Transfer Talk: Moroccan anchor Amrabat could set sail for Premier League
Morocco have been the surprise package of the 2022 World Cup — and their energetic enforcer Sofyan Amrabat is now a man in demand.
The Fiorentina midfielder, 26, put in dazzling displays to help the Atlas Lions pip Croatia and Belgium to top spot in Group F before producing his finest performance to date against Spain.
His tireless, all-action approach left La Roja’s leading lights drawing a blank and it is little wonder several of Europe’s top clubs are now plotting a move.
Ahead of Morocco's quarter-final against Portugal, we take a closer look at what the future holds for their No4.
Having shone as the heartbeat of Walid Regragui’s tenacious Morocco outfit this winter, Amrabat now looks tailor-made for a top club.
His path to football’s summit has not been a particularly glamorous one, though.
Born in the Netherlands, his early years were spent in the Eredivisie with Utrecht and Feyenoord before one full season in Belgium with Club Brugge saw him land a First Division crown.
He was then sent on loan to Serie A side Verona, where after half of the campaign the Italian club opted to make things permanent before immediately selling him to domestic rivals Fiorentina.
During his time in Florence, Amrabat has racked up 78 appearances across all competitions and steadily forged a reputation as one of Europe’s most effective anchoring midfielders.
At 26, Amrabat is no spring chicken but the role that he carries out is not exactly synonymous with youngsters.
Put simply, he is an old-fashioned spoiler — tasked with disrupting an opposition’s rhythm, covering the hard yards and breaking the game up in central areas.
While no academy prospect sets out with hopes of becoming this type of player, having such an option in the ranks is a dream for any elite manager.
At times, it is not pretty. During his four seasons in Italy, Amrabat has picked up 32 yellow cards and two red cards, including cautions in seven straight Serie A games this term.
What he does offer, though, is the perfect shield for any shaky backline or the savviness to man-mark an influential opponent out of the game.
At the World Cup so far, he ranks second among all central midfielders for possessions won in the defensive third (16), while he sits inside the top 10 for tackles (10), interceptions (six) and completed clearances (six).
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp has been looking to revamp his midfield for some time now and recent reports suggest Amrabat is high on his wish list.
While Klopp’s Reds teams are renowned for high-octane, attacking football with exciting forwards, his engine room has nearly always featured unheralded workhorses.
The likes of Jordan Henderson, James Milner and Fabinho have all played pivotal roles, carrying out the less glamorous side of the game with minimal fuss to let their flashier team-mates shine.
If the Merseysiders are serious in their pursuit of England starlet Jude Bellingham, having someone like Amrabat capable of covering his forward runs would be a wise ploy.
Already sat seven points adrift of the top four, it has been a surprisingly slow start to Liverpool’s Premier League campaign and new blood looks sure to arrive at Anfield before January is out.
Spurs in the mix
Liverpool's biggest challenger in the race to land Amrabat may well be top-four rivals Tottenham, with Antonio Conte also desperate to add new faces to his squad in North London.
Spurs are without a clean sheet in their last eight competitive outings and their Italian coach has been left underwhelmed with his side’s defensive work, regularly falling behind early in games.
What is more, Conte reportedly urged the club’s hierarchy to move for the Moroccan midfielder last January, with a fee even being agreed with Fiorentina before the deal collapsed.
Of course, Amrabat’s profile has since rocketed and with it so has his value — though Spurs should have no issues meeting an asking price.
With the likes of Yves Bissouma and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg capable options at the base of midfield, however, it remains unclear whether a holding midfielder is deemed a priority.
Away from the Premier League, Napoli and Atalanta have both been credited with recent interest in Amrabat — and staying in Serie A may prove to be his preferred option.
Not only has the 43-cap international adapted to the pace and structure of games in Italy but he also now knows how far he can push referees with his tough tackling, having not been dismissed so far this season.
With 18 months to run on his current deal in Tuscany, his exit feels increasingly inevitable be it in January or next summer — with his agent doing little to reassure his current employers.
Speaking to transfer guru Fabrizio Romano last week, Mohammed Sinouh said: "Of course, I get a lot of phone calls for Sofyan.
"The whole world has seen he’s the best holding midfielder of the World Cup. Sofyan is a top professional, he’s focused on the World Cup with Morocco."
Once the Atlas Lions’ campaign finishes, the scramble for Amrabat can really begin.