In Focus: Kamara a picture-perfect signing for Gerrard's Villans
After a somewhat underwhelming 14th-placed finish in Steven Gerrard’s first season at the helm, Aston Villa have wasted no time in announcing the signing of Boubacar Kamara.
The Villans captured the highly-rated 22-year-old on a five-year deal just a day after their Premier League campaign concluded, adding to the recent £17million permanent signing of Philippe Coutinho.
Having reportedly turned down Atletico Madrid to head to the West Midlands, we look at what Kamara will bring to Gerrard’s men.
A real coup
You just have to look at the elite clubs Kamara has been linked with this season to understand what a coup this appears for mid-table Villa.
The tough-tackling Frenchman had been touted as the answer to the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea’s problems in the deep-lying midfield position after it became clear he would leave Marseille when his contract expired.
And reports of LaLiga giants Atleti pushing hard to secure a deal is a further indicator that this is a statement signing from the Villans, made even more shrewd by the fact he will arrive on a free.
The mass of potential that Kamara, who was recently included in a strong France senior squad, can offer the Midlands outfit has not escaped the attentions of his new boss.
After the signing was confirmed, Gerrard said: "I am delighted that we have been able to attract one of the most promising young talents in European football.
"We have a very clear plan to make our team stronger and Bouba is an important part of that."
The Gerrard effect
So why would Kamara reject the chance to play Champions League football with Atleti in favour of joining a Villa side who have just finished 10 points higher than relegated Burnley?
The ambition they are showing at the club seems to be what is convincing the likes of Kamara and Coutinho to join Gerrard’s Villa revolution.
The club's owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, as well as chief executive Christian Purslow, have made no secret of their ambition to push for Europe and that is reflected in the names they are now looking to attract to Villa Park.
That was clear in Kamara’s first words as a Villa player.
The Marseille academy graduate said: "When I met with Steven, Christian [Purslow] and Johan [Lange], I knew Aston Villa was for me.
"Their ambition and determination to succeed matches my own. I cannot wait for pre-season to get going."
Reports suggest Gerrard, one of the Premier League’s finest ever midfielders, played a key role in convincing Kamara that Villa was the place for him, representing a deal that perhaps would not be achievable under previous regimes.
A problem position
It has been a position of particular weakness for the Villans for some time, too.
You must go all the way back to the summer of 2019 for the last time Villa signed a defensive midfielder, with five transfer windows passing since then.
And bids to acquire the likes of James Ward-Prowse, Kalvin Phillips and Yves Bissouma previously show there was no lack of desire to strengthen the club's engine room.
Marvelous Nakamba was the last arrival in that position and is undoubtedly their best option in terms of the defensive side of the game, with his 3.18 tackles per 90 minutes ranking him highest among his team-mates this term.
But the 28-year-old’s questionable composure on the ball means he has never quite convinced Gerrard or previous boss Dean Smith to see him as a regular starter, with Douglas Luiz moved to a less familiar defensive position instead.
That Villa were 2-0 up against champions Manchester City at the Etihad yesterday when Nakamba was introduced before conceding three in five minutes to lose 3-2 will not have helped his cause.
It was the latest game in which Villa’s undoubted ability to cause any team problems has been undone by a perceived softness in the big moments.
After that collapse at the Etihad, Gerrard said: "You will see very soon there has been work done in the background in terms of where we want to take this team.
"We need to make some changes in the right areas to support the best players we have."
It is now clear that Gerrard and the club’s chiefs see Kamara as one of the key ways to combat their issues.
Regarded as one of Marseille’s most important players over the last two campaigns since switching to midfield from the centre of defence, it would appear he can offer exactly what the Villans are currently missing.
The France Under-21s ace’s 2.2 tackles and 1.49 interceptions per 90 minutes are encouraging traits, losing only 0.68 challenges and being dispossessed a mere 0.45 times per game this term.
His progressive passing and ability on the ball is what sets him apart though, completing a Ligue 1-high 69.84 passes per game for a midfielder, with an accuracy of 90.63%.
Compare that to Nakamba’s record of just 32.52, with a success rate of only 85.16%, and it is clear Kamara is a significant upgrade on what they currently have.
Having a player who can offer an effective screen in front of Villa's defence is sure to allow a wealth of attacking stars to thrive unshackled.
There is set to be much more change at Villa Park this summer, but this early acquisition could well turn out to be the most important of all.