Elko Born assesses the situation of Belgium international Zakaria Bakkali, who looks set to whittle down his contract in Eindhoven in favour of a big move elsewhere...
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- Date of birth: January 26, 1996
- Place of birth: Liege, Belgium
- Height: 5ft 4in
- Position: Winger
- Current club: PSV Eindhoven (24 apps, 4 goals)
- International: Belgium (1 cap, 0 goals)
In recent years, PSV Eindhoven’s youth academy has seen some promising youngsters break through its ranks. Memphis Depay, for example, made an impression during the World Cup in Brazil, while left-back Jetro Willems is quickly becoming one of the most promising players in the Dutch Eredivisie.
But it’s not just Netherlands internationals graduating from PSV’s finishing school. In recent years, Belgian-born wonderkid Zakaria Bakkali has been making a name for himself as well.
Intelligent, technically gifted and lethal around the box, the attacking midfielder is generally regarded as one of the most talented youngsters Belgium has to offer.
Unlike the aforementioned Depay and Willems, Bakkali has not yet developed into an unmissable first-team player at PSV, but the trio are often mentioned in the same breath. Unsurprisingly, then, the 18-year-old has attracted the attention of various scouts, and consequently we might see him leave Holland sooner than expected.
Why you need to know him
Bakkali was born and raised in Liege, Belgium. Aged 12 he joined Eindhoven club PSV not too far from the Belgian border. At PSV, Bakkali stormed through the ranks and was handed his senior debut when he was only 17 last season.
In PSV’s first team, Bakkali quickly started scoring. There was his goal in PSV’s Champions League qualifying match against Zulte Waregem, for example, and his hat-trick against Eredivisie side NEC Nijmegen. As a consequence, rumours linking him to some of Europe’s top clubs quickly started doing the rounds.
Perhaps it was because of these rumours that Bakkali refused to sign the new contract PSV offered him after breaking into the first team. Now, the player and PSV are having a bit of a conflict. The young speedster will be a free agent this summer, and with various scouts tracking his development, Bakkali will have various suitors to choose from should he decide to ditch his first club.
Bakkali has often been compared to fellow Belgian Eden Hazard, and for good reason. Just like the Chelsea winger, Bakkali likes to dribble past defenders, seemingly taking tiny steps and remaining extremely quick on his feet.
Coming from an offensive midfield position, Bakkali likes to drift around the final third, cutting inside from either flank or roaming around the middle of the pitch. His ability to control the ball and spot pockets of space before defenders can helps him greatly when choosing the right positions.
Bakkali might be quick and intelligent, but at just over 5ft 4in he’s tiny. Like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale have done before him, then, it might be wise for the PSV youngster to seriously hit the weights.
"Bakkali has the same profile as Eden. When something happens to Eden, I’ll be able to make a substitution," said Marc Wilmots, Belgium manager. A stand-in for the one and only Hazard already? Not bad for an 18-year-old.
Did you know?
Bakkali was born and raised in Droixhe, a neighbourhood in the Belgian city of Liege where the likes of Christian Benteke, Nacer Chadli, Kevin Mirallas and Axel Witsel also hail from.
What happens next?
As things stand, Bakkali’s contract with PSV will run out this summer. The Dutch outfit would have hoped to cash in on the youngster this month to avoid losing out on decent money, but a groin injury that's set to rule him out until early March will thwart any early deal. Media reports suggest the 18-year-old will leave for around €300,000 in compensation this summer, but don't be surprised if PSV make one last attempt to offer him a new contract. He's refused so far, but what if the Dutch side make him an offer he can’t turn down?
Bakkali himself will have some thinking to do as well. If he waits until his contract runs out, he should be able to take his pick between several European top clubs − though the latest reports suggest Stoke and Lille are most keen on his services, he has previously been linked with Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham, not to mention several other clubs in Italy and Spain. But things haven’t always gone well for players who left their club in Holland at a young age. It might be better to hold tight for a few more years.