In recent months, left-backs have become ever more popular in Europe as clubs look for some attacking impetus from the back. Amongst the top clubs, Man United (Rojo and Shaw), Chelsea (Filipe Luis), Barcelona (Mathieu) and Bayern Munich (Bernat) have all invested in a left-back over the summer and it’s no surprise to see some talented youngsters being the subject of transfer rumours in recent times. In the Bundesliga, Ricardo Rodriguez has been lauded heavily for over a year now, and the 22-year-old Wolfsburg defender has lived up to the hype this season, scoring 3 times and grabbing 1 assist in 8 league appearances. However there is a lesser known quantity excelling at one of the league’s least heralded clubs. Welcome to Abdul Rahman Baba, of Augsburg.
A little over 2 years ago, Baba was playing for Asante Kotoko in his home country Ghana. 2 seasons spent at minnows Greuther Fürth helped the 20-year-old adapt to European football, and in August of this year he transferred to Augsburg for the sum of just over £2m. He has taken no time at all to settle into his new team.
As a fresh-faced 18-year-old, he started slowly at Greuther Fürth (he received a red card on his debut), but grew into his surroundings and finished his first season as arguably his side’s best performer, as they ended up rock bottom of the league. A similarly successful second season in the second division (Greuther Fürth finished 3rd but lost out on promotion in a play-off) had many clubs clamouring for his signature and it was FC Augsburg who won the battle for the youngster.
In the tradition of modern full-backs, Baba loves to attack down the flank and has 3 assists to his name this season (2 coming in a narrow defeat against last season’s runners-up Borussia Dortmund). 42% of Augsburg’s attacks have come from his side (the highest in the Bundesliga), highlighting his importance to the side. He relies on pace to beat opponents, however this is not to say he isn’t skilful
Even for an attacking player, Baba does not shirk away from his defensive responsibilities. He has, so far this season, averaged 4.7 tackles per game (second only to Hamburg’s Valon Behrami) and an impressive 3.2 interceptions and 3.3 clearances on average. This kind of defensive skillset is sure to impress potential buyers in the future.
Baba is very comfortable at taking the ball out of the defence and dribbling is one of the strongest aspects of his game, with FIFA describing him as a “competitive left-sided defender with excellent technique and forceful attacking runs.” He has a dribbling success rate of over 80%, which compares with some of the Bundesliga’s best players.
The young Ghanaian can also boast some tremendous fitness levels, while he is also very level-headed and knows exactly what is best for him, stating his reason to sign for Greuther Fürth as “the best decision for my career.”
For a player so young and raw, there are of course a few weaknesses that he needs to iron out if he is to make it at a top European club. For a start, a pass success rate of just 59.9% is not good enough, especially for a defender – this low percentage may be down to some adventurous passing but this is still certainly something he needs to work on.
Baba may need to start to build some more muscle too, as he is occasionally knocked off the ball all too easily. At just 70kg and standing at almost 6ft, it would certainly benefit him in the long term if he began to bulk out, but to be fair to him, it is normal for this kind of criticism to be aimed at a 20-year-old and time will certainly help him in this respect.
The Ghana under-20 captain has come a long, long way in the last few years and if he carries on his impressive rise and continues to learn, who’s to say he won’t outgrow Augsburg soon and be on the transfer wish-lists of some of Europe’s top clubs.
Stats courtesy of whoscored.com