2017 has been an interesting year for Sofyan Amrabat so far. On the back of a successful debut full season with FC Utrecht (finishing in 4th place in the Dutch Eredivisie), it became clear that the 21 year-old Dutch-Moroccan footballer was set to depart Utreg with Watford, who had his older brother Nordin in their squad calling for the signing. However, it was Feyenoord who swooped in first, paying around €4 million for the Moroccan international.
Additionally, much speculation and intrigue surrounded Amrabat on whether he would play internationally for Morocco or the Oranje. He had been called up for an international friendly vs. Tunisia in March by the Atlas Lions manager Herve Renard. But he still was eligible to be called up by the KNVB in the final internationals week of the year. Much discussion prior to this surrounded the subject of dual passport-holding professional footballers. With the KNVB in a period of transition, missing their second consecutive major tournament, and with much debate on how to develop and find the young, future senior internationals of Holland, Sofyan Amrabat became a poster boy for this future Oranje star. Born in the town of Huizen to Moroccan parents, Amrabat joined the Utrecht academy at the age of 11 and made his first team debut in 2014 as a substitute against Vitesse. He switched back and forth between the first team and U21’s for the next two years, but last season, he became a permanent member of Erik ten Hag’s squad.
When Bart Ramselaar moved from Utrecht to PSV in the summer of 2016, the question was who the club was going to purchase to replace Ramselaar. Manager Erik ten Hag had the answer: he didn’t see the need to spend money on a new player and saw the 20-year-old Sofyan Amrabat as Ramselaar’s successor. He was not as technically refined as Ramselaar and he played the position of central midfielder in FC Utrecht’s 4-4-2 system in a different manner than his predecessor. But Amrabat shined in the right-sided midfield role of Ten Hag’s 3-man-midfield, whereby he and his opposite midfielder at the #8 countryman Yassin Ayoub were allowed to freely attack & rotate within the half-spaces.
A hugely talented midfielder, Amrabat is comfortable playing in the centre or in front of the defence. The midfielder is a typical box-to-box midfielder who can do his part, both defensively and offensively. He has exceptional technique on the ball with his vision and passing ability a major asset to Utrecht’s 2016-17 season. He is tall and elegant with the ball at his feet and seems to glide on the pitch at times as he strides forward. Amrabat is also tenacious when not in possession and is terrier-like when trying to win the ball back.
Since his move to Feyenoord this year, Amrabat has played in his familiar central midfield #8 role though he has been chalked up recently to play right back in recent matches in the Eredivisie for Feyenoord. He usually deputizes at right back when manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst starts Jens Toornstra at the #8. In this role role, Amrabat can exhibit the range of his passing ability and his combativeness in duels. He comes from a unique tactical base where at FC Utrecht, his #8 role would be inclined to occupy the attacking half space pocket outside the box and play in crosses and through balls in the box like a right back would. After enjoying a successful string of starts on the right side, he had one of his worst performances of his career featuring at right back vs. Ajax in the De Klassieker home match at De Kuip, where Feyenoord lost 4-1.
After Feyenoord won their first league title since 1999, it was a logical step for the talented midfielder to move to one of the Big 3 in the Netherlands. Needing reinforcements to a squad competing in three competitions, De Trots van Zuid will hope that Amrabat will continue to grow into the squad as he will get called into the first team on a regular basis. His versatility and technical skills will be showcased, but his lack of tactical understanding will also be exposed-especially in the Champions League, when facing off against sundry tactical gameplans, be it Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli, Paulo Fonseca’s Shakhtar or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. By October 31, it became official that Amrabat will play for Morocco as Renard called him up for the last World Cup Qualifier vs. the Ivory Coast.
Reportedly, Dutch manager Dick Advocaat had met with the player and his agent to try to convince him to play for the Oranje, but he always had it in his heart to play for the Atlas Lions. He joins Hakim Ziyech and Feyenoord teammate Karim El Ahmadi in leading Dutch-born talent to join up with the Lions in hopeful qualification into the World Cup, which would be their first since 1986.
By: Victor Charnetsky/@VanDerCharks