Abde Ezzalzouli – The new Moroccan superstar destroying defences in Spain by Shay Hicks

Abde Ezzalzouli – The new Moroccan superstar destroying defences in Spain by Shay Hicks

Player Bio:

Name – Abdessamad Ezzalzouli/عبد الصمد الزلزو
Nationality – Moroccan/Spanish
D.O.B – 17/12/2001 (21 years old)
Height – 177cm (5’9.5″)
Strong Foot – Right but strong with either
Current Club – CA Osasuna (on loan from Barcelona)
Position – Left Winger
Value – ~£7.0m (via Transfermarkt)

Career Summary:

Abdessamad ‘Abde’ Ezzalzouli, also known as ‘EZ Abde’, is a sensational young Moroccan winger who is starting to make his presence known in the world of Spanish football. Originally a product of the Hércules Alicante youth system before joining Barcelona as a 19 year old, Abde is currently on loan with La Liga regulars Osasuna, where his tricky dribbling is helping Los Rojillos push towards their 5th consecutive mid-table finish since they returned to the Spanish top flight in 2019. La Blaugrana have had more than their fair share of incredible wingers over the course of their history, and in this report I will outline why Ezzalzouli could have exactly what it takes to become the next big thing in Catalunya.

Born in Beni-Mellal, a Moroccan city located at the base of the mountain Jbel Tassemit, Abde wouldn’t embark on his footballing journey until his family moved to the southeastern Spanish city of Elche. At the age of 7, he joined his first youth team, local side Peña Ilicitana Raval CF. He would spend his adolescent football career bouncing between multiple different local youth sides, at one point participating in an unsuccessful trial with local side Elche CF. This would be a small obstacle for Ezzalzouli, but it didn’t affect him too much long-term. At the age of 15 he would be offered a contract to play for Hércules, a club in the nearby city of Alicante, by then-Hércules B coach Antonio Moreno Domínguez.

Abde (bottom row, centre) and his teammates celebrate a 3-1 victory. Abde scored in this match.

After some years jumping between the Hércules under-19s and B side, Abde would see his first senior experience in the 2019/20 season. On top of this, he would also gain his first taste of international football, choosing to represent his birth nation of Morocco. Firstly, his senior debut would come in December in the form of a late substitution in a 0-0 draw against UE Olot in the Segunda División B – Grupo III. Over the next few weeks, he would make a string of cameo appearances off the bench in both league and domestic cup competition. His longest appearance would actually be the last club performance of the season, managing just over half an hour in a 2-2 draw against AE Prat. Shortly after his stretch of games for Hércules, Abde was handed his first call-up to the Moroccan youth teams, representing his country in the 2020 edition of the Arab Cup u-20 in Saudi Arabia. He would appear as a sub in an emphatic 6-0 victory over Djibouti.

Ezzalzouli would have a slow start to his 2020/21 campaign, but would really catch fire towards the end of the season. Initially retaining his role as a late substitute option in the initial group stage of the Segunda División, despite netting his first senior goal for Hércules against Orihuela CF in November. He would finally earn his first start for Hércules in the final matchday of the group stages, logging a full 90 minutes in a 2-1 loss to CF La Nucía. He would be used as a late sub in the first game of the intermediate stage, but would play every single minute of Hércules’ remaining 7 games as they pushed for promotion. Abde would play his part, notching his second senior goal against Lleida Esportiu, but unfortunately it wouldn’t be enough as Hércules would miss out on promotion to the Primera División to Llagostera by just a single point.

An official interview taken shortly after Abde joined Barcelona.

The start of the 2021/22 season saw Ezzalzouli making what is one of the biggest dream moves any young footballer can make. Having never left the southeast ever since his family moved to Spain, Abde made the move up north and joined Barcelona B in a deal worth around £1.75 million. He would initially stay with the B side instead of going out on loan, playing under and impressing then-Barça B coach Sergi Barjuán. Interestingly, this would eventually lead to his breakthrough into the first team. He would make his Barça B debut in early August, making a substitute appearance in a 1-0 loss over Gimnàstic. His early performances combined with his performances from the prior season impressed then-Morocco head coach Vahid Halilhodžić, who handed Abde his first international call-up in early October. Just a few short weeks after Ezzalzouli’s first international call-up, first team head coach Ronald Koeman would be dismissed after a disastrous start to the season. With the club struggling in the Champions League group stages and sitting at 9th in the La Liga table, Sergi Barjuán would be named interim coach, and as he looked to shake up the dressing room and use the players he knew he could rely on, he handed Abde an extended run in the first-team squad.

Abde is given his Barcelona debut by caretaker manager Sergi Barjuán.

Abde would make his debut for the Barcelona senior side in Barjuán’s first game in charge, making a late appearance in a 1-1 draw with Deportivo Alavés. Interestingly, whilst he had spent his entire career on the left wing, Abde was initially used as a right winger in his first La Liga appearances. Abde would maintain his place in the first-team squad following the appointment of club legend Xavi as permanent manager, and after an extended period with the first team throughout November, Ezzalzouli would be handed his first La Liga start at the end of the month, playing just over an hour in a 3-1 away win over Villarreal. He would go on to start the following 3 games on his more familiar left wing, and would even score his first goal, putting his side 2-1 up with a volley on the edge of the 6-yard box in an eventual draw with CA Osasuna. Sadly, Abde’s stint with the first team would end in late January, returning to Barcelona B for the remainder of the season after appearing in La Liga, Supercopa and Copa del Rey matches. Clearly Ezzalzouli was unfazed by the change as he hit the ground running back in the Primera Federación, notching 1 goal and 4 assists in his first 5 games back. His season would end on a high note with back-to-back goals in the final 2 matches of the season. In total, Abde hit a tally of 3 goals and 7 assists for Barcelona B, with all but 1 of those goal contributions coming in the second half of the season after his stint with the first team.

Abde makes an impressive assist as he helps his team to a 2-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano.

Barcelona would spend heavily on their attack in the summer of 2022, and their big spending would see Leeds United and Brazilian international winger Raphinha join the club for just under £52 million. This would greatly diminish Ezzalzouli’s chance of first team football, despite him clearly being ready for regular La Liga action. This would all lead to Abde signing a contract extension and going out on loan. He would sign a deal to stay with Barcelona until 2026, with the mandatory buyout clause being set at £175 million. He would then join La Liga side CA Osasuna, the club he scored his first ever Barcelona goal against, on a season-long loan. Barça still had long-term plans with Abde, so there was no future fee inserted into the loan move. He would make an immediate impact for his new club despite only playing 8 minutes on his debut, providing a sensational 90th-minute assist for the deciding goal of a 2-1 win over Rayo Vallecano. Receiving a throw-in far out on the left wing, Abde would run through traffic before beating 2 men with his dribbling, before squaring the ball across the Vallecano box to Rubén García for the winner. He would make 2 more substitute appearances for Osasuna before making his senior international debut at the end of August, making 2 cameo appearances off the bench for Morocco in their friendlies against Chile and Paraguay as they prepared for the upcoming World Cup. On his return to club football Abde would be given a larger role for Osasuna, starting 3 of their 5 games and providing another assist before the start of the 2022 World Cup. Abde would play a small role in Morocco’s incredible run, making 3 substitute appearances as they achieved a record-breaking 4th place finish in the tournament. Abde would continue to impress on his return to Osasuna, being a constant threat with the ball at his feet. He would start 5 of his next 8 league appearances and most notably scoring the winning goal off the bench in a 3-2 win over Sevilla. He would also prove to be an important contributor to Osasuna’s unlikely run in the Copa del Ray, scoring the deciding goal in extra time of their 2-1 quarter-final tie against Sevilla and also notching the only goal in the semi-final first leg tie against Athletic Club. Abde seems to be on the cusp of a rare run of form, and whilst his end product has never been poor he is finally putting things together to become a constant attacking threat. Hopefully he will be able to continue his recent goalscoring exploits as Osasuna aim to finish in the top half of La Liga and achieve what would be a historic first Copa del Ray for the Pamplona club.

Notable dates in Abde Ezzalzouli’s career:

2008 – Joins his first youth side in Spain
2016 – Joins the Hércules CF youth academy
21/11/2019 – Signs a 3-year deal with Hércules CF
01/12/2019 – Makes his Hércules CF debut
20/02/2020 – Makes his Morocco under-20s debut
22/11/2020 – Scores his first ever senior goal for Hércules CF
31/08/2021 – Joins Barcelona on a 3-year contract
05/09/2021 – Makes his Barcelona B debut
30/10/2021 – Makes his Barcelona debut
12/12/2021 – Scores his first goal for Barcelona
26/02/2022 – Scores his first goal for Barcelona B
01/09/2022 – Signs a 4-year contract extension with Barcelona and joins CA Osasuna on a season-long loan
04/09/2022 – Makes his CA Osasuna debut and assists a goal
23/09/2022 – Makes his senior debut for Morocco
25/01/2023 – Scores his first goal for CA Osasuna

Signature playstyle:

For this segment of the report, I will be analysing Abde’s performances for CA Osasuna versus Real Madrid (18.02.2023) and Sevilla (26.02.2023) in La Liga and against Athletic Club (01.03.2023) in the Copa del Ray.

Quick feet and dribbling

Abde receives a heavy long pass forward from the defence, which means his initial first touch jumps up at him. Aware of the Athletic Club midfielder pressing from behind, he nods the ball back down before taking a small touch to the side to avoid a different Athletic Club midfielder.

Whilst Abde is most effective when keeping the ball closer to him, he can also implement heavy touches effectively. Receiving the ball on the halfway line, he pushes the ball centrally with his first touch before taking 2-3 more touches to get himself in a position to shoot. Unfortunately in this instance his final product isn’t great as his long shot bounces across the 6 yard box and out of play for a goal kick.

Abde primarily uses his quick feet to get out of tight spaces. Here, he receives the ball on the left flank before avoiding the pressure of an Athletic Club player before switching play to the right flank with a lateral cross-field pass to the right back.

Abde is an intelligent dribbler, capable of reading a defender and using quick touches and body feints to create space. With one defender ahead of him watching his feet and the ball, Abde takes a small touch with the inside of his right foot before feinting to the left and taking a heavier touch with the outside of his foot. Unfortunately his touch is slightly too heavy as another defender is able to quickly rush across and contest his eventual shot attempt.

He does well in traffic and when challenged by multiple defenders, but Abde outright bullies wide players when they become isolated. With the ball at his feet, he avoids the initial challenge of a defender, sending him running out of his way. Exploiting the defender’s balance and the direction he is running, he chooses to double back on himself, running back towards the touchline instead of continuing his run centrally like most players would. By doing this, Abde manages to get ahead of the defender easily. Eventually another defender has to drift across and give awaya free kick in the final third.

Abde is extremely effective at getting out of tight spaces and winning free kicks for his side, both of which are included in this phase of play. He receives the ball and immediately avoids a challenge from behind. He avoids two more defenders nearby and plays a quick one-two with his teammate. Once he receives the ball again he is fouled by another player, the 4th player totry and fail to challenge him in 6 seconds.

Abde is a very good dribbler, and what makes him even more dangerous is that he is very aware of that. With the ball at his feet out wide with two Real Madrid defenders closing in on him, he stands on top of the ball, practically inviting Éder Militão or Nacho Fernández to come and take it. When Éder bites he quickly drags the ball away and passes to a teammate, but Éder fouls him and a free kick is awarded.

Abde’s change of pace is phenomenal, either when speeding up or slowing down. He collects the ball just inside his own half and instead of trying to out-pace his man, he slows play down as much as he can, almost reaching walking pace before knocking the ball past him and running by him. This forces another Real Madrid player to drift out wide to shut down the attacking threat, so Abde passes back to a midfield player arriving in the final third of the pitch.

Here, Abde has the ball out wide in position to cross. He works hard to shake off two Real Madrid defenders, faking crosses to force them out of position. Eventually he finds space to cross, but the ball strikes the tucked arm of Dani Carvajal and the chance comes to nothing.

Simply put, Abde Ezzalzouli is already one of the most sensational on-ball players in Europe. He is incredibly technically refined for his age, and whilst he isn’t the finished product yet he will do well to improve on his dribbling ability. He has all of the traits that make wide players so dangerous on the ball. Agilitybalance, two-footedness, awareness and creativity all play a very big role in what makes Abde a pure joy to watch. He has shown flashes of his potential ability as a goalscorer in recent weeks, and if he can put it all together, Abde will surely be one of the most effective wingers in La Liga in the second half of the season.

Scoring from deep positions

The Osasuna forward makes a great headed assist here, but this goal is all down to Abde’s quick reaction and attacking mindset. Whilst most of the players around him are watching the ball as two players prepare to contest the ball aerially, Abde is already running in behind to latch onto the loose ball. His initial reaction pays off, as when his teammate heads to ball on he is in acres of free space. He makes easy work of the finish, coolly slotting the ball deep into the opposite corner of the net.

Again, Abde’s seemingly constant attacking mindset gives him the upper hand and directly leads to a goal. He is the first player to respond to a change in possession and is already in the middle of a forward run by the time his teammate has secured the high ball and looked up. His opposite man does well to stay with him but is unable to tackle him, and he hits a well-placed shot deep into the opposite corner of the goal.

Abde has a good eye for goal, and he also has the ability to carry the ball from deep areas into the box and score with a shot across goal. He is very strong with either foot, allowing him to score from either side and giving him the option to cut inside or stay in the wider areas of the boxHe is also fairly accurate, especially with his low shots, often finding the far corner with ease and placing the ball where most keepers won’t reach it.

What’s next?:

“He is a special player. For us it’s a luxury to have him on loan, because we can’t have these players in any other way. We have to take advantage of him, because he’s different in every way, he’s a very affectionate guy, everyone loves him a lot. There are days when it doesn’t go for him at all, and he drives you crazy, but he’s also going to win you games, so what we do is not limit him, but rather enhance his virtues, because you can’t take away the freedom of these players.”

Osasuna coach Jagoba Arrasate on how he manages Abde in order to get the best from him.

I actually struggled at times when clipping moments from Abde’s performances to use for the previous section. Not because he is a bad player and not because he isn’t very involved in games, but simply because I was enjoying watching him too much. When a player plays like Abde does it is easy to get lost in the moment, and watching over his touches over the course of a match gave me a very big appreciation for just how amazing he is with the ball at his feet. Morocco have a great track record of producing players who play with flair. Players such as Mustapha Hadji, Adel Taarabt and Hakim Ziyech were/are all attacking players with the ability to produce spectacular moments of brilliance in the blink of an eye. Abde is undoubtedly next in line to join the list of cult heroes, club icons and star players to have come from the country. (On an unrelated note, also look out for fellow Barca prospect Ilias Akhomach, a player who represents Spain as a youth international currently but could still choose to represent Morocco and potentially join this list one day). In terms of domestic football, while he did sign a long-term deal with the club last summer, I am slightly worried for Abde’s future in Catalunya. This isn’t a reflection of him though, as by no means does he lack the quality or potential to be a good squad player for Barcelona. However, a string of mishaps and terrible decisions made by the club’s board has lead Barça towards the brink of financial disaster, and with the club already missing out on potential tournament bonuses from the Europa League and a looming scandal over alleged payments made to referees, things will only get worse from here. Abde is a very promising young player who would garner plenty of interest in the transfer market, so I could easily see him becoming a player that Barça chooses to sell on for a quick profit. There have been some rumours of interest from Premier League sides such as Nottingham Forest, Wolves and even Chelsea, who are naturally linked with any half-decent young winger in the world now after Todd Boehly’s wild spending spree this season. Whilst I wouldn’t consider the latter to be a realistic move, I could definitely see Abde having a great impact in the current Wolves side. Wolves have had a huge problem with goal-scoring despite having a talented squad, and even though I do consider new hire Julen Lopetegui to be a very good coach, he isn’t a miracle worker. Wolves desperately need to sign some top quality attackers, and whilst a Centre Forward would be the priority, having a winger as technically gifted as Abde would make things much easier. If he has to leave Barça this summer, I believe Abde would be able to hit the ground running at Wolves and become a fan favourite in the West Midlands very quickly.

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