Amine Harit and the ultimate game of Charades
Charades; it’s a pretty simple game for anyone to comprehend. If you know to interpret certain words into actions quickly, you can ace it. Football, on the other hand, is a lot harder.
Of course, it’s fairly simple playing the game in your backyard or on a PlayStation, but for all those players who will be representing their nation at the World Cup, the feeling of jangled nerves, sweaty palms and the fear of messing it up will be pretty mutual. These are professional players, but at the end of the day, the big money they make can never mask the emotion they go through while putting on the national team jersey and stepping on to the pitch.
The upcoming World Cup will see a few national teams returning to the scene after a while. Morocco are one of the teams who are making a return to the tournament after a long hiatus. Following a decent showing in the 1998 World Cup where they collected four points and finished third in a group consisting of Brazil, Norway and Scotland, Moroccan football could never really keep up with the rest of their African counterparts and were stuck in the doldrums.
Despite boasting of good players in the subsequent decade – the likes of Houssine Kharja, Badr El Kaddouri, Marouane Chamakh et al – they often flattered to deceive during the World Cup qualifiers. It was clear that the nation needed a new breed of footballers, the fearless type, you know?
The 2012 AFCON was perhaps the turning point for the nation. Though they failed once again to make it to the knockout stages, it was clear that the blueprint for the upcoming decade was to play a brand of football the millennials were comfortable with – nifty footwork, the nonchalance to go for a shot instead of a pass, the sheer disregard for opposition defenders and the incessant need to pull off a trick or two. It is all about the swag.
The current national team has a few players who typify the aforementioned but none more so than young attacker Amine Harit. The 20-year old had a stunning debut season with Schalke 04 and picked up the Bundesliga Rookie player of the year. A year on after switching his allegiance from France to Morocco and setting the Bundesliga on fire with those dribbles, Harit is set to play perhaps the hardest game of charades in his life.
When the draws for the group stages were made, the reaction in Morocco was sort of mixed. While many dreaded the fact that their side were drawn in the same group as Portugal and Spain, some enjoyed it as it gave them the chance to test their wits against some of the best. Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously the most talked about player in the world right now and little Harit is perhaps a player that’ll remind Ronnie of his 20-year old self.
Passing of the baton?
A lot of people have followed Ronaldo’s career since his late teenage years because frankly speaking, he was that good and demanded attention. Amidst the braces, the messy hair and the frail athlete was a player who wanted to prove himself like those before him but he wanted to do it his way. Ronaldo had a great manager to guide him in Sir Alex Ferguson and boy did he thrive under the legendary Scot.
The stepovers, the devilish striking of the ball that put ‘keepers through sleepless nights and the sheer volume of goals Ronaldo scored were simply hard to believe.
The fact that he played in the Premier League meant that he was on the newspaper almost every matchday. Harit, on the other hand, hasn’t had the same start to his career but the similarities are there to be seen.
Like Ronaldo, here is a young player who wants to do it his way. When he was asked about his decision to play for Morocco instead of France despite representing the latter at several youth levels, Harit said, "I think it's important for me to thank the France team and the French Football Federation because what they have given me during these last three years has been magnificent. If I'm where I am today, it's thanks to the French national team. So I'll never forget what has happened with the French team.
"I wanted to explain my decision, it wasn't easy for me. My parents are Moroccan, I have my family and a lot of people in Morocco. I've gone to Morocco ever since I was a child to see my family. My choice today goes to Morocco, thanks or because of my family, because it was important for me to represent my family as they deserve.
"Once again, it wasn't easy, but it was a choice I had to make. I think it's the most difficult choice I've had to make since the start of my career.
All that coming out of a 20-year old is pretty rare these days. When you watch Harit play on the pitch, you might presume he is more of the hothead and the hard to control brat. He’s the exact opposite, like Ronaldo was during his younger days. The game that proved it the most was the biggest clash in German football – The Revier Derby.
It was a game the Schalke fans won’t forget for quite a while. Four goals down, the side were facing the wrath of Dortmund who looked in set to continue the onslaught in the second half. Young manager Domenico Tedesco had other ideas, however.
Schalke slowly made their way back into the game and were buoyed by the presence of Leon Goretzka and Amine Harit who didn’t start the game but were on the pitch by the 33rd minute. Their impact on the game came in the second half.
While Goretzka gave them more control in midfield, Harit was the one who troubled the defenders with his dribbling and elusiveness in the attacking half. It’s something that comes naturally to him. And for Tedesco, it was the ideal ploy. Dortmund’s weak defending helped Harit use the space well and he scored the side’s second to half the deficit. But we’re not going to talk about the deft touch with his right foot to set it up and bury it past Roman Weidenfeller. No. We’re going to talk about what happened next.
If there’s one thing Ronaldo has taught us over the years then it’s his ability to bounce back when he has been written off. Here was a player who was far behind Leo Messi in terms of the total Ballon d’Or awards won. Here was a player who was in his 30s and supposedly no longer at his peak. Yet, he roared back in style to make it 5 Ballon d’Or titles each and lead a Real Madrid side to three successive Champions League titles.
Harit’s achievements are a drop in the ocean when compared to everything Ronaldo has achieved so far, but the fight the young Moroccan showed when Gonzalo Castro nearly ended his game with a rash tackle made the Schalke fans and the rest of the Bundesliga stand up and take notice.
Gingerly back on his feet, Harit didn’t look like he was going to last more than a minute. His sock was shredded, the grimace on his face showed that he took a bad one on the calf. But this was opportunity knocking on his door and he wasn’t going to let it pass.
Months leading up to the game, Harit was in and around the team and never really a sure-shot starter. The performance in the second half against Dortmund made him one. Despite a sore calf, Harit soldiered on and not only did he earn the adulation of the fans, but he was also part of a team who came back from four goals down to level the score in injury time.
Cristiano Ronaldo was in the Premier League some 12 years ago. It’s the breeding ground for silly challenges. A mere knock or a bruise never stopped him. They never stop great players. Harit isn’t a great yet, not even a shadow of a great player. But he’s on the right path.
In the past, we’ve seen gifted Moroccan footballers move to big clubs and fail. Adel Taarabt could have been something. He had a few good years at QPR and then at AC Milan. But pure talent doesn’t get you anywhere. Oussama Assaidi earned a move to Liverpool but he couldn’t even start regularly, let alone impress. And boy was he skillful. Both of them are 29 and are in the peak years of their athletic career. But after moving to big clubs, they are now stuck with lower rung teams more than anything else.
Harit has the potential to be a future Ballon d’Or winner. Tedesco has so far done a brilliant job with the lad and the discipline is there to be seen. With a few days to go before the World Cup, however, the journey is just starting for young Harit. Only time will tell if he’ll pass the ultimate test of charades and turn it into something magical - The next Cristiano Ronaldo.
Portugal vs Morocco will be something, ladies and gentlemen.
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