- Naouirou Ahamada plays a holding role in midfield for France’s U-17 side
- Missed the European Championships but making his mark at Brazil 2019
- Joined Juventus at the start of the year and is making the most of the move
They play in midfield, often wear the No6 jersey, and are their teams’ unsung heroes. They are the players who enjoy doing the dirty work, who scrap for the ball and then give it to others, who offer support to team-mates in possession and allow their team to play while making sure the opposition does not. And in France, they also tend to sport the No13 shirt, like N’Golo Kante – or Naouirou Ahamada.
The smiling Kante is now a well-known figure on the international scene, and the equally happy-go-lucky Ahamada could well gain the same level of recognition one day. The young Frenchman spoke with a broad grin and an unmistakable Marseille accent when he sat down with FIFA.com to discuss his FIFA U-17 World Cup Brazil 2019™ so far.
“We’ve got to be happy with how well everything’s going,” he said. “Beating Spain 6-1 to reach the semi-finals is definitely something to be pleased about.”
Rightly or wrongly, statistics are often used in football to prove a point. The stats from France’s defeat of La Rojita show that six Bleuets players all got on the scoresheet and another three served up assists, with Ahamada figuring in neither of those groups. He nevertheless impressed in his thankless defensive midfield role.
“Obviously it’s fun to score goals and provide assists, but I don’t need to do that to feel fulfilled,” he said. “And I feel I didn’t play too badly.”
That is something of an understatement. Ahamada and midfield partner Lucien Agoume played decisive roles against a Spain team known for the quality of its passing game, pressing hard to deny their opponents space and cut out passes.
“It’s never easy when you play Spain because they’re so good at keeping the ball,” explained Ahamada. “We knew all about the talent they have in midfield but we defended as a unit. We stuck together and stayed compact and we stopped them from playing.”
The learning curve
Whether by chance or coincidence, the two are currently honing their skills in Italy, the home of catenaccio. Agoume recently left Sochaux for Inter Milan, while Ahamada has joined Juventus from FC Istres.
Judging by their performances in Brazil, they have benefitted from the short time they have so far spent in Italy: “Yes, Italy’s had an impact on me and on my game,” revealed Ahamada. “I’ve developed a lot physically and all I do there is run. I think I’ve also changed on a mental level. I’ve become a real warrior. You won’t see me holding back.”
The duo will not be lining up together in Thursday’s semi-final against Brazil, a game Agoume will miss through suspension after picking up his second yellow card of the competition against Spain.
“He’s my mate,” said Agoume’s midfield partner. “We complement each other so well and we really understand one another on and off the pitch. Him being suspended is bad news for me and for the team as a whole because he’s our captain. There are 21 of us in this squad, though, and we’ve got plenty of back-up.”
Ahamada knows what he is talking about. He was not in the Bleuets squad for the last UEFA Under-17 European Championship, where France lost to Italy in the semi-finals, but won his place at Brazil 2019 and then made the starting XI. He put that achievement down to “sheer hard work”. Just the kind of quality you would expect from an unsung hero.