Abdelhak Nouri: Glimpses of a magician

When most refer to the gifted playmaker of Moroccan heritage that is one of the most promising prospects in an already talented Ajax squad, they will be thinking of Hakim Ziyech. With good reason too, since the young man from Dronten is quickly becoming the horcrux of Bosz’s fluid and youthful XI. 11 goals and 6 assists in 22 games warrants attention.

But the gifted playmaker of Moroccan heritage I will be referring to in this article is Ziyech’s understudy – Abdelhak Nouri. Nouri has been lighting up the Jupiler League this season with Jong Ajax, scoring 6 in 13 games and laying on 4 assists for his teammates in the process too. He’s become such a creative force for Jong Ajax that is hard to forget the man is still only 19.

His form for Jong Ajax has meant that he has had a few run-outs in the first team in the last couple of months or so, in which the hype surrounding him has been further justified. He was immense against Kozakken Boys in the KNVB Beker in October, registering 3 assists in a 6-1 rout. The quality of the assists are quite something too. For the 4th goal, Nouri, alone in his own half, puts Cerny through on goal with a pass that splits the centre halves through the middle. The assist for the 6th goal was even more stunning – Appie wiped out the entire back four of Kozakken Boys with a pass that put Pelle Clement through one-on-one. Even better is the fact that the assist for the final goal was a no-look pass. When pulled off correctly, there are few things more delightful to watch. I doubt Ronaldinho was present in the stands on that chilly October night in Werkendam, but if he was, I’m sure he would’ve had his trademark cheesy grin stretched across his face in appreciation.

It’s not just in cup games against lowly opposition where Nouri’s technical nous has been visible to the eye. 88% passing accuracy in two games against Standard Liège and Panathinkaikos in the Europa League this season is proof of his ability on the ball. This sublime touch after a wonderful pass by Van de Beek furthers the agenda Nouri is brilliant on the ball, whether he is passing it or trying to keep hold of it. Creative and evasive. Finish aside, Nouri is showing all of the signs of blossoming into a supreme attacking midfielder.

Whilst on the theme of touches, I’d like to refer you to a rather outrageous piece of skill Nouri carried out in the UEFA Youth League not too long ago. I’m not usually one for pieces of skill, not least because there is so much more to the team game than tricks. They also don’t define a footballer – Kerlon, the seal-dribbling trequartista for Spartak Trnava, once billed as the potential next big-thing, will be the first to tell you this. However, when skill is used intuitively, you have to applaud. A couple of seconds on the ball and a fake shot later, he left a Spartak Moscow defender on his backside in what I can only imagine as being one of those “I wish the ground would swallow me up” moments for the poor man. Unfortunately I’ve never been involved in an incident such as this (luck rather than ability…) but the supreme confidence with which Nouri carries this out says all you need to know. The youngster believes in himself, and you should believe in him too.

It is really easy to focus on the more technical aspects of play with a player such as Nouri, such as his ability to pass, evade and showboat. Perhaps the most promising aspect of Nouri’s development, however, is his intelligence. Quite seamlessly, the youngster has been able to involve himself in the core of attacking play when he has been on the field. This requires positional sense and a willingness to receive the ball – two things that do not always come hand in hand at such a young age. For example, it’s all very well having the ability to make killer passes, but if you’re not in the right positions to receive the ball this will quickly become a rare sight in matches. Nouri’s average position against Kozakken Boys is really telling. The strong links he has with his surrounding teammates from all directions indicates positional sense, and a willingness to involve himself. His mobility is also clear through the arrows next to the dot that represents him – being an attacking midfielder requires mobility to create chances and continually keep one’s self in play. Equally telling is Nouri’s proximity to Van de Beek and Bazoer, his midfield partners on the day. Most likely, it demonstrates cohesion between the trio, as they operate as a tight linkage instead of an isolated group of individuals. Nouri, being a part of this, shows that he understands the importance of midfield cohesion for stability in matches. Look at the best attacking midfielders in world football – Özil, De Bruyne and Silva, for example. All of them involve themselves every matchday in a similar fashion. To say that Nouri could reach the level of these players is of course a huge push, but there’s no denying the underlying quality is there.

Where does all of this discussion lead, I hear you ask? Well, the future of Nouri looks very bright, and you could easily claim he deserves a prolonged run in the first team to showcase his talents. The question for the moment is, who would he replace? Ziyech has been in sublime form, and is one of the first names on the team sheet. So is Klaassen – dynamic and, above all, the captain. With a three-man midfield being employed these days, that leaves one last spot. That spot has mostly gone to Schöne this season, but the form of Van de Beek and Nouri of late may well force him out in the not-too-distant future. One thing is for sure though – whenever Nouri does get the chance to impress for the first team again, it’ll be well worth watching.

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