Most managers in the Eredivisie, adhering to the unwritten code, would stop short of describing a player as ‘world class’ or remotely anywhere near the reason being as it would be interpreted as overhyping a talent nowhere near the finished article.
Ron Jans however broke protocol. The former Heerenveen boss, now at Standard de Liège, after a mercurial display by Oussama Assaidi last season couldn’t hold back. “When it comes to beating the opposition he’s up there with the best in the world,” Jans enthused. This interestingly enough wasn’t picked up yet it’s fair to say not many would agree.
But in saying that it’s easy getting caught up a player dubbed ‘the Ferrari’ his style is as elegant as watching a Daytona ride into the sunset. Assaidi treats every game as a personal highlight reel, beating defenders at whim either by sheer pace or wit, as a result turning into one of the biggest benefactors of the YouTube generation in the Netherlands. Love him or hate him you can’t deny he’s a showman. Yes, the soundtrack can be annoying, but that becomes irrelevant once you’re mesmerised by his fleet of foot like a magician’s sleight of hand. Now you see it.
There’s an element of positive arrogance no doubt forged growing up in Amsterdam, confidence is something he doesn’t lack, at times to the detriment of his teammates and frustration of the crowd when he gets carried away and turns selfish (which happens more often than not). However, if you were to ask they would rather stand alongside and cheer than face him and be worried every time he gets the ball.
Assaidi is a breed of winger that’s cherished in the Netherlands, growing up was described as one the finest street footballers, smarts picked up playing ‘panna ko’ and such like coupled with disciple received as a professional turned him into the dynamic and near all-round forward most sides would find to be an asset.
Despite being raised in the Netherlands he chose to represent his native Morocco where he was born a similar path shared by Ismaïl Aissati, Zakaria Labyad and Mounir El Hamdaoui.
Technically sound Assaidi is comfortable across the forward line but is most potent on the flanks where his intelligence and craft is put to good use. Like many traditional Dutch wingers, former teammate Luciano Narsingh being one, Assaidi has the wherewithal and eye for goal. He can equally produce damage drifting from the left flank and cutting onto his stronger right foot just as he can be creative and deliver from the right.
His last season at Heerenveen, joining the Frisian cub in 2009 after spending one season at De Graafschap, was also his most prolific. Stats aside – reaching double figures in terms of goals a more than handy return – he was a cornerstone in their ascent. He shared that burden with Narsingh, Bas Dost and creative midfielder Filip Đuričić, only the latter remains.
Sometimes having a player that is naturally individualistic can have its benefits. His individual actions proved pivotal at times whether scoring directly or creating space for a teammate to provide for another.
A move away was bound to happen this summer. He flirted with Galatasaray and then boyhood club Ajax. A deal was agreed with the Amsterdammers who he desired to join as it would mean living close to his mother and family. His father recently passed away. “The death touched me deeply,” he told Leeuwarden Courant. “Money plays no role.” But it did. The following day in Algemeen Dagblad: “I don’t want to move abroad, but remain with my family in Amsterdam. I never hid my desire to play for Ajax.“
Personal terms couldn’t be met due to his wage demands. Despite that a breakthrough seemed imminent but out of nowhere everything was thrown up in the air. Liverpool had beaten Ajax to the punch.
A move that proved anything is possible even in the age of social media. Assaidi would have been a wonderful addition but it smacked more of a political signing after the Amsterdammers were usurped by PSV for Narsingh’s signature. Frank de Boer is still stocked with wingers including the exciting Tobias Sana similar in stature.
On Assaidi’s part his rampant talking up a move only put a stain on his character. As well as being allowed to be photographed wearing the club shirt (à la Paul Ince though different circumstances) whilst on club duty with Heerenveen in Bucharest. Many conspiracy theorists felt it was a stunt designed to accelerate a transfer which never came to pass.
Ajax’s offer of €1.1M per year was fair. Marc Overmars, club sporting director, recalled signing his first contract and Louis van Gaal reminding him who he was joining when he raised the possibility of increased wage. “At Ajax, no tree grows to heaven talents with good character will always choose sporting reasons over extortionate wages.”
The ship has now sailed and a move to Liverpool is intriguing. Brendan Rodgers style of play and ethos is similar to Ron Jans so on that basis it’s a good transfer it becomes even better given the cost. It seems, from early reports, Assaidi will be integrated as a squad player logical as he needs to acclimatise to new surroundings and league.
The level of the Premier League is a few knots above the Eredivisie and the challenges he faced in a Heerenveen shirt is nothing compared to what he’ll find in England especially with teams that like to pack their defence and midfield. The physical nature is another facet Assaidi will have to get accustomed to. A few extra sessions in the gym won’t hurt. He’s had to persevere in the past this will be relative in context and comparison.
His steely determination is infectious. When told no he replies with yes. As mentioned above he’s close to his family who are a source of strength. The first opportunity is a chance to impress and maintain a regular spot. You’d assume Rodgers could play him the same role Nathan Dyer performed exemplary during his time at Swansea.
In the system Rodgers has implemented is sure reinvigorate Luis Suarez who is of course a different type of player to Dost but equally intelligent. Early days but what’s promising is there’s everything in his game to succeed if utilised correctly. It might take a while but he will be a player the Kop will grow to enjoy.
Mohamed Moallim is a Dutch football expert who has featured on AFR on several occasions. He mostly features on the magazine FourFourTwo. Comments below please.