When a player moves to Manchester City as an 18-year-old, it is clear that the player has all the tools necessary for being a future star. So, when Kwadwo Baah’s transfer to Manchester City in January broke down during the medical phase, it was clear that whoever secured his signature would be partaking in shrewd business. Watford are fortunate enough to be the team to capitalize on the high-profile breakdown. But, what exactly should Hornets fans be expecting from Baah?
Kwadwo Baah Showed Promising Signs with Rochdale
The England U18 international initially made headlines as a 13-year-old when he was a ball-boy at Crystal Palace and ran onto the pitch to prevent West Ham United from time-wasting. The Stuttgart-born attacker made his senior debut for Rochdale as a 16-year-old on the first day of October in 2019.
The now 18-year-old’s 2019/20 campaign came with 4 league starts. This season, he truly broke into the spotlight. Baah played a total of 30 league matches for Rochdale this past campaign, starting 13 of those matches. He ended the season with three goals and two assists. The numbers, however, are deceiving.
Unfortunately for Baah, Rochdale were tangled in a relegation scrap for the entire season, meaning they could not take the gamble of starting an 18-year-old week-in and week-out. Their season ended in relegation by an agonizing one point. But, to try and stay afloat, Brian Barry-Murphy had to try as many attacking combinations as possible to find the back of the net by any means necessary. As they had the third-worst defensive record in the league, the only way to compensate was by having a formidable attack. And so, despite Baah bolstering the attack when on the pitch, Barry-Murphy also did not want to take too many risks. Baah impressed during his chances; he was just unfortunate to be in a relegation scrap which saw the manager under immense pressure to play more experienced players. Rochdale felt they could not focus too much on a player for the future when their full focus in the present was on steering away from relegation.
So, Baah only making 13 starts is at no fault of his own. When he did play, he showed tremendous talent. And of course, as mentioned, most Manchester City targets have super bright futures ahead of them (In January, The Athletic claimed Bayern Munich, Juventus, Rangers, and West Ham United were interested in his signature too).
To put his statistics in simple-to-understand terms considering his mix of starts and cameos from the bench, he averaged one goal contribution for every 270 minutes. An output of one goal contribution per three full matches is not jaw-dropping, but for an 18-year-old finding his footing in a competitive, physical league, it is for sure noteworthy. And, if he had more talented attackers on the end of his deliveries, his assist count would be much higher.
Beyond looking at solely goals and assists, Baah’s dribbling is already at an impressively high level. He averages one successful forwards dribble per 30 minutes – for comparison’s sake, this is a rate similar to what Mohammed Salah produces. Considering the physical nature of League One and Baah’s age, such progressive dribbling output – while maintaining a 49% dribble success rate – is a sign of positive contributions to come.
How Baah Will Contribute at Vicarage Road
As an 18-year-old with loads of potential, playing time is a must, whether that be with Watford next season or on loan elsewhere. After preseason, Xisco Munoz and the rest of the coaching staff will need to reach a verdict on whether to keep hold of Baah or loan him out to develop further. The likelihood is the latter will occur. But, in the event he stays, what could he offer Watford right away? And even if he does not break in at Vicarage Road for another couple of seasons, what type of player is he set to turn into?
In modern football, positions continue to become more adaptable and fluid. One position with tremendous variations is on the wing. The “inverted winger” is the type of player Baah is on course to be – meaning his playing style already does and is set to further mirror the style of Arjen Robben (Robben played as a right-winger despite him being left-footed).
To clarify, although Baah can play on either wing and as a center-forward, his best talents will be utilized as an inverted left-winger. In his seven starts as a left-winger last season, he scored all three of his goals.
His intricate dribbling and willingness to carry the ball into the box mean he does not cross the ball from afar frequently. For a Watford comparison, his playing style is akin to Ken Sema’s, albeit Sema prefers his left foot. Nonetheless, both left-wingers find the most chance-creating success by carrying the ball into the opposition box before sending in low, fizzing balls across the face of the net, rather than trying to pick out a cross from 30 yards away.
As an inverted winger, Baah will see himself with more chances at scoring as opposed to a typical left-footed left-winger of similar ability. Not having to shoot cross-body efforts can make the difference between a solid goal-scoring left-winger and a great one.
One moment which shows his value as an inverted winger is his wonder-goal against Charlton Athletic, when he scored a brilliant right-footed goal into the top corner of the net from the edge of the box with his first touch. Another similar moment is his strike against Wigan, scoring from a similar position in a similar manner – a goal epitomizing the strong foundation the talented inverted winger already has. Even his second goal in the match versus Charlton Athletic (skip to 43 seconds) portrays how effective he will be as a right-footed left-winger.
Whether or not he breaks into the Hornets’ first-team for the 2021/2022 campaign remains to be seen. Although a loan appears more likely for now, he already has developed sufficient physical ability through his time in League One. But, one thing is for certain: upon promotion back to the Premier League, the Hornets’ signing of the January EFL Young Player of the Month proves they are continuing to focus on the distant future, setting them up perfectly for an extended top-flight stay if this inaugural season goes to plan.