One To Watch: Mohamed Camara

The JMG Academy in Bamako has earned itself a reputation of being a hotbed of talent in recent years having discovered a wide range of players including former Red Bull Salzburg duo, Diadie Samassékou and Amadou Haidara, who progressed through the Austrian club, attracted interest from across Europe, and earned places in the Mali national team. The next in line to follow in their footsteps is 20-year-old midfielder, Mohamed Camara.

Nurtured in the academy before moving to another hometown club, Real Bamako, Camara endured a successful year in 2017 as he captained Mali to a second successive Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations triumph, defeating Ghana in Gabon, before leading the team to a fourth place finish at the Under-17 World Cup in India. Starting all but the 3-1 semi-final defeat to Spain, Camara’s performances attracted attention from Europe, and on January 28, 2018, he signed a cooperation contract with Red Bull Salzburg and Liefering until 2022.

Since arriving in Austria, Camara has endured a sharp ascendancy that has seen the then Malian teenager become an ever-present in Janusz Góra and Gerhard Struber’s Liefering sides, producing consistent performances that earned him a loan move to Austrian Bundesliga outfit, Hartberg, within the calendar year. A ligament injury hampered the start of life in Styria, but five starts in seven matches for a team that won twice during his stay was enough to receive a call-up to Mamoutou Kane’s Mali squad for the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

It was at the tournament in Poland where Camara showcased his progression on a global stage. A mainstay at the heart of Mali’s midfield, he featured in every minute of the group stage, scored a 90th-minute winner in a thrilling 4-3 win over Saudi Arabia, and assisted in all three matches before missing the round of 16 due to suspension. He resumed his position in the quarter-finals versus Italy where he made it 2-2 before the Italians scored two late on to knock the African nation out of the competition.

Jesse Marsch’s arrival last summer signalled a new era in Salzburg and an opportunity for Camara to impress. Although, he’s had to be patient for his chances as he was excluded from the club’s inaugural Champions League squad and began the season in the 2. Liga with Liefering. However, consecutive starts against Austria Vienna and Rheindorf Altach in late September, early October was enough to earn him his first senior national team cap in a 24-minute cameo against South Africa on October 10.

To date, the 20-year-old has made nine appearances for Die Roten Bullen across three competitions and has by no means looked out of place. Standout performances in starts against Austria Vienna and Eintracht Frankfurt in February looked to be a strong claim for a permanent starting berth, but due to the unfortunate passing of his mother in March and the COVID-19 pandemic, his development has come to an abrupt halt.

Style of Play

Captaining his nation on numerous occasions at youth level, Mohamed Camara possesses maturity beyond his years that made him a standout talent in the 2. Liga and at youth international tournaments. While spending the early parts of his career as a adventurous box-to-box midfielder, Jesse Marsch has entrusted him with the role of a defensive midfielder in either a 4-2-2-2 as part of a pivot or at the base of a 4-4-2 diamond.

A huge factor behind the trust in these roles at such a young age is his excellent composure on the ball and a magnificent ability to retain possession under pressure that makes him so difficult to dispossess. He’s comfortable receiving the ball anywhere on the pitch as he has the confidence of beating his man irrespective of the circumstance; he uses his frame well to shield off the opposition before utilising his low centre of gravity to turn the opponent inside out before progressing with the ball.

As the holding midfielder, he is trusted with the responsibility of keeping the ball circulating, which he does with great effect because he is typically conservative on the ball and will look for the man in most space. When out of possession, Camara is constantly scanning the pitch and moving into space to provide another passing option for the recipient to keep the play moving. With a quick look over the shoulder, he is aware of what’s around him and what pass to make before he’s even received the ball.

On the ball, he has the ability to switch the play with great accuracy on either foot and is capable of squeezing a pass through the lines or out of the tightest spots. If an option isn’t immediately available, he is confident carrying the ball forward and will skip past opponent’s advances effortlessly with quick footwork and close control. As he drives with the ball, he is constantly looking for the best pass, and in the final third he is capable of sending a team-mate through on goal with a nicely weighted pass – exemplified in his only Bundesliga assist of the season for Sékou Koïta against Rheindorf Altach.

When he adventures into the final third, he is comfortable receiving the ball in tight spaces between the lines and can combine effectively with the forwards to create a goal scoring opportunity. In front of goal, however, he is far from prolific. While he is capable of causing a goalkeeper problems with a shot from distance, he will often use the wrong technique closer to goal and is unable to generate enough power to beat the man between the sticks. Most of his goals have come from a late run from deep and completing the move with a first-time finish.

This is possibly a factor to why Marsch prefers him in a deeper role. While not quite at the level at Antoine Bernède or Enock Mwepu, Camara’s defensive game has a lot of promise to it and he is effective at regaining possession, be it nipping in to make an interception, going in aggressively into a ground duel, or using his bulldog-type frame to get between an attacker and the ball. As per FBref, in his six Bundesliga appearances this season, he has averaged 3.21 tackles won and 1.25 interceptions per 90 minutes.

Marsch has identified the 20-year-old’s potential as a holding midfielder and it could well be the position he has a successful career in. Salzburg are set to endure a gruelling 11 fixtures in five weeks, therefore it is a possible Camara will be granted more opportunities to leave a positive impression and put himself in further contention for next season’s line-up. If his development continues where it left off before the suspension of play, the club will need to move quickly to extend his contract as there is no doubt that he will attract a lot of suitors.

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