As football becomes more tactically sophisticated, the role of a player is becoming more important than their position. Teams now seek specific profiles of talent, such as a press-resistant six or an inverted fullback, to add to their team’s roster. Some players, though, defy these characterizations and thrive outside of them. Mohammed Kudus is a prime example of this.
Ajax’s enigmatic Ghanaian has been heralded has one of the most gifted players in the Eredivise for a few seasons, but has never made on position or role his own. At Ajax last season, he was initially used as a striker by Alfred Schreuder, but has since been redeployed as a right-winger under Maurice Steijn.
In the past, he had been used predominantly in the middle of the pitch, playing varying roles as a six, an eight, and a ten. Amidst all the flux in his development, Kudus remains a supremely gifted and intelligent footballer, and his recent links to Chelsea and Brighton may soon see his unique talent grace English football.
While Kudus had a strong season, scoring 11 goals and assisting three times in the Eredivisie, his skillset doesn’t seem optimised on the wing in Steijn’s set-up. Usually playing on the right of a front three, the 23-year-old attacks vastly different spaces depending on the phase and direction of play. If the ball is being played down the left-hand side, he will take a high and wide position, placing himself on the last line of the defence and wide of his nearest fullback. From these positions, he excels at making darting, diagonal runs from out to in to attack incoming crosses.
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When the ball is being played down the right side, he often maintains this high positioning but remains closer to his fullback. It’s common for Kudus to receive the ball with his back to goal, backing into a defender before turning on the ball to drive with it himself. This is undoubtedly his best trait, one that he tries to exploit as much as possible.
When turning on the ball, he shows remarkable balance and agility. Kudus will often make a full 360 degree spin on the ball to generate space from the defender, but can also just turn and isolate his opposite man while maintaining an almost magnetic control of the ball at his feet.
He uses his stalky frame to shield the ball well and is comfortable shifting his weight to either side of his body. This makes him unpredictable, as he can attack both sides of his defender with ease. The Ajax man boasts impressive acceleration to drive past defenders, and the necessary close control to evade multiple challenges if necessary.
Statistically, he is a truly elite dribbler. His volume and execution of ball carries place him in the highest percentiles of Europe’s attackers, and the eye test certainly matches this. He is at once effortlessly graceful and bullishly powerful. Kudus rides challenges with ease but is deft in congested areas, and combines a physical and technical prowess with his dribbling that few players can match.
When he’s turning on the ball, he also has a wide array of flicks, layoffs, and neat one-touch passes to shift possession to teammates before attacking space himself. Again, this adds to his unpredictability. His combinative qualities lend themselves well to a possession-based team like Ajax, where he can be one component in a broader attacking structure.
In many ways, this skill is wasted on the wing. Kudus sometimes wastes opportunities to receive the ball deeper and in more space because he constantly wants to receive close to his opposite man and with his back to goal. He also doesn’t excel in the areas one would want a conventional winger to. While he receives the ball well at multiple angles, has strong vision as a passer, and is technically consistent in his ability to combine with teammates and knit attacks together, he’s not that creative. His passing is sound but not always progressive or incisive, and his crossing is erratic, as he tends to put too much height and whip on his deliveries.
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The skills he has are best deployed in central midfield. Where there is less space, Kudus’ ability to execute disruptive actions — such as turning on the ball and carrying through pressure — on a consistent basis would make him significantly more impactful on the team. In his early Ajax days, Erik Ten Hag used Kudus in this precise way, and it’s what earned him his early kudos as a player. Many teams require elite press resistance from their midfielders and Kudus could undoubtedly deliver in this respect.
The reasons he has played outside the midfield area for Ajax is due to a number of reasons. Kudus is an exceptionally well-rounded player, and has therefore usually be moved around to accommodate other players and make use of different aspects of his repertoire. He is a strong ball-striker, generating significant power from a relatively minimal back lift. He shows strong desire to make runs beyond the last line and arrive in goal-scoring positions. He presses quite well, and his aforementioned combinative qualities allow him to link well with teammates and be a part of creating attacks regardless of his position.
Still, were he to move to the Premier League, a midfield role as an eight would undoubtedly suit him best. Kudus has been strongly linked to a move to Chelsea and as their top midfield target, Moises Caicedo, seems increasingly unlikely to join, the Ghanaian could be an interesting alternative for Mauricio Pochettino.
Kudus is a far less robust defensive presence than Caicedo and brings less physicality. However, he brings a far broader range of technical skills and would give Chelsea’s midfield newfound dynamism with how directly he carries the ball. If Pochettino is willing to entrust Fernandez with more defensive responsibility, pairing the Argentine with Kudus in midfield would give the Blues among the most press-resistant, creative, and inventive midfield duos in the league.
However, he would undoubtedly be a better fit for Brighton. With the security of Caicedo behind him, and alongside other secure, solid technical players like Pascal Gross, Mahmoud Dahoud and Billy Gilmour, Kudus could bring a fun and unpredictable element to Roberto De Zerbi’s side.
With the Seagulls masterful at switching from measured, slow, deep build-up into fast, incisive, transitional attacks, he could be the ideal midfielder to change the gears and initiate that switch. He’d have the freedom in midfield to progress the ball from congested areas, join in and link attacks, and has the necessary pressing skills to suit De Zerbi’s style.
Mohammed Kudus is a precocious talent, one whose range of abilities and bold playing style sets him apart from other players. If he were to join Brighton, he could instantly become one of the most fun, entertaining, but also effective midfielders in the Premier League.