Adamo Nagalo is a Right to Dream academy graduate – one of many at FC Nordsjælland. Despite being born in the Ivory Coast, Nagalo represents Burkina Faso on the international stage. He debuted in November 2022 and received another call-up for the March 2023 international window.
He has been highly influential in Nordsjælland’s incredible season – currently top of the Danish Superliga with an average squad age of only 22.8. Nagalo’s impressive campaign at the heart of Nordsjælland’s defense has reportedly garnered admirers abroad, with Brighton and Fenerbahçe among the interested parties according to some sources.
- Position: Center-Back (Right + Left)
- Nationality: Burkina Faso (2 apps)
- Date of Birth: September 9, 2002 (20)
- Current Club: FC Nordsjælland (Danish Superliga)
- Former Club(s): Right to Dream Academy (Ghana)
- Preferred Foot: 60% Right, 40% Left
- Height: 185 cm (6 ft, 1 in)
- Contract Expiration: June 30, 2025
ROLE AT FC NORDSJÆLLAND
Nagalo is a proponent of Nordsjælland’s aggressive and proactive style of play. He takes plenty of risks in possession and most of his defending occurs in transitional moments immediately after Nordsjælland loses possession.
The value Adamo Nagalo provides in possession is his most valuable asset. For Nordsjælland, he acts as the team’s metronome in possession, controlling the tempo at all times. His 81 passes per game are by far the highest figure among his teammates, evidently illustrating his authority on Nordsjælland’s possessional play.
Nordsjælland seemingly has a ‘possession at all costs’ policy. Subsequently, Nagalo is encouraged to always play through the opponent’s pressure. The risks Nagalo takes on the ball in deeper positions are mitigated by the quality and intensity of Nordsjælland’s counter-press.
Defensively, Nagalo is also asked to contribute to Nordsjælland’s intense counter-pressing approach. Due to his team’s usual dominance of the ball, Nagalo conducts most of his defending in transition. Tactically, he is required to be aggressive and proactive against opposing forwards, commonly in counter-attacking and 1v1 scenarios.
Nagalo has only recently been converted to a central defender – his youth career consisted of playing in central midfield. Nordsjælland view Nagalo as the ideal ball-playing defender in a ball-dominant side, however, it’s worth noting that Nagalo is still learning to play the position, especially regarding defending.
In the build-up, Nordsjælland are very similar to De Zerbi’s Brighton, specifically the proximity of the double pivot to the center-backs, creating a box-like structure; Nagalo excels in this tactical context.
In deeper phases, Nagalo always looks to bait the opposition press through his perceived nonchalance and patience. Once the press has been triggered, he is exceptional at finding the free man with disguised passes. He has a clear appreciation of the 3rd man, similar to Lewis Dunk and Levi Colwill’s pass selection at Brighton – this allows Nordsjælland to progress the ball so effortlessly in tight areas through quick combinations.
Opponents struggle to anticipate his passes due to Nagalo’s deceptiveness and ambipedality. When passing the ball, Nagalo’s torso and hips are under little strain – showing no signs of his intentions. Nagalo is also adept at evading pressure through ball manipulation, specifically through the sole of his foot, dragging and shifting the ball to purposefully disorganize the opponent’s defensive structure and create passing angles.
His composed demeanor deflates the intensity of the opposition’s press. He provides a calming, relieving presence on the ball for a side that plays with such intensity and verticality. Even if a mistake is made, he shows zero signs of frustration or discontent – reflective of his confident mindset and is infectious amongst his teammates. His pressure-alleviating temperament is also compounded by his ability to play at all angles, despite mostly playing on his ‘weaker’ foot at left center-back.
Despite being naturally right-footed, Nagalo utilizes his left foot with equal effectiveness. Based on the passing angle provoked by the opposition’s pressure, Nagalo can complete line-breaking, progressive passes on his left foot. One could conceivably suggest he attempts more passes with his left foot than his right.
Playing on the left also allows him to hit big, driven diagonal passes to the right-hand side, usually to Oliver Villadsen as he overlaps from right-back. These passes are hit with the slightest amount of outward swerve to allow for the ball to land in the running path of the receiver.
Despite Nordsjælland’s dogmatic use of short, centralized passes in deeper phases of possession, Nagalo’s longer passes are a constant threat commonly exploited. Nordsjælland’s tempo variance is derived from Nagalo’s decision-making in possession; he recognizes when to verticalize the game, usually with his long, driven passes targeting the gap between the opposing fullback and center-back.
His pass selection and understanding of tempo stem from an impressive level of tactical awareness. Nordsjælland’s short passes draw the opponent closer and Nagalo is conscious of the opposition’s compactness and defensive depth; he understands when the space behind the defense is vulnerable and is equipped with the passing quality to access it.
OUT OF POSSESSION
As mentioned earlier, Adamo Nagalo’s adaptation to senior football has also coincided with his adaptation to a new center-back role. When analyzing his physical and technical profile, it’s clear as to why Nordsjælland see Nagalo as the perfect candidate for what constitutes a modern, ball-playing central defender: technical leader, progressive passer, athletic, and physically assertive. His positional transition has been exceedingly positive, however, there are areas of improvement that stem from a lack of senior-level defensive experience.
Some of Nagalo’s best moments come when defending in transition. His positioning in Nordsjælland’s rest defense is aggressive – high up the pitch and close to any opposing forwards. When possession is lost, he is highly proactive in positioning himself to defend against any chance of a counter-attack. When possible, Nagalo is quick to anticipate and engage opponents forcefully. In these duels, he is exceptional at regaining possession and helping his team sustain pressure in the opponent’s half.
Despite this, his decision-making in transitional moments errs on the risk-averse side – usually preferring to protect depth rather than defending the pass into the opponent’s feet, similar to the way Virgil van Dijk passively defends in isolated scenarios. Occasionally, this safer approach is the best course of action, allowing the opponent space to turn but covering any killer pass that could immediately threaten his goal, while simultaneously slowing the counter-attack to give time for his teammates to recover into their positions. Yet considering Nagalo’s physical dominance in ground duels, there are instances where the safer decision would be to quickly and forcefully engage the opponent, even if he concedes a foul.
This positional indecisiveness is also reflected in non-transitional defending. Nagalo is a very active defender, always looking to maintain aggression and proactivity when defending in a low or mid-block. His constant scanning and quick changes in body orientation suggest he’s looking to anticipate any potential opportunity to defend and regain possession.
Nagalo’s proactivity and defensive awareness are net positives, but there is youthful naivety evident in his positional decision-making when defending. At times, he struggles to select the right moments to follow his opponent into deeper positions or pass him on to a teammate. Usually, in an attempt to take initiative and maintain aggression, he follows his opponent hoping to consecutively win a duel and possession.
Opposing teams can exploit the space he leaves behind – a winger’s out-to-in run, a midfielder’s run in behind, a second striker’s run across the back of him, etc. In these moments, Nagalo has to read the amount of pressure on the ball and the intentions of the opponent in possession, even if it means passing on responsibility and being comfortable without immediate possession.
Overall, Nagalo does anticipate most passes and his movement reflects his reading of the game, but he can be too man-oriented, especially when covering space. Despite being a decent athlete, he does lack exceptional agility and acceleration, potentially due to his long legs and flat-footed gait. As a result, Nagalo needs to recognize when he isn’t the superior athlete and create a ~5-yard buffer between the two, which grants him time to physically react in defensive scenarios.
Aerially, Nagalo wins the vast majority of his duels, especially when defending his box. His anticipatory skills are highly effective when box defending, and he shows an eagerness to get first contact on any contested ball. Nagalo is aerially dominant, but one concern would be over the quality and technique of his headers; he rarely gets clean contact and subsequently struggles to get distance or direction when heading the ball. This could be classified as a symptom of his recent conversion to center-back. Heading is as much of a practiced technique as passing or the first touch – it takes time to become a good header of the ball, especially when under pressure and in high-risk situations.
It would be fair to consider much of Nagalo’s defensive frailties as products of the positional learning curve he’s currently undergoing. The speed of his learning is dependent upon his application and experience – this should be considered when discussing any future transfer.
This current season already provides solid evidence that Nagalo’s defensive intuition is developing at an incredible rate and will continue to do so. His teammates claim that he has a correct amount of bite, or edge, to his game, which is conducive to the controlled aggression top-level central defenders possess. Additionally, after watching Nagalo countless times, he has an appreciation for the ‘dark arts’ – blocking opponents off the ball, getting under the opponent’s skin, etc. This doesn’t always come off, but it is encouraging to see in a center-back so young and new to the position.
STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
|– Progressing play under pressure |
– Proactive defending in transition
– Ambipedal range of passing
– Tactical awareness
– Competitive, confident mentality
|– Assertiveness in aerial duels |
– Discipline – 4 games missed through suspension
– Defensive positioning decisiveness
Adamo Nagalo’s financial and tactical value is based on his suitability to play two positions in complex positional game models. He provides a level of techno-tactical versatility in a position that has recently been dominated by the emergence of the ball-playing, left-footed central defender in the modern game.
In the summer, Nagalo will have two years remaining on his contract in what seems to be the opportune time for Nordsjælland to sell. For Nagalo, he must select his next club carefully; playing time should be at the top of his priorities. Frankly, he needs to consistently play in a team that allows him to make as many mistakes as possible. Learning from these mistakes while playing at a higher level will rapidly speed up his defensive development. This, along with coaching/mentorship, is the optimal way for him to refine his defensive rawness. As for his ability in possession, it is extremely well-refined and should immediately improve his next club’s overall effectiveness in possession.
Brighton were mentioned as a potential suitor, and that move would make complete sense. If De Zerbi stays at Brighton, Nagalo would be operating in a replicable tactical context. Once Colwill leaves, Brighton will be looking to add another center-back, and Nagalo fits their recruitment model seamlessly: a young player from an undervalued league/country with exponential resale value.
Simon Adingra, currently on loan at Union Saint-Gilloise, was bought by Brighton from Nordsjælland last summer – Nagalo could follow a similar route. Another season or two of experience at a scalable, higher level, before establishing himself in the first team at Brighton, or another comparable team in the top five European leagues.