A Young Career Nearly Cast to the Wind: How North Africa’s Biggest Talent Azarou’s Proposed Move to China’s Super League Failed
The fee -$10m –involved in the transfer is an astronomical figure. The talent perhaps more than justifies it.
Walid Azarou is the biggest thing to emerge from North Africa. No player from the notable leagues in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia has equaled the 21-year-old goal-getter’s feat. Mohamed Lamin Abid comes the closest –one goal shy of Walid’s tally of 19.
He left his country of birth Morocco to seek a new challenge and Egypt’s Al Ahly Sporting Club became the next stop. Young players rarely get consideration in Ahly with the club board more welcoming of established big names. Like many of the Cairo giants’ youth players, it was thought that a loan deal to rake up more playing time elsewhere awaited him immediately after signing.
And there was the initial wary of who amongst the experienced Oluwafemi Junior Ajayi and Emad Moutaeb will sit out for the young Walid to be offered some minutes.
However, this debate was put to rest the moment the 21-year-old began to force coaching staff to sit up and take notice with his goals during pre-season ahead of the 2016/17 domestic presentation-sponsored Egyptian Premier League.
Gaffer Hossam El Badry taking a ruthless stance to base his selection around performing players opened up the path for the young forward to take a spot in the A-team and, in the long run, became a revered personality to club fans.
Azarou wasn’t central in Ahly’s treble-winning campaign but remained integral enough in the coach’s plans. The subsequent season brought with it better luck dose and it could be best described the term the Moroccan morphed from a raw sensation to an every club’s wish-buy.
His eye for goal stood out. From headers, left to right-footed shots and acrobatics –he scored them all as the serial league kings stormed to yet another domestic cup success. The Total Caf Champions League had been the sole trophy to elude them though there is an intention to grab the continent’s best club prize at last at commencement of the new championship.
In a terrific second season peppered with goals, the towering striker became rightly man of the moment, leaving the league’s most touted solid defenders scratching for answers to a menace that has come to plague them.
John Antwi, club Makasa’s go-to-guy, along with Colombia-born Diego Fernando Calderon Caicedo have been, if any, the sole contenders providing competition to Azarou in the race for the golden boot. Consequently, he became the Egyptian top tier’s most prolific foreign-based player of all times.
Football-mad fans were left denied of seeing his talent in the Russia events that saw the Atlas Lions of Morocco’s participation in the World Cup come to an abrupt end. Injury ended his hopes of going to Moscow.
The goal scorer’s future has been in severe doubt even though he has a contract binding him to his current employers until 2021.
How European clubs failed to raid the Borg El Arabi Stadium outfit for his services last January remains fascinating. It was not until early June that foreign teams interest in him began soaring.
Hamburg, Augsburg and Frankfurt Eintracht have been reportedly keeping tabs on the player’s situation but concrete offers came more from faraway Saudi and France. However, none of the French Ligue 1 sides matched chairman Mahmoud El Khatib’s asking price.
The drama heightened when Hebei China Fortune stepped onto the plate. Dubbed the retirement home for aging footballers, the Chinese Super League nearly became Azarou’s home at tender age of 21. Talks between Hebei and the Egyptian outfit were at an advanced stage. Many had reckoned that the Moroccan going to Asia was as good as kissing good bye to his chances of ever becoming a top footballer in the future.
The transfer discussions held behind closed doors later hit the brick walls. Ahly opted out of the deal in the eleventh hour. Chairman Mahmoud cited lack of professionalism on the part of the Chinese club.