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The rise of Youcef Attal

By @Ahkisopen | 

The 61st minute has been kind to 22-year-old Algerian right-back Youcef Attal in his young career. In September, after sitting out a month with a muscle injury he suffered during his OGC Nice debut, Attal came on in place of Christophe Jallet at home against Rennes. With his team down 1-0, Attal put in an inspired performance willing his team forward with powerful attacking runs and precise forward passing, a constant attacking threat down the right wing while also keeping with his defensive responsibilities.

When Nice turned in two goals including one late to win, Attal was regarded as one of the difference makers in the match, he’d marked his presence. On Saturday, Attal made his mark in the 61st minute again in an away match against Nimes. Attal already impacted the match in the 45th minute when he baited Nimes defender Loïck Landre into a brutal tackle that resulted in a straight red for Landre. But that wasn’t all for Attal. Though Nice had a two-man advantage, they were struggling to find a goal until the 61st minute, when a floated cross came from the left side of the pitch and fell right to Attal. With no hesitation, Attal redirected the cross on a clinical volley to the left corner on the goal, broadcasting his technical skill. Nimes goalkeeper Paul Bernardoni could do nothing, and Attal had scored his first goal for Nice. The match finished 1-0, and Attal had the winner.

Attal is an Algerian born product, refreshing for fans of the Fennecs who have primarily had to depend on the choices of French-born talents. Attal first spent time in the ranks of USM Alger and later JS Kabylie but his family struggled with transporting him to the academies. At 16, a perfect fit emerged. Paradou AC, then a 3rd division team, had built up a solid reputation due to its academy, perfect for Attal considering it was a club with a boarding school. At Paradou Attal learned to be relentless in pursuit of the ball in defense, and to quickly find the right attacking option or making himself that option on the attack.

In June 2017, Attal was selected to be in the Algeria squad that would play a friendly match against Guinea. His selection was heavily questioned, at the time Paradou was in the second division, and Attal was relatively unknown. Attal’s selection continued accusations aimed at Kheireddine Zetchi, the President of the Algerian Football Association and former Chairman of Paradou, whom many believe has used the Algerian national team to bolster the image of Paradou products to attract European buyers. Regardless of Zetchi’s intentions, Attal impressed in his international debut, linking up especially well with star winger Riyad Mahrez.

That same summer, Attal joined K.V. Kortrijk in the Belgian first division where he made ten appearances. It was at Kortrijk where Atal first attracted the attention of Serge Recordier, the former head scout at Nice, who discovered the young Algerian by accident when he was scouting Nigerian striker Taiwo Awoniyi. “I saw Youcef, a revelation, he caught my eye at first sight,” Recordier remarked. “He goes up and down the pitch at full speed, dribbling in the opponent’s half.”

This past summer, Nice signed Attal from Kortrijk for €3m euros and such as Recordier remarked, Attal has been nothing short of a revelation for the French club in his nine appearances. Attal’s WhoScored average rating of 7.5 this season is 3rd among all full-backs in Europe’s top five leagues and 7th among all players in Ligue 1. His successful dribbles average of 3.8 per match is not only more than any other fullback in Europe’s top five leagues, but is fourth among all players, up there among Europe’s most talented wingers and attackers. For comparison, Lionel Messi has an average of 3.9 successful dribbles per match. Attal also shines defensively, his 2.2 interceptions per match are 3rd among fullbacks in Ligue 1. Nice may well be the perfect club for Attal as
well. Just recently has Nice played a pivotal role in the development of two successful full-backs, Ricardo Pereira of Leicester City and Dalbert of Inter Milan, both with a style similar to Attal’s.

“He has made a lot of progress, tactically and defensively. He is a very good wide player who can get forward,” Nice manager Patrick Vieira said. “He has exactly what you look for in a player.” Attal has also earned the respect of his teammates. Dante, the Eaglets captain and a Champions League winner with Bayern Munich said on the Algerian: “He plays like he is at the bled. I saw from his first training session that he had something. He has football in
his heart, he plays instinctively.”Youcef Attal is explosive and can bring much offensively,” Fellow right back Christophe Jallet said. “I consider him a very big right back in the making.” Nice and Algeria fans have a lot to be excited about in young Youcef Attal.

Nice may have their hands on one of football’s top rising talents, while Algeria fans are pleased to have finally found a reliable right back for the national team. Fans of the Fennecs hope that Attal can symbolize the potential of homegrown talent, the promise of Algerian academies, and the hope of ending the longstanding dependence on French-born talents. Attal has been called up to Algeria’s most recent squad and is expected to start at right-back when Algeria travels to Togo on Sunday, where a win would qualify Les Verts for the African Cup of Nations next summer.

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