Nohan Kenneh turned 17 in January, signed his first professional contract with Leeds United the same day despite being linked to many big clubs including PSG and towards the end of the 2019/20 professional development league season, became a regular for the under 23’s. He was born in Liberia before moving to Leeds when he was 7 and joined Leeds after impressing on trial at the club. Developed physically beyond his years, Nohan has consistently been playing up level, playing for Leeds United under 18’s at 15 and the under 23’s at just 16. Despite being born in Liberia, he’s a youth international for England, playing at under 15,16 and 17 level.
Throughout his time at the academy he’s predominately played in midfield, either as a box to box or defensive midfielder. However since making his debut for the under 23’s, we’ve seen him operate a lot at centre back, with the occasional stint at right back for club and country. In the past, once players get to Nohan’s age, they were expected to find a position and stick to that position throughout their career or risk getting lost in the game. This isn’t the case in the modern game, and in fact being able to play a number of positions to good standard is considered a positive rather than a negative. His ability to transition from defensive midfield to centre back and vice versa seamlessly is impressive given the different demands that the roles have. Defensively he reads the game well and has the awareness to fill in positions when required as we can see in the example below.
Highlighted in yellow is centre back, Charlie Cresswell putting pressure on the opposition forward in a wide position and therefore vacating his centre back position. Kenneh (highlighted in blue) anticipates this and moves into the space meaning that he’s in a position to clear any crosses that come into the box or closedown the forward if he was to beat his man. In this particular example, the forward fails to beat his man and Kenneh isn’t required to make any actions, nevertheless, shows his understanding of the position, which in this game was defensive midfield. Nohan stands at 6ft 2 and is a real powerhouse of a player who is brilliant at getting his body in-between the ball and player. Once he does, it makes it very hard for the opposition to win the ball back without fouling him. The example below shows just that, Nohan receive the ball under pressure, he holds off his man and offloads the ball but is fouled while doing so.
When in defensive positions, it is important for a defender or defensive midfield to make the correct decisions when looking to win the ball back. Mistime a tackle and you could leave your team exposed, or on the flip side, take to long to make a decision and the opposition is already well advance into your box. Nohan has a good habit of making the right decisions more often than not, particularly when it comes to making an interception or tackle. He’s not the quickest in terms of his acceleration, however his ability to anticipate danger and read the game means that his pace is very rarely tested. Take the same game as the previous examples, Bolton’s number 10 finds a pocket of space and is looking to get on the ball and drive at Leeds defence. Nohan sniffs out the danger straight away, timing his tackle perfectly and putting Leeds on the front foot.
Due to his positions being defensive ones, he very rarely finds himself in the position to get a shot off. During his early days in the academy, he did chip in with a few goals each season and as player, he does fancy himself from range. A great example of this was in a game for the under 18’s where he picked up the ball at the edge of the area before unleashing a thunderbolt into the top corner, giving the keeper no chance. More impressively, it was on his weaker left foot.
In terms of passing, he has a good passing range and is capable of playing all different types of passing. When receiving the ball he has a picture in his head of what he wants to do and takes a limited number of touches before looking to play forward passes. His success when making passes, particularly forward ones is mixed. Below are two examples, from the same game, both of which are very similar. The first example he has the ball in the centre of the pitch and is looking to play it out wide however doesn’t put enough on it and possession is turned over. The second example, not long after the first, he brings the ball out of the defence, before this time executing the pass.
What is encouraging to see is that after failing the first time, he has the confidence to try again. It would be easy for a player in his position to play the simple passes to his teammates and let them make the more complex passes. Despite only being 17, he has matured beyond his years and has real composure and calmness about his game. In a midfield role he will be required to show for the ball more and dictate play, like we see Kalvin Phillips do in the first team. A large percentage of opposition, at all levels, look to press their opponents, therefore being able to handle the ball and make good passes under pressure is key. At under 18 level he is very comfortable doing this and has shown at under 23 level to be the same, as you can see with the example below.
Overall Kenneh offers good flexibility tactically, has the physicality to cope with men’s football and will only become stronger in that regard. He has a good level of technical quality which with more experience and game time will only become better. Also having had the pleasure to speak to him last year, he’s a confident yet humble kid. Having played for England’s youth team it would be easy for him to gain an ego but he hasn’t. Kenneh is far from the finished article, but at 17, that is cause for excitement rather than criticism. With experience, development and if the opportunities present themselves, Kenneh has all the attributes to have a successful career within the game. Of course with no first team appearances to his name and little exposure in terms of first team training, he still has a long way to go before he’s playing regular at first team level.
By Thomas Wilson
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