“This one is to take home” said Youssef El Arabi after Granada’s win over Malaga. It was a ruthless second half hat-trick, taking advantage of defensive errors and some creative player from his strike partner Yacine Brahami, who set up 2 of the goals, to make it 3 wins out of 4 for El Grana.
He would not only be taking home the match ball however, but the plaudits from everybody taking notice of the 26 year old striker who moved on to his 6th goal of the season, alerting Premier League clubs, rumoured to be Norwich City and Stoke, to his availability.
Stoke have been here before in the days of Tony Pulis, scouting El Arabi as he led the line for Caen in Ligue 1 in 2011, where he scored 17 goals and claimed 5 assists as he helped the northern France outfit establish themselves in the top league after their preceding promotion. El Arabi also got them there too, hitting 11 goals in 34 games and making 8 assists in Ligue 2.
Born in Caen to Moroccan parents, El Arabi started out playing for local amateur side of USON Mondeville after a background in futsal. He had worked himself up to the captaincy of France’s under-21 futsal side before he was noticed by Mondeville who later sold him to Caen for a nominal fee in 2008.
El Arabi was a late bloomer, not turning professional until the age of 22 and after a slow start to life at the Stade Malherbe de Caen, he made only a handful of appearances as the club were relegated to Ligue 2. The drop in league became a catalyst for the young striker’s career, emerging from the shadow of Steve Stavandin to take the mantle of Caen’s goalscorer, finding the net enough to get them promoted and also draw attention from the Royal Federation of Moroccan Football.
After taking advice from Eric Gerets and accepting that France may have had too much talent in the way of his development, he pledged his international career, like Maroaune Chamakh before him, to the land of his parentage. “I also felt I’d have more playing chances with Morocco than in the French team, given the crop of great talents in there” he said.
With his background in futsal becoming increasingly clear in his development, he showed evidence of a composed, technically gifted, versatile footballer comfortable in an array of positions. Possessing a gifted touch and a blistering turn of pace, it made him a coveted force in Ligue 1 with Sevilla and Genoa beginning to take an interest.
“Having played futsal, I think that makes it easier for me to beat my man. It has helped me develop my technique and given me a better turn of pace”, he said at the time, going on to add, “My experience of futsal has enabled me to adapt quicker to the rigours of Ligue 1 whilst keeping my touch in front of goal.” His quality became too much for Genoa to ignore and they seemed set to get their man for 6.5 million Euros in the summer of 2011.
El Arabi however rejected bids from Spain and Italy in favour of a move to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia, a transfer L’Equipe said was motivated by money, calling it a “shocking move for £6m and more cash than he could dream”. Though money alone was not enough to keep the 24 year old there as his time in the east was short-lived, lasting just a year with the Blue Waves but again he was prolific, hitting 16 goals in 27 games.
The following summer, having established himself in Morocco’s national side, he moved back to Europe with Granada on a four year deal for a fee of 4.5 million Euros.
After his first year in Spain, in which he scored 8 goals as Granada finished in 15th place, El Arabi is now firing for Lucas Alcarez with his side sitting tenth in the Primera after 14 games. Though he has only struck in 3 of his 12 appearances so far, the opener on the first day of the season against Osasuna and a double in the home win over Athletic Bilbao as well as his Malaga hat-trick, he is clearly their top scorer.
In fact, the spouting nature of his scoring is reflective of his playing style, lurking as the lone front-man in Alcaraz’s 4-2-3-1, he sees little of the ball (he’s made only 123 passes so far this season) but when he is provided with it, his finishing is unerring, as Malaga found out a fortnight ago. He has managed 14 shots on target and found the net with 6 of them, he has clearly not lost the finishing touch he showed during his proliferate time in France.
Despite Granada’s current respectable league position, the weekend’s 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona will have reiterated the scarcity of resources that will probably see them keep glimpsing over their shoulders at the threat of relegation. They are, after all, a club that spent just £4 million in the summer and have been forced to swell a 16 man squad with 9 loan signings.
If the form drops and Granada do fall away, they always have El Arabi, the quiet, predatory Moroccan, waiting silently to make his unforgiving mark.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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