Adem Zorgane: Algeria’s young midfield tank

The apple does not fall far from the tree.

But that might not be the case for former Algerian international midfielder Malik Zorgane, who starred for ES Setif during the 1980’s and 1990’s – it looks like his son, Adem, will outshine him.

Adem Zorgane was born on 6 January 2000 in Setif, Algeria during the final two years of his father’s career. He took his first steps in football at ES Setif, the club where his father made his name. At 16 years of age, he decided to leave his boyhood club and transfer to Algiers based club Paradou AC 

Paradou AC has built a reputation for producing talented, young Algerian players. This includes Les Verts stars Remy Bensebaini and Youcef Atal, both of whom have made excellent strides in Europe’s top five leagues. 

After spending two years developing at Paradou’s famed academy Zorgane stepped up to the first team squad and made his senior debut on 13 August 2018 at the age of 18. He became the first player born in the 21st century to play in the Algerian Ligue 1 (Algeria’s first division). This was the first game of the 2018/2019 season. In total he made 26 league appearances, 22 starts and four off the bench.

This season (2019/2020) Zorgane started 18 out of 19 Ligue Professionelle 1 games prior to the suspension of the season due to the Coronavirus pandemic. He also started eight CAF Confederation Cup and two Coupe D’Algerie matches. 

Zorgane’s international career began back in May 2016 when he debuted for Algeria’s under 17’s. Overall, he has represented his country’s various youth sides on at least 28 occasions. Senior National Team Manager Djamel Belmadi selected Zorgane to represent Les Verts in the qualifications for the African Nations Championship (CHAN) in 2019. 

Zorgane quickly established himself as one of the most promising young players in Algeria and in Africa. At 20 year olds, the question that beckons is when he will leave Algeria and which European side will snap him up.

In this scouting report, Daniel Ajuh profiles AC Paradou and Algeria’s 20-year-old midfielder. Click here to read similar reports on African youngsters on Daniel’s blog.

Position, Attributes and Style of Play

Zorgane has been used in a multitude of positions since making his debut for Paradou AC. He has been used as a defensive midfielder and central midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation. He has also played as an attacking midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation as well as a left-sided midfielder in a 4-4-2 formation. 

Primarily, Zorgane has been utilised as a box-to-box central midfielder for both club and country. This involves dropping deeper to receive the ball from defenders and providing his team with continuity in possession as part of the build-up play, producing more risky passes in the middle third of the pitch to start attacks and dribbling past midfield opponents to create space in the final third which can be exploited. Off-the-ball he is expected to make runs into the final third of the pitch, link up with the attacking players and create chances. From a defensive standpoint, when the opposition are in possession, he is expected to hold his position in central areas and look to pressure, tackle and disrupt opponents advancing into his area of the midfield. When the ball is lost in attacking areas, he is expected to recover into sound defensive positions as quickly as possible to help protect the defence.

Zorgane has a similar build to French international Nabil Fekir. Both have broad shoulders, a wide frame and thick-set legs epitomised by their muscular quadriceps. The main difference between them is that Zorgane is significantly taller at 1.84m as opposed to Fekir who is only 1.73m. Zorgane’s physique make him a menacing threat from set pieces because he usually out-muscles opponents in the box when they try to disturb his attempts to attack the incoming ball and he uses his powerful legs for added spring to tower above them. His build combined with deceptive speed and acceleration enables him to hold off and bypass opponents looking to pressure and challenge him when he is on the ball. Despite his size he displays good suppleness and balance as he can change direction nimbly whilst retaining possession which sometimes dumbfounds his opponents. 

Zorgane combines his physical traits and technique effectively. He likes to use his power, strength, balance and speed along with smooth close control, feints and trickery when presented with the ball in deeper central areas or out wide to outmanoeuvre and drive past onrushing midfielders before passing or carrying the ball into dangerous, attacking positions. In tighter, more crowded areas he is able to combine his strength and balance with good ball manipulation to evade opposition tackles and retain possession. All in all, he is quite press-resistant. 

Two-footedness or to be technical, ambipedal, is a huge asset for any player and Zorgane demonstrates this ability throughout matches. He can comfortably deliver, with both feet, intricate passes in the final third to unlock defences or 60-70 yard pinpoint balls from deep central areas to a teammate stood on either wing to spread the play or over the opposing team’ defence for attackers to run on to, transitioning defence to attack in an instant. Aside from his passing, his ambipedal ball-striking is noticeable when he shoots from outside the box. His muscular quadriceps come in handy as they enable him to generate ferocious power using either leg when taking a shot at goal, evidenced by a few sumptuous, unstoppable shots he has rifled into the net from long-range. 

The execution of a decisive pass requires not only technique but the vision to see a teammate available to receive the ball. The difficulty of doing this in the final third is infinitely higher than in deeper areas and Zorgane has demonstrated on multiple occasions that he has the requisite vision to identify, in a split second, which teammate is in the best position to pose the greatest threat to the opposition’s goal. His vision in tandem with his excellent technique therefore allows him to play clever, eye of the needle through-balls for his teammate to exploit in or around the opponent’s box.

Frank Lampard, Yaya Toure and Aaron Ramsey perfected it, and Zorgane has shown glimpses of it during his career so far, the late run, unmarked, from deep into or around the opposition’s box. When he recognises an opportunity to make an off-the-ball run into space which he can exploit, in the attacking zones behind the opposition’s midfield or defence, he purposefully bursts past his opponents with the hope of receiving the ball. Sometimes the ball is not played to him but when it is, he is usually in or around the box with time and space to pick out a pass, cross or take a shot at goal. The ability to make these types of runs is underrated and can be hugely effective in breaking down compact, deep-lying defences.

Even though Zorgane is usually focused on the attacking phases of play he still has a role to play defensively. One area where he is particularly useful is disrupting the opposition’s build-up play. He can read the game and correctly anticipate who is likely to receive the ball in midfield areas. In turn, developing a habit of intercepting passes played into central areas or arriving first to collect a loose ball when a pass is misplaced or under-hit in the middle third of the pitch. 

An important aspect of Zorgane’s game which he needs to work on is the quickness and vigour of his recovery runs, to regain possession or return to a sound defensive position, after an opponent has eluded his attempted tackle or pressure high up the pitch. At times he can be seen walking or jogging slowly back into position despite the potential danger to his team’s defence. He can improve this flaw in his game by implementing extra sprint work in training to boost the number of high-intensity sprints he can perform per game. Besides this, he needs to show more desire and willingness to track back consistently and quickly. His manager should be encouraging and demanding this off him every single match and instilling him with a hard-working mentality.

Zorgane only has six goals and three assists in 59 games for Paradou across all competitions. This is quite a disappointing return for a player who has so much attacking quality, is a major threat on set pieces and has the physical attributes to make an impact in the final third. As he matures, gains more experience and ruthlessness in attacking areas he should be able to improve these statistics. A player he should watch videos of and try to emulate is Ivory Coast legend Yaya Toure, who he possesses many similar technical and physical attributes with and who over many years significantly improved his attacking output with a breathtaking peak in the 2013/2014 English Premier League season when he scored 20 league goals, provided nine assists and created a total of 40 goal-scoring opportunities all from a central midfield position. 

Long-term Potential

Having studied Zorgane across some Ligue Profesionnelle 1 fixtures, 2019 AFCON Under 20 qualifying games and 2020 African Nations Championship qualifiers plus clips from 2019/2020 CAF Confederations Cup matches, he has the potential to be a great player for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. 

Potential Future Clubs

Paradou are currently in 10th position in the Ligue Professionelle 1 standings so whether the domestic campaign continues or not, it is very unlikely they will be able to attain a place in either the CAF Champions League or CAF Confederations Cup for next season.. 

Zorgane has already established himself as one of Paradou and Ligue Professionelle 1’s best players and playing a further season for the club without any continental competition will not further his development. Instead, he should be looking to make a strategic move to a forward-thinking, well-run European club to advance his career and take steps towards becoming a top player. 

So, let’s take a look at two European clubs where Zorgane could fit in and would provide him with the opportunity to develop and showcase his talents:

Atalanta

Under the tutelage of Gian Piero Gasperini, Atalanta are once more flying high in Serie A (Italy’s first division) this season and could replicate last season’s excellent 3rd place finish. As of the 14 July they are 4th after achieving 67 points from 32 matches with a 13-point gap over 5th placed Roma. With only six games left to play they are almost certain to qualify for the UEFA Champions League again. 

With the likelihood of two domestic competitions to compete in alongside the UEFA Champions League Atalanta would be wise to strengthen their midfield options. They brought in defensive midfielder Adrien Tameze on loan in January, but he has made little impact so far and as things stand may not be signed permanently. With that being said, and with only four other established central midfield players ranging in age from 25 to 29 they should look to recruit a younger central midfielder between 19-22 to have a more youthful option. Zorgane meets this need perfectly as he is only 20 years old. He also has a distinctive physique and blend of technical capabilities which differs markedly from their current midfielders, has good versatility as he can perform in a plethora of midfield roles and would probably only cost around £1.5-3m. As they are a club who like to sign and develop lesser known yet talented youngsters and have a limited budget his signature would make a lot sense. 

Transferring to Atalanta would present an exciting opportunity for Zorgane. Tactically, they adopt a very attacking 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-2-1 formation both of which suit Zorgane nicely. Given time to adapt to Gasperini’s philosophy, tactics and style of play and with improvements made in the intensity of his recovery runs and the aggressiveness of his pressing he could easily displace Remo Freuler or Marten de Roon as one of the two deep-lying central midfielders within 12-18 months. He has greater technical ability than both of them so can recycle possession more efficiently, expand the play more effectively and instigate attacks with more precise forward passes whilst he can also carry the ball past opposition midfielders into attacking zones with grace, speed and power more regularly due to his superior physique, close control and pace. In turn, after a period of development, he could give them a new dimension in this deep-lying central midfield role and become one of Serie A’s leading midfielders. 

Besides the deep-lying midfield role, Zorgane could play as a lone attacking midfielder or as part of an attacking midfield duo too. This role would suit him well, especially while he adapts to a new league with tougher opposition and a new style of play with its differing tactical demands. He would have less tactical instructions to follow and defensive responsibilities so he would have more freedom to link up with his teammates, make late unmarked runs into and around the box from deep and use his technical and physical characteristics to outwit and overpower opposition defences to create chances for himself and the strikers. 

Due to the fact that Atalanta, at most, would have five central midfielders plus Zorgane and have a coach in Gasperini who is not afraid to promote young players, the opportunities across three different competitions next season to get regular first team minutes, even if mostly from the bench, would be plentiful. Therefore, his development would not be hampered by a significant lack of playing-time unlike at a more illustrious club. 

Feyenoord

The Eredivisie (Netherland’s top tier) was curtailed early due to the Coronavirus pandemic in April, with nine games remaining. Feyenoord had started last season (2019/2020) poorly which resulted in the sacking of Jaap Stam. However, their form improved massively under Dick Advocaat who guided them to a respectable 3rd place. As a result, they will enter the UEFA Europa League at the group stages.

Two of Feyenoord’s ageing midfielders Jens Toonstra and Leroy Fer were key cogs in their midfield last season but it is unlikely they will be able to produce a higher standard of performance next season which will help the club compete with regular Eredivisie title winners Ajax. They also failed to replace the dynamic dribbling, final third runs and energy of Tony Vilhena who surprisingly departed for only £8m to Russian side Krasnodar whilst last season’s creative fulcrum Orkun Kokcu has been strongly linked with a summer departure to one of Europe’s biggest clubs Arsenal. Mindful of this, 20-year-old Zorgane would provide that youthful care-free attitude and eagerness which is slightly lacking in their midfield as well as being a potential upgrade and replacement for Vilhena who has been sorely missed this season. 

From Zorgane’s perspective a move to Dutch giants Feyenoord would be advisable. He would be joining one of the Netherland’s most successful and well-respected clubs who have a great reputation in European football. Generally, Dutch clubs like to give opportunities to young players, place responsibility on them from a young age and provide them with the platform and stability to shine. They are no different. Many young starlets were given their debuts by them as teenagers such as Robin Van Perise, Salomon Kalou and Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, all of whom went on to have very successful careers in Europe’s top five leagues.

If Zorgane joined Feyenoord he would be competing against Toonstra, Fer, Mark Diemers, Wouter Burger, who has recently returned from a loan spell at Excelsior, and if he stays, Kokcu for a starting berth. The more experienced central midfield trio of Fer, Toonstra and Diemers would probably start ahead of him while he adjusted to life in the Netherlands and the tactical, technical and physical demands of the Dutch league. However, after a six month acclimatisation period he should be able to dislodge any of them for a starting central midfield position in the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formations most regularly used by Advocaat, due to his fusion of technique, physique and attacking running power which differentiates him from them and would allow him to flourish in the Eredivisie.