"Solo los buenos quieren mejorar. Por eso son buenos". Nick Faldo
He came to French football without making much noise, but in the space of a few years he has become one of Ligue 1’s dominant centre backs. Aymen Abdennour has grown and has even improved veterans like Zebina (during his time at Toulouse) and Ricardo Carvalho (during his latest stint at Monaco, although they didn’t play together often). He has the strength, technique and tactical know-how which, injuries and level-headedness permitting, could see him go on to star at one of Europe’s top clubs.
Full name: Aymen Abdennour
Shirt name: ABDENNOUR
Date of birth: 6/8/1989
Height: 1.88m (6ft 2in)
Weight: 80kg (176 lbs)
Club: AS Monaco
League: Ligue 1
Every team in Ligue 1 needs a physical centre back, someone who dominates in one-on-one battles and takes no prisoners in the area. Abdennour may well have the perfect physique for a centre back if we begin to analyse his upper and lower body. To the naked eye, he has everything you would want in a centre back: he is tall, well-built and, above all, he stands out for having the appearance of a rather distinct footballer. Among all of the factors which led to his success at Toulouse barely two years ago, foremost was his ease in adapting to different tactical systems and in all of those he was able to play in a high defensive line. Abdennour has this bonus thanks to his ability to cut out space and dominate rival strikers in one-on-one encounters. Additionally, Abdennour’s impressive physique has allowed him to be a player who, at a big club like Monaco, can make a difference both over long and short distances. He is always the player who clears the danger when the opponent plays a high ball into the box, and his man-marking abilities are outstanding. He is a player who thrives on physical battles and clashes with opponents, and most of the time, the Tunisian comes out unscathed.
At the beginning of the article, we said that Abdennour was a complete centre back. The Tunisian disproves the myth of the big, tall centre back that doesn’t have any technique. Among all of his qualities, there is always one trait which obstructs him on the path to greatness; and this trait may well be psychological. Abdennour has always been a centre back who likes to play close to the limit, and proof of this came with the two penalties that he gave away at the start of last season in Ligue 1, which led to Leonardo Jardim losing confidence in him and the Tunisian lost his place as a regular starter until the beginning of 2015. His eagerness to cut out the danger, the need to play close to the limit – being the last man doesn’t foster the temperament that a centre back must have in these last ditch moments – have made him suffer and, nowadays, despite having undoubtedly improved in this area, he still hasn’t overcome this constant need of playing at the edge. This may well be the reason that he hasn’t yet been snapped up by a top European team.
A left-footed centre back who doesn’t cower when it’s time to play the ball out of defence, he has been the main reference point both at Toulouse and Olympique Marseille when the team has sought to initiate transitions from defence to attack. Abdennour has an extraordinary ability for both short and long-range passing. His powerful lower body, combined with his excellent vision, allows him to play one-touch football in high-pressure situations and also give him the ability to seek a change of direction against the majority of Ligue 1 teams who park the bus when playing against Monaco. Given Monaco’s style of play, this passing game really suits a player like Abdennour, who, on top of this, is also a towering physical specimen. This impressive stature enables him to dribble past rival strikers with consummate ease and also gives him more space when playing in the opposition’s half. As we have already pointed out, he is a centre back who never gets scared and if he has to take a risk in a high-pressure situation, he has the confidence and ability required to get out of it.
Abdennour is a tricky centre back when it comes to analysing his tactical qualities. It isn’t his strong point, but, if we were to watch him in a match right now without knowing anything about him, we could say at the end that he is rarely caught out of position. In truth, Abdennour is a centre back who relies strongly on his speed, which allows him to overshadow the stretches of the match when opposition forwards catch him off guard. Along with Varane, he is probably one of the best centre backs for making up for his relatively poor reaction time with his extremely high self-confidence in his ability to make up space and recover his position on occasions when possession is lost.
Abdennour is also a very strong defender, therefore it has been beneficial for him to play alongside centre backs as experienced as Zebina at Toulouse and Ricardo Carvalho at Monaco who have been able to cover for him when he has lost possession. His ability to cover large distances in such a short space of time is a factor which plays to his advantage. Abdennour is a defender who, with his long, flexible legs never ceases to amaze when clearing opposition crosses, whether they be high or low. His tactical ability is his one great shortcoming.
* Andrés Onrubia
* Translated by Mark Coyle from Grup14.com
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