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Why Aston Villa’s Boubacar Kamara is one of the signings of the season and now Unai Emery can build around him

Three wins from four Premier League games since the turn of the year reflect Unai Emery’s influence at Aston Villa, but the club’s improved form has also been helped by Boubacar Kamara’s return to full fitness. He’s one of the newcomers of the season.

The 23-year-old midfielder, who arrived on a free transfer from Marseille in the summer, has already become a popular figure at Villa Park thanks to his determined defensive work in midfield and clever ball handling. It brings quality and control.

Speaking to Emery at the club’s training ground, the always feisty head coach gets particularly excited when the name Kamara is mentioned. It’s evident that the France international will be at the heart of his plans for the club’s future.

“He has great potential,” says Emery Sky Sports.

“Very big potential. He’s playing well so he’s focused on improving his game, improving his skills on and off the ball. He’s developed in France and here. Now it’s my responsibility to develop him even more than until now.” done so far.”

Emery is a well-known student of the game whose knowledge has been described as encyclopedic, but he admits he had to do some extra work to find out more about Kamara’s game. “I had to expand my information about him,” he explains.

“I have information from various people who have worked with him before when he was in Marseille. I talked to him [former Marseille sporting director] Andoni Zubizarreta. I read [former coach] Jorge Sampaoli talks about him. Now we know him here too.”

Emery did his own research, but behind the scenes at Villa, that work was long overdue. Within the association, the signing is an example of how a successful and coordinated recruitment process works. Good planning allowed them to make the leap to other clubs.

Atletico Madrid were interested but Villa had agreed the deal by May. The month before, then-head coach Steven Gerrard, sporting director Johan Lange and managing director Christian Purslow had flown out to see him together in Marseille’s win over Nantes.

The process began back in the summer of 2021 when Dean Smith was still in charge. Villa had just finished 11th in the Premier League but there was a feeling that the lack of an elite-level midfield in the squad was a potential problem.

When Gerrard arrived later that year he soon came to the same conclusion about the squad and the position was flagged as a priority. It is believed that Rodrigo Bentancur was only considered for the Uruguayan’s January 2022 move to Tottenham.

Kalvin Phillips was also on the shortlist at times, but it was Kamara who quickly became the preferred option. Villa was influenced by the fact that he was younger than the alternatives – and cheaper too as his contract expired.

Recruitment manager Rob Mackenzie and his team had identified Kamara’s outstanding profile in the European market and ensured they were regular visitors to the Stade Velodrome in the months leading up to his recommendation.

Lange was convinced and drew Gerrard’s attention to him, who also became active in the pursuit. Added to this was the number of games a then 22-year-old player played, 162 of them for Marseille. He even had a leadership role in the group.

But what’s really unusual about Kamara is its mix of traits.

His ability to capture the ball puts him in a league with a certain breed of midfielder – the tough attackers and the interceptors who are capable of disrupting play for their team. Exactly the sort of qualities Villa knew they needed to add to their squad.

But Kamara’s case was strengthened by the fact that he has more to his game than that. Analysis of his possession stats showed that there were also similarities with a very different type of midfielder who couldn’t match his fighting qualities.

Last season in Marseille he was one of the best players in France, winning tackles 50-50 and having possession in the middle third, but he was also at the top with perfect passes into the opposing half and even high balls. No one was better than him at both.

Villa fans are now seeing this too.

There was a moment in first-half stoppage time of Villa’s last home game against Leeds when the crowd yelled at Kamara to warn him of the opponent charging at him on his blind side as he prepared to throw the ball on the edge to collect his own penalty box.

You needn’t have worried.

With a drop of his shoulder, he slid away.

Boubacar Kamara's distribution statistics for Aston Villa

This ability to take the ball in tight areas and play through thirds makes Kamara uncommonly complete and means he’s comfortable in a two-man midfield. In fact, his presence has given Douglas Luiz more freedom, and he’s benefiting from it.

For Emery, her all-round talent gives him tactical flexibility. “We have two very good midfielders. They are players who can play at different heights. So we can keep those two midfielders in the centre, but we can maybe defend higher or lower.”

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Villa have only been beaten twice in the Premier League when the two men started together – and one of those was lost after the partnership was dissolved by a late substitution. The series of results that saw Gerrard sacked came with an injured Kamara.

The player has returned from that knee problem even stronger and used the time-out to add even more physicality to his game and prepare for the Premier League challenge. It has allowed him to take another step forward in his game under Emery.

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Boubacar Kamara played a key role in Aston Villa’s opening goal against Leeds

He’s been pivotal lately, perhaps the standout player on the pitch against Leeds. There was defensive work to be done in the game but Kamara also provided the assist for Leon Bailey’s opener with a driving run as Villa capitalized on the counter-attack.

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WATCH FREE: Highlights from Aston Villa’s win over Southampton

Against Southampton it was his forward pass that helped set up the double chance for Bailey and Jacob Ramsey in the first half. He also won the free kick from which Douglas Luiz crossed for Ollie Watkins to win the game late. Another impressive achievement.

And Kamara is just getting started. It’s telling that scouts from rival clubs are already following his progress closely, but Aston Villa aren’t looking to sell. The hope is that Emery can now build around the brilliant Boubacar Kamara, one of the new signings of the season.

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