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How ex Liverpool winger, Oussama Assaidi, was a talented young player who didn't fulfil his huge potential

ANALYST
Feature
579   //    26 Mar 2019, 16:08 IST

The Morrocan Messi - Oussama Assaidi (r)
The Morrocan Messi - Oussama Assaidi (r)

The word ‘potential’ in football is one of the things that attracts a plethora of opinions. Some of them prove to be prophetic and at the same time, others appear to be downright silly in hindsight. The potential being discussed here is that of a young player who announces himself on the big stage and shows incredible potential for the future. The questions start pouring in:

“How far can this player go in the game?”

 “Is he a world class talent?”

“Will he go down as one of the greatest in the game?”

“What is the player’s best position?”

The scouts of various clubs are suddenly all over him, pundits are engaged in discussions, and the club owning that player is preparing a contract extension to tie him/her up. The same is done by the parent club either for the purpose of getting the highest transfer value or for sporting reasons.

Often, the player who commanded a hefty transfer fee fails to live up to expectations and on the other hand, an under the radar acquisition who ends up having a successful career, suddenly becomes a ‘bargain’ in the long term.

One must keep in mind that when people hype a young talent or talk him down, none are essentially wrong because multiple reasons can influence a player’s development.

A player may have the best technique but could be injury prone or the player may show maturity on the field beyond his age but can have technical limitations which keep him from reaching the top in the unforgiving world of football. It can be any one or a combination of reasons as to why a player’s career did not pan out as expected.

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Finding the ‘next Zidane’ or 'Messi’ has been the primary objective of the elaborate scouting systems the clubs have developed nowadays. To be able to find a player who becomes world-class can potentially save millions for a club.

This is especially significant in today’s transfer market where any player of ‘decent’ ability costs more than €30-40 million. For example, Danny Drinkwater cost more for Chelsea in terms of transfer fees than Eden Hazard. Danny Drinkwater is a top class midfielder but is he more important for Chelsea than Hazard? The answer to this question would be an obvious ‘no’.

Eden Hazard is one of the most sought after players in his position, any club if given the chance would be more than eager to sign him, can the same be said for Drinkwater? Therefore, the increasingly inflating transfer fees of players over the years has forced the hands of all the clubs to look for young players with high potential on the cheap.

Even if such players don’t pan out, the risk is much smaller than paying over the odds for a player who may not even get a look in by the manager, and the whole saga ends up in a big disappointment.

Liverpool looked for a similar outcome when they signed Ousamma Assaidi from SC Heerenveen in 2012, in a deal worth a paltry €4.5 million. The Reds were in a rebuilding period and the same period saw plenty of signings of similar nature done by the Merseyside club, for example, Samed Yesil, Fabio Borini, Tiago Ilori, and so on.

Even though none of the players panned out as expected for Liverpool, the signings did show plenty of promise at that time and certainly did not hurt in the long run.

Assaidi, dubbed “the Moroccan Messi” spent all of his initial career in the Netherlands as he started out as a professional footballer at FC Omniworld in 2006, in Netherlands’ second tier. Two years later, he moved to SC Heerenveen in Eredivisie after completing a season of football at Eredivisie club, Superboeren, who were relegated the previous season.

De Superfriezen became the place where the winger made his name and his four years stay at the club saw him lighting up the Dutch league. Playing as an inverted winger on the left flank, he terrorised the opposition defences. The Moroccan’s blistering pace coupled with excellent dribbling ability saw him become the main attacking threat of his side.

The winger’s versatility was also an asset as he was equally comfortable on the right flank, and his eye for a goal made scouts across Europe take notice of this burgeoning talent. He also earned a call up to the Moroccan national team in the 2011-12 season.

Liverpool came calling in 2012 and Ousamma Assaidi became a Red. He gleefully admitted on signing for Liverpool, “Rodgers convinced me to choose Liverpool” and that he admired his playing style.

Someone looking from the outside could predict that if the signing could adapt quickly to English football, the Liverpool attack could improve instantly with top players like Suarez and Coutinho already at their disposal.

Brendan Rodgers described him as a player “who will excite the crowd” and was “delighted” to have him in his squad. One could see however that the Moroccan might not be an automatic starter.

There was plenty of competition in the form of academy prospects, Raheem Sterling, Suso, and Villa, as well as Stewart Downing. In his first season, the forward failed to force himself into the starting lineup and made barely 12 appearances.

Oussama Assaidi at Stoke City
Oussama Assaidi at Stoke City

The following season (2013-14) saw him move to Mark Hughes’ Stoke City on loan in a bid to relaunch his Premier League career. The winger made 24 appearances and began to find his feet in English football and there were reports that the move could be made permanent.

The disagreement between two clubs on transfer fee halted negotiations and although he eventually returned to the Britannia Stadium, it was only on loan. This time, he barely featured for the Potters and was recalled by his parent club in the January transfer window. Upon his return, he was sold to Saudi Arabian club Al-Ahli. This spelt the end of Assaidi’s adventure in England, one which showed a lot of initial promise.

During his time in Saudi Arabia, he reached the AFC Champions League final with his club and made fourteen appearances. However, On November 2016, he was released by his club. The forward later admitted that the monetary compensation was one of the big reasons for him joining Al-Ahli.

The winger looked for a return to European football. FC Twente, an Eredivisie club expressed interest and he made a sensational return to the Netherlands. It was the place where it all started for him and the same place could very well see him end his playing career.

Anyone who saw him play for SC Heerenveen would have been disappointed to see the downward trajectory of Assaidi’s career when great things were expected of the young talent.

Upon analysing what went wrong with Assaidi, it is impossible to have a clear answer. It’s possible that the player never really adapted to English football. Also, he might have felt a bit overwhelmed by the experience of playing for a big club like Liverpool which he himself admitted later on by saying,

"I enjoyed Anfield every minute, played with big football players, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho, Steven Gerrard, and I did not think I could handle the level".

He further added,

"Only, at such a large club you have to play well from the start. Jordan Henderson was bought for twenty million euros from Sunderland, then he was someone in England, I came from the unknown Heerenveen for four million and that was the difference."

Or was it also the attitude problem which became his deathbed? It was certainly not unheard of. He was reportedly released by AZ Alkmaar’s academy on account of weak academic performance and poor attitude off the field during his initial youth years.

Jan de Jonge, the man who took the player to Eredivisie said this about him upon his signing for Liverpool,

“Sometimes talent is not enough to survive in a tough competition like the Premier League. Oussama must keep working on his physical attributes and show the right mental attitude.”

At times with young players, one can see that while talent is inherent, conditions also need to be conducive for that talent to develop and shine. A strong mentality can also take a less gifted player to places while a weaker one can spoil a young player’s career whose inherent ability could be potentially world class.

Sometimes, young players also tend to switch over to a big club a bit too soon, which can result in stagnation.

This happens largely because the said youngsters do have some room to grow and also the fact that top clubs have multiple players with elite talent in each position. Thus, one cannot discount away the possibility that Assaidi moved to Merseyside a bit earlier than he should have. Today, clubs like Monaco and Dortmund are seen as the ideal platform to launch a player's career before a big club comes calling.

Assaidi today, 30 years old, is a regular fixture in his current club FC Twente. This past season (2017-18), he scored 6 goals and registered 3 assists, but more importantly, he looks much more settled than the tumultuous period he endured abroad.

It looks unlikely he will get another chance at a top European club again in his career, but one cannot help but wonder what would have happened had the ‘Moroccan Messi’ fulfilled the potential the world saw in him. We will perhaps never know.

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