Shaun Maloney has swooped for more defensive reinforcements and has secured the signing of the exciting Omar Rekik on loan from Arsenal. The 21 year old is highly thought of at the Emirates and will be keen to further his development alongside fellow Gunner Miguel Azeez, who has started well at the club.
Rekik has spent the first half of the season on loan at Sparta Rotterdam in the Eredivisie but has struggled for game time so this move brings fresh opportunities for him. It really is a similar story to Azeez in that sense and hopefully the pair of them can push each other’s development on as well as helping the team achieve our goals this season.
He’s been talked about in high regard by lots of people involved at Arsenal but at 21 years old he needs to really make a name for himself. He’s a right footed ball playing Centre Back and looks very comfortable in possession which is undoubtedly an attractive quality. We’ve now got quite a few CBs so it’ll be interesting to see where he fits in.
What does he bring to the side?
I think the best way to describe Omar Rekik is as a ‘modern day Centre Back’. He came through at Hertha Berlin and was signed by Arsenal 2 years ago to play a key part in the Gunners’ U21 side. Kevin Betsy, the recently departed Latics coach, was his manager at Arsenal and used him in a really interesting role that allowed him to flourish defensively and going forward.
The ‘going forward’ part of that sentence might surprise you but he is actually quite an attack minded player. He’s really good on the ball and plays more like a midfield player at times by carrying the ball out of defence and sitting in midfield areas when his team are in possession. This is something he did a lot when playing as the centre of a back 3 for Arsenal last season.
This is a still image of Rekik making a driving run out from defence and finding himself in the final third. Its usually something associated with the wide CBs in a back 3 but Rekik has done it from central areas too which provides a really difficult extra body for the opposition to mark. A term you might have heard of is the ‘Libero’ which I think describes him well.
Essentially the Libero is your last line of defense when out of possession. He will play between your two central defenders and the goalkeeper as he looks to sweep loose balls behind the defense.
However, the Libero is a very unique player role as he will perform a totally different role when your team has possession. When the ball is won, he will have the approval to push forward into the midfield, becoming an extra midfielder. Sometimes he will be even pushing further forward, trying to assist the forwards when your team is on the attack.Football Manager
However, you’d be forgiven for having doubts about whether that role is entirely transferable into the team sitting bottom of the Championship. I’m not sure it is. But what is transferable is his skillset and in particular is technical attributes that really add something to our defensive unit. Rekik can comfortably play in a possession focused system should we want to do that.
Rekik possesses wonderful passing range and has the vision to spot passes to start attacks from deep, or more advanced areas as I’ve mentioned. A big problem we’ve had in defence is players fearing making the tough pass and opting for the long ball into the channel, conceding possession and inviting more pressure from the opposition. I think Rekik will change that.
Defensively I have a few doubts simply because he’s not played much first team football. The physical step up from youth football to the Championship can be quite a big one and he’s not the most built CB around. However, what he lacks in power he makes up for in pace and will give us excellent covering should we play a high line at times.
His defensive numbers at youth level aren’t particularly impressive but as part of a dominant team playing a back 3 he’s never going to have to do that much defending. He wins around 55% of his ground and aerial duels which isn’t particularly high and I wouldn’t expect him to be a starting player, particularly not in a back 4. Which leads me on to my next point…
Where might he play?
I think we’ll see Rekik play in quite a few positions actually. I’d be very surprised if he’s been brought in solely with Centre Back in mind even though that is the only position he’s played in during his short career so far. The heat map as you can see looks more like a CDM than a CB.
And that’s why I think he could have a part to play in our midfield too. If we ever play a back 4 I can’t see a place for him in the defence but as a holding midfielder providing good ball progression and defensive solidity I think he’d be quite good. In that position you’d say he’d be just behind Christ Tiehi but offers good competition to the Ivorian.
In a back 3 he could play in any of the CB spots. Like I said earlier I’m not sure he’d play as a Libero in the middle of our defence but as a wide centre back he’d be really good I feel. It would also mean he doesn’t have as much defensive responsibility and will receive good support from the other defenders around him. At 21 Rekik is still developing physically so we shouldn’t worry too much about his slightly slender built.
This is another good signing and adds a different kind of profile to our defensive unit. I think he improves us in possession more than he does out of it but that’s good because its absolutely what we needed. Adding youthful exuberance and confidence, as we’ve kind of seen with Miguel Azeez, can have a positive impact and fingers crossed it does.
I like that we’re looking at these kinds of players and it suggests that at some point we will be looking to be much more of a possession focused team. I can’t envisage him playing too many hopeful, aimless long balls into the channel which will be music to the ears of many supporters as we look to improve our build up play.
Rekik and Martin Kelly are nice additions and it looks as though there is more to come. Shaun Maloney has made a good start to recruitment here, lets hope he keeps going.