Bilal El Khannouss: Genk’s Moroccan Phenom in Midfield

Club: KRC Genk

Nationality: Morocco

Position: AM, CM

Preferred Foot: Right

Height: 5’11”/180cm

Age: 20

Strengths: vision, through balls, passing, creativity, dribbling, first touch, agility, composure, work-rate

Areas for Development: experience at higher level, shot volume


From Kevin de Bruyne to Leandro Trossard, from Thibaut Courtois to Yannick Carrasco, Genk’s academy has produced a litany of world-class players in recent years, and their next top homegrown product is none other than Bilal El Khannouss.


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Born in Strombeek-Bever, Belgium to Moroccan parents, El Khannouss spent a decade at Anderlecht’s academy before making the move to Genk in 2019, signing his first professional contract in July 2020 before making his debut on May 21, 2022. That same year, El Khannouss would switch over from Belgium to Morocco and make his senior debut for the Atlas Lions in the third-place match of the FIFA World Cup.


Since then, it has been smooth sailing for the teenager, who has emerged as one of the best players in the Belgian top-flight. The #10 has an eye for a defense-splitting pass, capable of breaking teams down in an instant. He is an all-rounder of a player capable of impacting the game from all over the pitch, who boasts the vision to spot impossible/high skill passes and execute them perfectly. Time and time again, he judges the weight on through balls perfectly so attackers don’t have to break their stride.

El Khannouss loves a trivela pass. It’s one of the many smart passes he has in his locker which he’ll use to unlock defences. If there’s any space in behind, El Khannouss will find and exploit it in style. He loves to play crisp passes in behind like these whether a trivela or just a clever disguised pass.

The Moroccan oozes composure on the ball and has the ability to control games and take responsibility, leading the team’s attack and showcasing a maturity that belies his tender age. It’s this composure that has led to him being pushed back from the #10 and shifted into a #8 position, one that necessitates a lot more responsibility in the first phase of build-up.


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He can be the main progressor for Genk in possession as evidenced by his 8.67 progressive passes/90 (top 9%) this season. The teenager is at the centre of all things good for the team, skilled at play-making from deep, receiving the ball on the half turn from the center backs, arriving in the box, carrying the ball, and spraying passes into open space.

El Khannouss’ composure in the final third is cool, calm, collected — even when it comes to finishing, he’s ice-cold. Normally doesn’t opt to strike shots but instead places them past the keeper accurately. There’s still plenty of room for improvement, having only registered 3 goals and 6 assists in 35 league appearances so far this season, but he’s capable of turning into a consistent goal-scoring threat.


Above all, he’s a player made for the big stage who is made for the highest-pressure moments. The type of player who can win you a match in an instant with pure excellence. Previously, El Khannouss looked a bit raw in terms of the defensive side of his game, his decision-making in the final third, and consistency, but this season, he’s checked all of these boxes and taken his game to a new level.


Playing in a deeper position has given him more defensive responsibility and enabled him to blossom into a complete midfielder and focus on honing one of his key attributes — his progressive passing ability. A small area for development would be to increase his shot volume but even this has improved slightly from last season at 1.80 shots/90 to 1.91 shots/90. He needs to increase his goal output to really be amongst the best and this is one way for him to do so.


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At 20 years of age, Bilal El Khannouss has emerged as one of the finest footballers in Belgium, and he looks set to play a pivotal role not only for club, but country as well, having already registered 12 appearances for the Atlas Lions, and with a contract until 2027, it’s only a matter of time before he finds his way to one of Europe’s biggest outfits.


Whilst Club Brugge, Anderlecht and Union Saint-Gilloise duke it out for the championship, Genk’s title drought will extend to five years, and as such, their lack of Champions League revenue could very well force their hand and cause them to cash in on their highly coveted youngster.


Over the past two years, Genk have sold Paul Onuachu (Southampton – €18 million), Kristian Thorstvedt (Sassuolo – €10.15m), Junya Ito (Reims – €10m), Jhon Lucumí (Bologna – €8m), Daniel Muñoz (Crystal Palace – €8m) and Joseph Paintsil (LA Galaxy – €8.5m) for hefty sums, and there’s reason to believe that Bilal El Khannouss will continue that trend this summer and become the latest player to depart the Cegeka Arena for greener pastures.


By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus / Getty Images