What's so special about Ibrahim Sangare?

Ibrahim Sangare hasn't left Toulouse, and he's already achieved one big distinction – there's no player whom more people ask about on our social media channels. The 22-year-old Ivorian midfielder has reportedly attracted interest from Tottenham, Arsenal, and other clubs in the Premier League, as well as the rest of Europe's top competitions. Can we see why using data?

Our algorithm flagged Sangare as a smarterscout young prospect in Ligue 1 back in 2017-18, when he was splitting his time between CM and DM. This means he fit the profile of players who have gone on to star at a higher level. Since then, he's played mostly DM, and his numbers suggest a very particular kind of player:

Sangare is excellent in the air – he's tall – and an outstanding tackler as well. But despite that, the overall quality of his defending is low. He's still quite an aggressive defender, but his actions during a given defending opportunity may be costly.

In attack, Sangare already offers average output at a Premier League standard, but his ball retention is very low. Aside from his avid dribbling – with only average skill on the ball in ground duels – this has mainly been because of his ambitious passing. Take a look at Sangare's smartermap from last season:

Sangare covers plenty of territory, especially in the right channel going forward, and he keeps his eye out for a long pass no matter where he is on the pitch. So his style might suit a club that's looking to play directly, with high-risk/high-reward passes that may often give possession back to the opposition. That doesn't sound too much like Mikel Arteta's Gunners, but it could work for Jose Mourinho's Spurs.

Looking across Europe's top five leagues for players with a similar style to Sangare's last season, we find a fairly esoteric selection:

Quite a few of these guys can play box-to-box, but the role that Gareth Barry played for Everton in 2016-17 was somewhat different: mixing things up in midfield and then moving the play ahead without necessarily driving forward on his own. There's certainly a similarity with Sangare's style in 2019-20, but so far this season Sangare has actually been dribbling a huge amount in Ligue 2:

It's a small sample, yet it's interesting to note that Sangare's defending has also yielded more ball recoveries and disruptions of opposition moves in 2020-21. Perhaps he's finding the pace of Ligue 2 rather slow, or maybe he's putting in a bit of extra effort to place himself in the shop window. Either way, his rating for defending quality hasn't really changed at a Premier League standard, so he may still need to refine his actions and decisions off the ball.

Because Sangare's height and skill make him a force to be reckoned with in the air, we wonder whether a central role like Marouane Fellaini's wouldn't suit him better than Barry's. So far, he hasn't gotten close enough to goal very often to use that ability in open play:

From dead balls, we'd hope to see more headers from him, but sometimes he hasn't even been in the box. Instead, he's been the player assigned to get back and stop a counterattack – likely a testament to his speed:

So before we close, let's agree on what Sangare is not. He's not a holding player or midfield metronome. He's not a classic box-to-box player, either. At this point, his style probably doesn't lend itself to a high-possession club.

But Sangare does have a combination of abilities that could make him a dangerous member of a more aggressive, high-tempo squad. Will he get a chance to show it on Europe's biggest stages? At the very least, we doubt he'll languish in France's second tier for long.

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[Photo: Gaillac]

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