down to this day and, if anything has speeded up. Kylian Mbappé, Ousmane Dembélé and Thomas Lemar are just a few names to have excelled in recent times and represent how successful
France are in youth development.
Following in line is one Adam Ounas of Napoli. Though switching allegiance to Algeria – home of his parents – Ounas was born and spent the entirety of his playing career in France. The youngster, who will soon turn 21, is the latest in a lineage of incredible talent to have graduated from Bordeaux. Bixente Lizarazu and club top scorer Alain Giresse are just a famed few to have represented Les Girondins, while, most famously, Zinedine Zidane spent the better part of four years in the south of France.
Having been scouted at a local club small-in- size, he joined Bordeaux’s academy in 2013, thoroughly impressing in his time of learning, whilst also shrugging off a big injury scare. Then, in October 2015, Ounas made his senior debut away to Lorient, coming off the bench. His side may have lost, but he bagged the final goal of the game and it was a fine start to a promising breakthrough reason, resulting in five goals and two assists in fourteen Ligue 1 matches.
Already at such an early age, Ounas has endured his fair share of controversy and attitude issues. In 2014, while still in the academy, he openly criticised France national team manager Didier Deschamps for excluding both Samier Nasri and Hatim Ben Arfa via social media. Few years later and he took to Periscope in retaliation of a post-match comment made by Wissam Ben Yedder on Toulouse’s 4:0 win over Bordeaux, before being forced to apologise by the club.
The move to Italy marked the end of two senior seasons with Bordeaux. In pre-season, Ounas hit the ground running, picking up six goals and assists in four friendlies. Understandably, with Napoli’s rise to prominence and the boundless quality in the squad, Ounas has since found game time hard to come by, making just 77 competitive minutes so far, albeit early days, of course. Starting off at Bordeaux, Ounas was tried out in nearly every attacking role possible by Willy Sagnol and current manager Jocelyn Gourvennec. Under both managers, the 20-year- old frequently played in a 4-2- 3-1, 4-2- 2-2 and, more successfully, a 4-3- 3 which could sometimes be interpreted as 4-3- 2-1.
Naturally, it is difficult to pin down Ounas’ best position indefinitely with such inexperience. He has featured on the left and even a makeshift striker role to some degree of success in the 4-2- 2-2 shape last season which bore mixed results. However, a left-footed player on said side somewhat restricted Ounas’ true abilities, and he seemed much more comfortable when featured on the right of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3- 3. Featuring on the right-hand side allowed for the Algerian international to cut inside and open-up play, which was made to look easy by his fluid technique.
Moreover, he can feature in the traditional playmaker in a packed midfield, adept at performing in the heat of the action, but he does favour the right above all else.
“I’m most comfortable on the right wing. I prefer cutting in, shooting on goal or playing one-twos. I’d say my second-best position is playing centrally. When you play there, you can feed the wingers. I have the vision to do that. The left wing is more for player who cross the ball into the box all the time.”
While Bordeaux’s inability to convert chances created doesn’t do him justice, Ounas did pinpoint a few who he idolises, via 20 minutes: “I really enjoy the work of two Ligue 1 players – that is [Ángel] Di María and [Sofiane] Boufal.”
Of course, it is not difficult to see why he looks up to both so much. Boufal was in a similar position in terms of discovery with the occasional attitude issue and plied his trade in France, while Di María has many similar traits for such an experienced player and has himself encountered hinderance in his career.
A typical example of the modern attack-minded breed, Ounas is nothing if not dynamic on the ball. Not one to gamble with possession, the former France U20 is composed and cool-headed on the pitch, which bodes well for growing maturity. Not exactly gifted with pace like his former teammate Malcom, Ounas relies significantly more on his technical abilities to play at such an elevated level.
Briefly put, his play-style greatly falls to beating opponents, which is best suited on the right. Undoubtedly his greatest trait, Ounas has made gliding past the opposition look effortless with a sublime, almost faultless, technique that bellies his years. Moreover, his balance is very much an unheralded quality which faults many inexperienced players with quick feet and coincides with his calming approach on the ball.
Mostly utilised as an impact sub in his latter season with Bordeaux, Ounas was often a big relief for a team lacking punch. The match away to Lille OSC at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in many ways typified this. With les Dogues winning in the 75 th minute, Ounas came on to fully change the tide of the match with an impressive brace. The equaliser came from a well-struck volley, albeit with a deflection, but it was the winner reminiscent of Arjen Robben that was sensational. Picking up possession at the halfway line, Ounas spearheaded a counterattack, cut-in from the right side of the box and curled the ball into the opposing side of the net.
Ounas is not without faults, as previously indicated, and, like many his age, can be too fixated with trying to impress in poor decision-making by taking on too many players, and consistency seems a major threat. But such downfalls are only natural – including small physique – and it is to be expected that these are easily remedied with age and conditioning.
Maurizio Sarri is a firm believer in his newly acquired acquisition stating, “He’s a young player with great potential,” and that resonates on many levels. Bordeaux were a side limited in both creativity and ambition, but, now at Napoli, he seems a perfect fit to grow into a side aggressive and prolific in nature, with a wise and tactical manager at the helm.
By: Kevin McGuinness/@VoetbalKev