Adamo Nagalo – FC Nordsjælland’s young stalwart in defense by Vuyo Ndebele
Name: Adamo Nagalo
In recent years it’s become increasingly popular for clubs around the world, and in Europe specifically, to invest heavily in younger players on a large scale. This sort of recruitment policy has proven to be lucrative as we’ve seen the likes of Ajax and Red Bull Salzburg benefit massively from nurturing unpolished talents into household names, eventually selling them on to Europe’s elite for big sums. A certain Danish side has an almost similar structure but goes about it in a distinctive way. In December 2015, FC Nordsjælland was subject to a takeover – not by a consortium or an oil magnate – but rather by an NGO called Right to Dream, who have established themselves and become the most successful football academy in the whole of Africa.
This unique merger appeared at first to be the wrong way round– with the norm becoming a case of clubs scouring the continent to purchase feeder academies in their own name – but this different approach is showing the football world an innovative and peculiar development model. The cooperative now boasts three academies; in Ghana, Egypt and the other in Denmark respectively. Sporting scholarships to prestigious universities are also offered in America through the academy, with some even making it to the MLS through their draft format.
The ambition is to shape individuals who can create change in the environment or community they come from, and now graduates that have come through the program are beginning to make an impact 500 miles away in the Danish town of Farum, at a club with a strong tradition of embellishing young players. The most notable names to stem out of this partnership so far are Ghanaians, Kamaldeen Sulemana (who plays for Stade Rennais in Ligue 1, France) and Mohammed Kudus, who recently starred for his nation at the 2022 Fifa World Cup in Qatar (plays for Ajax in the Eredivisie, Netherlands). There looks set to be another name ready to take the next step in his juvenile career in the form of Adamo Nagalo, who poses a different profile in contrast to the aforementioned upcoming stars, seeing that he’s a defender instead of an electric forward.
Born in 2002 (September 22nd) to an Ivorian mother and Burkinabé father, Nagalo joined FC Nordsjælland in the summer of 2020, initially playing for the club’s U19 side before making his debut for the first team vs Lyngby in the Danish Superliga on the 12th of March 2021. He would proceed to make six appearances to cap off the 21/22 campaign. Heading into the new season, he was duly rewarded for his imposing performances with a permanent place in the senior squad and has been pivotal ever since. With the youngest team in the division (average age of 22.5), Nordsjælland’s season has been nothing short of incredible so far – they lead the league in both the attacking and defensive metrics – much credit for the defensive solidity has been down to Adamo’s performances, who was recognized for this efforts by winning the player of the month award in July.
“Nowadays in football the two center-backs have become the playmakers. The attacking midfielder, behind the strikers, can’t be called a playmaker anymore because the space in which they operate is too restricted. Today’s playmakers are found in the middle of the back four”, recently stated legendary Dutch manager, Louis van Gaal in an interview. Nagalo epitomizes this idea and the modern defender in general. Standing at 6’1, he is not the most towering figure compared to other players in his position but nonetheless a commanding presence in the center of defense as he is gifted with immense physical-athletic qualities.
Adamo usually plays on the left side of a center back pairing even though he is right footed – also comfortable slotting into a 3-man backline as Flemming Pedersen, the FCN manager, sometimes tends to switch systems depending on the opposition – showcasing his competence in being able to adapt to playing in a high line and tactical shrewdness to play in various systems. He is particularly dominant due to his proficiency in anticipating the opposition’s intention to either dribble or pass the ball into potentially dangerous areas, averaging about 1 interception per 90.
Moreover, the aggressive nature of his game is commendable as it exemplifies a proactive approach that intimidates attackers. A hugely important quality for any top defender especially when going into tackles and aerial duels. Although sometimes a bit too eager to either join the attack or step in to make a challenge has left him in tight situations – his recovery pace is one part of his game where he has shown incredible improvement. Such vigor does come with drawbacks though. Aside from conceding a high number of fouls, he sometimes gets caught out of position when he fails to win the ball. These situations may be rare, but they can nevertheless be devastating as they can leave the backline hopelessly exposed to opposition attacks. Fortunately, Nagalo is usually able to mitigate such risk through his great ball retention skills and by intelligently positioning himself between the lines, which enables him to recover possession swiftly. He sometimes looked flustered last season and earlier on this, which led to him ceding possession in dangerous areas. Adamo is difficult to beat in ground duels, winning 67% of his ground duels, but could use some improvement aerially as he averages just about 1.42 per 90 and with the league average amongst other center backs being just over 2.17.
It’s worth noting that Nordsjælland plays on astro turf (at home) – which means that some of the defensive actions will be lower compared to the rest of the league as players commit less to duels/tackles on said surface. On the flip side though, the turf then increases his passing attributes.
Going forward, with the ability to playmaker from the first phase, the 20 year old is a masterly defender. Even though he is still young, Nagalo is a cultured passer with a penchant for breaking the lines with intricate vertical balls. His range is superb and goes hand in hand with his excellent vision to pick the right pass, initiating his team’s attacks. There is a nonchalance to the way he breaks lines in possession. Adamo disguises his passes with ease, never under any strenuous body contortion. This makes it difficult for opponents to anticipate, as he looks to bait the press with his timing. So far this season he has managed to complete over 1000 passes, at an average of 72 passes per 90 with a success rate of 92%. Nagalo also illustrates his bravery by being able to confidently foray into midfield with the ball when afforded the space and time to do so, sitting amongst the 97th percentile amongst players in the Superliga. To go with his physical strength and stamina, Adamo’s natural fitness helps him comfortably maneuver in contact situations. These attributes aren’t necessarily surprising as he was originally a midfielder morphed into a center half.
A couple of areas that could use some refinement are his concentration and decision making in choosing the right moments to venture forward, play a certain pass or step into challenges. Youthfulness is often unforgiving for center backs and can be a brutal learning curve. When the decisions you make or don’t make play such a large part in how well you do, experience is inexplicably vital. You can’t force experience. Thankfully for Adamo, he’s gaining invaluable exposure at a good level in the Superliga as he’s started all 15 games thus far. While the game may have evolved into the era of center-backs being expected to be extremely comfortable on the ball and getting involved in build-up play, their primary role is still to protect their own goal. Adamo is adequately proficient in this regard, as he has both the technical and mental attributes needed to perform his role well.
There have been rumors of Fenerbahce being the keenest to secure the Burkinabé internationals signature in the future – Nagalo recently made his debut for his country against the Ivory Coast in a friendly on November 19th 2022, playing the full 90 minutes. Alongside Edmond Tapsoba (Bayer Leverkusen, 23) and Dango Ouattara (FC Lorient, 20), he is part of a hopeful generation for Les Étalons. With effective coaching and efficient utilization of state of the art facilities within a club and competitive league environment that prioritizes player growth, I have no doubt that he can be molded into a world class player and in turn become the cornerstone of a solid backline.