Abou Sissoko by the Numbers: What can the Forge champion bring to our midfield?

Abou Sissoko by the Numbers: What can the Forge champion bring to our midfield?

In another statement of intent this off-season, Atlético Ottawa have signed Forge midfielder Aboubacar Sissoko for the 2024 CPL season and beyond. Not only does this signing fill a massive hole in the center of the pitch, but by bringing in a player with a championship pedigree Atlético Ottawa is making a statement of intent to climb back to the top of the standings after a disappointing 2023 campaign. However, what exactly about Sissoko makes him such an intriguing player, and how will he fit into the roster going forward? Like with Matteo de Brienne, I will attempt to answer those questions using statistics, specifically a data analytics model I created, detailed here. It is recommended you read that piece first if you are unfamiliar with my previous work. Like always, I will break down Sissoko’s strengths and weaknesses, chart his CPL career thus far, and attempt to project how he will mesh into Carlos Gonzalez’s side for 2024. 


Sissoko is a study in contrasts, something I will elaborate on when I examine his career statistics, but first his low score and data ranks need to be addressed. For someone who has won 2 CPL titles in mostly-dominant fashion, his poor statistics might seem incongruous with the success he’s had. There are three reasons for this, and the first two are relatively simple. For starters, he played fewer minutes than average last season, and came off the bench for most of them, thus being granted fewer opportunities to make an impact. The second is that he was shuffled around the pitch a fair bit, playing Centre Midfield, Central Attacking Midfield, Centre Defensive Midfield, AND even had a shift at Left Midfield. As we’ve seen with others in the past, playing multiple positions dilutes his statistical impact, and lowers his WPA grade accordingly. 

The third cause is something I like to call the “Forge Effect”. When analyzing club averages across the seasons, I’ve noticed that Forge’s players consistently seem to score much lower than you would expect for a club that has won four of the five CPL playoff titles, both in terms of WPA and statistical ranks. The reasons for this are still hazy, however I have hypothesized that either the surplus of talent on the field diminishes individual impact, or something about Bobby Smyrniotis’ tactics make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Simply said, either the players are so good it makes individuals seem worse by comparison, or the players are actually bad and it's the tactics that are doing the legwork. The answer is probably some combination of both, however I still haven’t found an exact root cause. Nevertheless, generally Forge players look worse on paper than they are on the field, which along with the aforementioned gametime and positional reasons, could explain why Sissoko appears worse than expected. 

With that out of the way, onto the actual purpose of the article. Sissoko generally profiles (at least in 2023) as an offensive-minded CM. He ranks well in both Goals and Assists (65.9 and 57.5 respectively), and also in Chance Creation (73.1). He can also cross well enough, something ATO has generally lacked, and draw a lot more fouls than the average player (93.4). That is where the positives end however. His Pass% is below average (48.2), he can’t win duels to save his life (15.1 Strength grade), and ranks poorly when tackling or intercepting to recover the ball (31.9). Statistically speaking, last season he had a lot more weaknesses than strengths, and those strengths were not enough to overcome everything else.

This however isn’t the end of the story, because I also examined his previous season to see if last season was an anomaly, and I found something very interesting. In 2022, when he played 2000 minutes at a mixture of CM and CDM, his statistical profile was almost the exact opposite. He didn’t contribute offensively, couldn’t cross, and committed more fouls than he drew (the reverse of his 2023). That being said, he won both ground and aerial duels to the tune of a 70.4 Strength rank, had a 76.2 Pass% percentile grade, and also beat his man more often than not (85.5 1v1% rank) - again, exactly the opposite of his strengths in 2023. He also graded much better at a 60 WPA (just about average), compared to his 2023 mark of 46.6. In sum, he was a decent CDM and a good defensively-solid CM, which, while being only a few of the positions he played in 2023, was the exact opposite of his statistical results.


After all that, the question remains: which Sissoko will ATO get in 2024? If we look at his previous seasons, he is generally on a downward trend in terms of performance. However, in 2020 he only played 700 minutes, below my personal threshold of statistical significance, and in 2023 was shuffled around quite a bit, as well as again playing fewer minutes than average. In 2022, he played the most minutes of his career and was an impact player (statistically speaking), so we could say that of his three seasons, his most statistically significant was also his most successful. Another factor to consider is he will be 28 in 2024, and playing a position not always the kindest to older legs. So is that downward trend simply due to external factors, or a typical trend for an aging player?

To take a more positive note, I tend to think he will bounce back for ATO in 2024, at least partially. Given the strengths and the depth of the squad, Sissoko will more than likely be a consistent starter at the CM position and nowhere else, which will no doubt give him a better platform to succeed than previous seasons. Given those extenuating circumstances last season, I also think that his general downward trend in WPA grade was not due to age, and he should be a solid player for at least a couple more seasons. The question also remains as to which version of Sissoko will we get profile-wise: the offensive-minded CM or the more defensively sound ball-distributor? Assuming he plays in front of Zapater and beside Ollie Bassett, he will most likely have to fulfill a mix of both. Sissoko will have to link up Zapater to Bassett through the midfield, spring breaks, control possession when needed, and also stop opposing counters, something which requires a well-rounded profile. He has shown he is indeed capable of both, however never at the same time. Granted, he has always played a mixture of positions that tend to skew his strengths one way or another, and playing only CM all season could resolve that. There is obvious talent there; he played for Forge for two seasons, and also got transferred to the USL after only 10 CPL games in 2020. Whether he can translate that into consistently good performances during what will hopefully be a more stable season for him remains to be seen.

While Sissoko is a massive signing, there are still some weaknesses that will need to be addressed with serious work (or at least consistent playing time and positional deployment) next season. Whether his poor profile is as a result of lower minutes, positional instability, or simply as a result of playing for Forge, the numbers on the page are not pretty. That being said, he has shown glimpses of talent over his three seasons, was a stalwart for title-winning sides for two of those years, and clearly is valued by ATO and their scouting staff. When watching him, at least in 2022, he also showed he could hold his own in a dominant team, which he might be required to repeat in 2024 with ATO. I believe he has all the tools to become a dangerous and well-rounded Central Midfielder for the club in 2024, he just needs to put them together. The club and Fernando Lopez are also not done with the market yet, and clearly intend to keep making massive transfers in the future. If any of them are intra-CPL, you can look forward to another article like this one.

About Alexander:

When he isn't busy playing or watching sports (or going to school at uOttawa), Alexander is busy managing his Atlético Ottawa database, which he started in 2020, and tracks everything you can think of about the club and its players. He also runs a Twitter account dedicated to analyzing and rating CPL players using statistics, CPL by the Numbers.