- Nationality: French
- Age: 21
- Date of birth: 01/05/1999
- Current Club: FC Nantes
- Career: FC Nantes
- Position: Centre Midfield
- Secondary Position: 10 / Defensive Midfield
- Preferred foot: Left
Having joined the FC Nantes set up at the age of just 7, Imran Louza finally broke into the first team at the start of this season, having made just one senior appearance prior to this campaign. The France born midfielder, who has represented both Morocco and France national teams at youth levels, came though the Nantes academy where he captained several youth teams on his journey towards first team football.
Since having gotten a taste for senior football, he has played over 2000 minutes in Ligue 1 this term, regularly playing a key role at the heart of the midfield. His performances have attracted interest from onlookers and if he continues to develop further then he will become a real talent in the near future. The 21 year old can operate either in the number 10 role or as a deeper lying midfield player and his passing ability can make him a real asset for his side.
Louza is the real playmaker in the Nantes side and most of the attacking build up play goes through him when his team try to move up the pitch and for only his first season at the top level, he has been very impressive and shown some incredibly promising signs for his future. He signed a new contract with the club last summer that runs until 2024 and having come through the ranks at the club he will be looking to further cement his place in the team next season as he continues to develop.
Standing at 5’10, Louza is fairly average in height but has a stocky build and a low centre of gravity. His build allows him to be effective in ground duels and strong in shoulder to shoulder battles in midfield. His low centre of gravity makes him relatively difficult to dispossess and allows him to make clever turns in midfield and avoid challenges.
However his height means that he does not provide much of an aerial presence and he can also appear quite slow when covering ground which can hinder him in certain situations such as making recovery runs when defending. Stamina wise he is well equipped to last through the match, playing the entirety of 20 of his 22 league starts this season in the centre of the park.
Louza has a consistently good first touch which allows him to keep his head up scanning for passes and the runs of his teammates. He prefers to pass the ball rather than dribble, and as a result does not carry the ball very regularly or attempt to beat defenders. He possesses the close control to retain the ball under pressure or beat his man but does not have the acceleration or agility to drive from midfield with the ball deep into the opposition half. He does carry the ball sporadically if there is space in front of him that is not occupied by the oppositon but on the whole prefers to release the ball quickly rather than drive into midfield. Louza attempts 2.3 dribbles per 90 but only has a 50% success rate which would suggest that it is not where his strength lies.
Instead he prefers to pass the ball and can be seen bridging the gap between the defence and attack in transitional phases or at the base of counter attacks where he is able to move the ball quickly. Louza is capable of either switching the play effectively or finding through balls down the side of the opposition central defenders, demonstrating his vision and quality when passing over different distances. He plays an essential role in moving his team up the pitch, making an average of 5 progressive passes per 90 which allow the forwards in the team to drive at the defence. His passing is most accurate over medium distances (88.1% completion rate) rather than long (54.9%) but these medium passes can be just as effective when starting counters. The example below clearly illustrates Louza’s role when playing as part of a midfield pairing as he is the platform from which Nantes can launch attacks.
Louza is also capable of switching the play for his team effectively (making 2.47 switches per 90) and often tries to release the ball early when receiving it, either first time or after one or two touches. This quick release allows the attack to retain its momentum whilst quickly shifting the point at which his team is trying to penetrate the defence. In the example below, Louza demonstrates his awareness and vision as he takes the ball on the turn and plays a pass into space.
The weighting of his passes are another part of his technique that makes him a threat when in possession. When he gets his head up in attacking areas, he likes to try and play passes down the outside of the central defenders, just out of their reach but with enough weight for the striker or winger to run onto them. This skill is important as many younger players tend to get a rush of blood and overhit the through pass in these situations, whereas Louza stays calm and consistently plays the ball perfectly for his teammates.
He can also provide a threat in the final third and has made 1.57 key passes per 90 this season which, although it is not astronimcally high, shows that he does have an impact on his team. A stat that better illustrates his impact on his team’s creativity is that he ranks in the 93rd percentile out of central midfielders in the top five leagues for expected assists (0.19 per 90). Louza can be very effective when finding passes in the final third as he is capable of cleverly disguising passes into the strikers, but he primarily operates from deeper positons. Below are some good examples of Louza using his weighting of passes to play his teammates in behind the opposition defence.
Louza has also been one of the primary set piece takers for Nantes (with 12% of his expected assists coming from set piece situations), taking both corners and free kicks around the penalty area, also demonstrating what the Nantes coaching staff think about the quality of his delivery. His shooting is decent and he attempted 1.66 shots per 90 in the league this season – evidence that he is not afraid to have a pop at goal. His shot map from open play displays his willingness to shoot from range but also that he has had limited success this season and should perhaps be looking to better utilise his passing technique in the final third rather than going for goal.
Louza is competent with both feet, but much prefers to use his stronger left boot when given the chance, playing 78.2% of his attempted passes this campaign with his left foot. Overall, the 21 year old possesses great vision and passing technique, but prefers not to dribble with the ball and has had very limited success when shooting from range in the league.
Louza has been utilised as a deeper lying midfield player or 10 in a 4-2-3-1 and as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2 this season, showing his adaptability to different midfield roles and I believe he does possess the qualities to consistently play as any of the three. However, having watched him occupy all three roles at different stages, I feel he is better suited to a midfield partnership, be that as a pairing in either of the 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 systems that Nantes have played with this season. His inconsistency when carrying the ball forward and lack of pace and height means that he is more effective when playing alongside a more defensive minded and physical player. Nantes have used either Mehdi Abeid or Abdoulaye Touré as his midfield partner as they both possess the qualities necessary to compliment Louza in midfield.
Louza’s midfield radar (fig. 8) clearly shows his strengths of expected assists and creating shooting opportunities for his teammates from open play. Both of which highlight his role as a source of creativity for his team. He also ranks highly in successful pressures and tackles won demonstrating that, despite having a relatively average build, he can hold his own defensively in a midfield partnership.
His more attacking midfield based radar (fig. 9) again shows him as defensively capable with a significant ranking for successful pressures whilst it also shows his creativity in progressive distance and expected assists – it is also worth noting that he performs well in ball retention stats. However, I would say that these radars indicate that he is more effective in a deeper lying role where he can influence the game with his passing ability whilst also being a useful defensive tool.
As mentioned earlier, Louza is most effective in transitional phases when his team are moving from defence to attack, whilst he can also have a positive impact when playing through balls for the forwards to run onto. He perhaps lacks the ability to drift past players and does not pose enough of a direct goal threat to play as a number 10, but he can be a real asset for the team when playing in his most effective position.
He displays good levels of awareness when receiving the ball, checking his shoulder constantly to ensure he is not caught out by the defender. Furthermore, he is happy to drop deep and play progressive passes out wide or into the forwards but he also shows awareness to get beyond the opposition midfield if necessary in order to act as a gateway from defence to attack. This is a great example of how he is able to find the space beyond the press and act as a pivot for his team.
As seen in his radars (fig. 8 + 9), his defensive output is also fairly impressive and this is primarily down to his reading of the game and awareness of where the next opposition pass is going to go. This allows him to already be closing down the attacker before he has even received the ball, putting them under constant pressure and forcing them into a mistake. Hence why he is in the 84th percentile for successful pressures for an attacking midfielder and the 71st for a central midfielder. The image below shows how Louza is able to read the play and be proactive by immediately pressing out of the midfield line to apply pressure on the opposition player and force him into a mistake.
Overall, the 21 year old is capable of playing several different roles in the centre of midfield but is best put to use in a creative role alongside a more defensive and physical midfield partner. He does not possess the dribbling ability and goalscoring instincts off a traditional number 10 but when employed in a deeper role his movement to counter the opposition press and ability on the ball, coupled with his defensive output when applying pressure to the opposition make him an invaluable member of the Nantes side.
Louza’s passing ability combined with his composure allow him to dictate the tempo for his team at stages, and he is regularly involved whenever his team is in possession. His work rate is to a good standard and although he is not the most athletic midfield player he is not afraid to use his body to be aggressive in challenges. Despite being proactive when pressing, Louza could perhaps improve upon his defensive awareness when marking his man in the final third and can show a tendency to lose his man or fail to pick up the late run of the opposition midfielder.
Having captained several of Nantes’ youth sides, Louza obviously has some leadership qualities and seems an intelligent player, especially when in possession, as a result it would be unsurprising to see his leadership qualities begin to have a greater influence as he gains more experience at first team level.
As mentioned at the beginning of the report, Louza signed a new contract with the club last summer as he was breaking into the first team lineup ahead of the 2019/20 season. As a result, he is tied down at Nantes until 2024 and with it being his boyhood club for whom he has played since the age of 7, it would perhaps be strange to see him leave having finally broken into the first team. If he does remain a Nantes player he will continue to develop and play an even bigger role at the heart of the midfield as they look to build on their 13th place finish where they were four points off 5th in Ligue 1 as the season was brought to an abrupt end.
However, his performances during his breakout season will have certainly attracted the attention of potential suitors both from within France and elsewhere. AC Milan are said to hold an interest in the 21 year old who it is estimated would cost around €10 million, but Nantes manager Christian Gourcuff has tried to warn off any potentially interested parties by stating that he cannot envisage Louza leaving, but he also added that in football you can never say never.
With regards to what system he would fit into, I think he is best utilised in a midfield partnership or three where he is given the freedom to be creative and influence the build up play but is not required to constantly provide support for the forwards. He could play in either a defensive or possession based side, as his ball retention allows him make the most of his chances and play decisive passes when counter attacking but also his vision would allow him to help break down stubborn defences. He is of course suited to French football, but his aggression and technique could also make him suited to Italy. I fear that he may struggle with the pace of the Premier League at the current moment but as he develops further it could become an option.
Louza is an elegant player to watch and I enjoyed watching performances from his break out season that was brought to a sudden end. His creativity when passing and intelligence as a young footballer are both very desirable qualities which he can build upon in the coming months and years. When watching him this season before doing any research I would have imagined him having played at the heart of the Nantes midfield for several years and this is a testament to his confidence and composure. Aside from a slight lack of physicality and defensive awareness at times, Louza has all the tools to become a top quality midfield player as he develops further and has an exciting career ahead of him.
Stats from Fbref and Statsbomb