Comparing a player to Lionel Messi is not the best way to introduce a budding star, setting him up, as it inevitably does, for relative failure. However, for those who have followed new Liverpool signing Oussama Assaidi during his last two seasons at Heerenveen, it is unquestionable that there is a similarity between the Moroccan winger and Ballon d’Or holder Messi. Like the Barcelona icon, Assaidi is very fast with the ball at his feet and has impressive dribbling ability that allows him to quickly change direction, switch feet and turn opponents to create space or get past his man.
Though Assaidi is a Messi-style player, this does not mean that he has the potential to reach the heights scaled by the Argentine phenomenon. The Moroccan is more a winger than a striker, still needs to develop physically and cool his temperament a little. Assaidi is not the easiest player to coach and can in this way be compared with new team-mate Luis Suarez.
“Assaidi is extremely gifted”, said Jan de Jonge, the man behind the Moroccan’s breakthrough in the Eredivisie. “However, 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.”
The Moroccan will fit perfectly into new Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ tactical approach. His “if you do not have the ball you cannot score” philosophy needs highly creative and technically gifted players on the flanks who have flair and can change the pace of the game in a second. A footballing approach which is not far off that Assaidi learned at Heerenveen.
The Frisian club are widely known for their attractive attacking football, as the 2011/12 season showed. Heerenveen ended the Eredivisie in fifth spot with 79 goals scored, finishing in the Europa League zone after being firmly in the title race until March. For the side, a superb attacking line was the driving force: Assaidi on the left (despite being right footed), Luciano Narsingh on the right and Bas Dost in the middle. Dost ended the Eredivisie campaign as top scorer with 32 goals, with most being put on a plate by Narsingh and Assaidi. Liverpool’s new number 11 finished as Heerenveen’s second-highest scorer with ten goals. And this despite missing a number of games due to back and Achilles tendon problems.
Before joining Liverpool, the 24-year-old was close to signing for Ajax. The deal faltered though as Assaidi was not happy with the salary on offer at the Amsterdam ArenA. Moving from Heerenveen to Amsterdam would have been a homecoming for the Morocco international, as he grew up in the city, playing football on its streets. In a quirk of fate, one of his playmates then, Narsingh, would later become his team-mate at Heerenveen.
Born on 15th August 1988, in Beni-Boughafer, a village in northern Morocco, Assaidi moved to Holland at the age of four. He took his first steps into football at local Amsterdam side Zeeburgia before joining AZ Alkmaar’s academy. After three years though, AZ showed the youngster the door for poor performance at school and a troublesome attitude. In the summer of 2006, Assaidi began his professional career at FC Omniworld in the Eerste Divisie (Holland’s second tier), then was scouted by former De Graafschaap coach Jan de Jonge, who brought him up to the Eredivisie. The winger spent just one year with the Superboeren, who had in the meantime been relegated, and moved to Heerenveen on the last day of the 2008/09 summer transfer window, having scored five goals in five games in the Eerste Divisie.
Once in Friesland, Assaidi joined forced once again with De Jonge, who this time worked as an assistant coach. The speedy winger’s glory day came on 12th December 2010, when he led Heerenveen to a crushing 6-2 win over Twente, scoring a hat-trick, delivering two assists and winning a penalty. After the match, the Dutch press labelled Assaidi the “Maghrebian Messi”. Two months later, he made his debut for Morocco, despite being eligible to play for Holland.
“Rodgers convinced me to choose Liverpool”, said Assaidi in his first interview on English soil. “How he wants to play is the way I like to. We both want to play football.” The Moroccan’s skills could dovetail with other versatile players such as Suarez and Fabio Borini, especially in a 4-3-3 system. However, the Reds need time to adapt to such a radical tactical change. And Assaidi needs to settle in the Premier League. How long will Liverpool fans give the team and their new Moroccan signing to produce results? For Assaidi, this could be the difference between success and failure.