There was no shortage of high-profile names and familiar faces making transfer headlines in Scottish football this past summer.
Celtic spent big on French under-21 internationalist Olivier Ntcham, Rangers tempted Graham Dorrans to return north of the Border, as Hearts did also with Kyle Lafferty and Christophe Berra. Neil Lennon brought Anthony Stokes back to Easter Road for a third spell, while also snapping up Scotland cap Steven Whittaker. Aberdeen spent money on Stevie May and Gary-Mackay Steven. Rather unusually, so did Hamilton Accies and Ross County. Then there was Scott Allan going on loan to Dundee, Michael O’Halloran to St Johnstone, Gordon Greer to Kilmarnock… the list goes on. It was a busy summer.
One player who flew under the radar, drawing little attention from outside Dens Park, was Dundee’s Glen Kamara. Yet the 22-year-old has been, in this writer’s humble opinion, pound-for-pound the best signing in the Scottish Premiership this season.
Kamara has enjoyed an unusual journey to his current life on Tayside. Born and raised in Finland to parents from the Sierra Leone, he honed his craft playing on indoor pitches during the country’s brutal winter months. Despite moving to London, aged 12, he stayed true to the country of his birth, even representing them at full international level for the first time this season, playing 90 minutes in a 3-0 win over Estonia.
Following his family’s move to England, he was discovered by Southend United before Arsenal snapped him up. Like most youngsters at the Emirates, he found the route to first-team football difficult to navigate, though he made his full debut in a League Cup defeat by Sheffield Wednesday in 2015. From there things stalled, and after unsuccessful spells back with Southend and on loan to Colchester, he was free to move on. That’s where Dundee came in.
Recently-appointed Dundee manager Neil McCann needed a defensive midfielder. Last season the Dark Blues had a plethora of players for the centre of the park, but none was particularly comfortable or competent in the specialised position. As Kamara had made only 13 career appearances to that point, he didn’t appear to be the solution, but within minutes the club knew they had found their man.
“I’ve played for a few different clubs and I’ve seen players come in on trial down the years, hundreds of them, and I’m a big believer that you can tell within the first part of a training session whether a player is good enough,” says captain Darren O’Dea. “That was the first instinct I had of Glenn. I thought ‘he’s a player’. He bossed it. The way he went about winning the ball back, passing it, he just made a really big impression. I remember turning to the manager and giving him the eyes, just to say ‘who is this boy?’ ”
Even in competitive football, Kamara caught the eye right away and refused to let his own standards slip in the face of increasing pressure as Dundee endured a stuttering start to the campaign.
Indeed, in the league this season, Kamara has the seventh highest accuracy for passes into the final third. Rangers’ full-back Declan John is the only non-Celtic player above him in the list.
He’s also excellent at taking on players for someone in his position. You don’t expect a defensive midfielder to be dribbling past opponents in the centre of the park, especially deeper areas, and yet that’s what he does. His 76 per cent completion percentage is, again, seventh best in the league and third for centre midfielders.
“It’s something I’ve noticed the longer he’s been with us,” says O’Dea, pictured. “He’s got real snake-hips. He can beat a man, he can send you for a bag of chips when he wants. It’s not just in training, in games he’s the same.”
On Kamara’s overall game: “He’s got a lot of mobility. He can cover huge amounts of ground, and can do it quickly. His job is to screen the back three or back four and build play through him. He’s a really good passer, keeps the ball really well. He’s actually got fantastic feet. He’s shown in the last few games that he’s got a real swagger on the ball, and technically very good.
“He’s a tall enough lad, I suppose, but what he’s got are limbs that stretch further than others. He always seems to get a leg in. I wouldn’t want to compare him to a Patrick Vieira type of player, but he’s like that in a sense that he’s very rangy. He always seems to manage to get a nick on the ball when you don’t think he’s going to get to it.”
Though not as tall as Vieira, that doesn’t stop Kamara from getting stuck in. To use the advanced stats once more, he is eighth in defensive duels and has made the second most interceptions for all top-flight midfielders this term. All in all, at this level at least, he is the total package.
In spite of Dundee’s poor start, Kamara continued to shine throughout the opening months. Now that results are picking up, his performances are improving with them. Dundee fans, heartbroken by the exit of Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart in one summer, are desperate for the same thing not to happen with Kamara and centre-back Jack Hendry – another who has impressed massively since signing this summer with little fanfare.
In the meantime, with 18 months left on Kamara’s contract, the Dundee support are determined to enjoy a talent who has lit up an otherwise troublesome season. Though it would pain them to admit it, he has the skills to go further in the game, even beyond the Ladbrokes Premiership.
“If you could put together the various attributes of a central midfielder, he wouldn’t be far off,” concludes O’Dea, “someone who could be aggressive, win the ball back, and is equally comfortable on the ball. We’ve two or three players who can play at the top level, and he’s one of them.”