When former Barcelona & Netherlands superstar Philip Cocu took over the reigns at Dutch side PSV Eindhoven, he was resolute in his philosophy of developing and aggrandising the production of young talent from his club’s youth set-up.
Cocu, a former PSV player himself, first joined the club as a youth coach. So there should be no dubiety in our minds when it comes to the young manager’s proficiency at nurturing talent. Much to Cocu’s delight, the latest from PSV’s production line is a young Belgian trickster called Zakaria Bakkall.
Born in Liège, Belgium to Moroccan parents, 18-year-old Bakkali has taken the Eredivisie by storm. Starting his youth career at local sides Royal Football Club de Liège & Standard Liège, he soon crossed the border to join PSV Eindhoven.
After four years of hard work at PSV’s academy, the authorities impressed by his progress promoted him to their reserve squad called Jong PSV, who play in the Beloften Eredivisie, the top tier football league for reserve sides in the Netherlands.
After a series of impressive performances, Bakkali was called up to the senior squad for the start of 2013-14 season.
The then 17-year-old made his debut for PSV’s senior side in a Champions League qualifier against Belgian side Zulte Waregem. Dazzling everyone with his skills and tricks, he was called up again to play in the second leg of the tie. This game subsequently saw him score his first goal for the senior side.
He made his Eredivisie debut in the opening game of the 2013-14 season against ADO Den Haag. On August 10, Bakkali made his way into the history books by scoring an impeccable hat-trick in PSV’s 5–0 defeat of NEC Nijmegen. He became the youngest player in Dutch top flight history to do so.
Bakkali has represented Belgium in various age groups and has scored a lot of goals in the process. He holds dual citizenship for both Morocco and Belgium, but he chose the latter to represent in the international stage.
Belgium national team coach Marc Wilmots handed him his debut in the Red Devils’ 1-1 draw against Wales in Brussels in October, 2013. Bakkali along with Manchester United’s Adnan Januzaj, are considered to be the future of Belgian football.
Strengths and weaknesses
Bakkali, who mainly plays like a modern day attacking midfielder, can play anywhere up front as long as it gives him the scope of running at defenders and helping him score. Because of his direct approach he has often drawn comparisons to his compatriot and Chelsea’s star man, Eden Hazard.
Bakkali’s defensive attributes are non-existent. He’s poor in the air because of his diminutive structure. In short he also needs to be more of a team player. His selfish and hedonistic demeanour has produced a few groans from the fans.
Another glitch in his game that he should work on is his durability on the pitch. Despite featuring heavily over the season, he has only managed one game where he has lasted the full 90 minutes.
According to several media reports, Bakkali has rejected PSV’s approach to tie him down to a new contract. His current deal expires at the end of the 2014-15 season and Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf believe that there has been a verbal agreement with Atletico Madrid for the sale of the youngster in January.
“We have an agreement with Atletico Madrid about Zakaria Bakkali, but this only counts when the player also reaches an agreement with that club,” PSV director Marcel Brands told Fox Sports earlier in July of this year.
“I understand that he’s not represented by his agent anymore and is doing business with a lawyer now.
“We made him an offer, but he refused. He gets the time to think about his future and until then, he’s training in our second squad.
“He started very well with us, but then had a setback. He made some wrong decisions, but I hope he makes the right one now.”
Nevertheless, this young boy has immense talent in him to become a true great in the game. Be it Atletico or Liverpool or United, the 18-year-old will make himself known to an even wider audience soon enough.