Everyone knows that Fiorentina paid €20 million for Sofyan Amrabat in January and that he’ll be joining from Hellas Verona in the summer. Everyone knows that he’s a midfield general with a mixed history at Feyenoord and Club Brugge who’s blossomed in Italy. Everyone knows that he’s a Morocco international. But we honestly don’t know that much more about him.
Fortunately, one fo the joys of being a Viola fan is that the club has a gemelaggio with Hellas, so we got in touch with the brilliant Richard Hough (follow him on Twitter), who’s a Hellas season ticket holder and editor of the fantastic fanzine The Crazy Faithful (as well as the wonderful, not-soccer-centric Notes From Verona for anyone who’s thinking of visiting the city). He was kind enough to chat with us about Amrabat and fill us in on what to expect from one of Serie A’s breakout performers.
Viola Nation: Amrabat seems like a bustling presence in midfield. What’s his best quality? To whom would you compare him stylistically?
Richard Hough: Bustling doesn’t even come close to be honest! Bristling, dynamic, high-octane. But it’s not just his physicality that is so impressive. Technically he’s phenomenal too. Creative and intelligent, he reads the game incredibly well, sweeping things up in midfield before launching the next attack with an outrageous change of pace or direction. He rarely loses a challenge and hardly ever gives the ball away. More than any other player, he epitomizes Verona under Juric this season.
In terms of comparisons, a turbo-charged Gattuso comes to mind! He’s the kind of player fans love because he covers so much ground and plays with so much determination, skill and confidence.
VN: He hasn’t exactly been a factor on the scoresheet this year. Is that more of a feature than a bug, or has he just been unlucky?
RH: Yes, this is the one obvious deficiency in his game. He’s been such a central figure for Verona this season (both offensive and defensive), that it’s amazing that he hasn’t scored yet. In fact, with just one assist, you may well question his overall contribution. But those stats only paint a partial picture. If you take a step back, you will find a crucial Amrabat contribution in the buildup to many of our goals this season.
VN: From what we’ve gleaned, his time in the Netherlands and Belgium was pretty underwhelming. What’s clicked for him in Italy this year?
RH: It’s fair to say that he’s been a surprise package since arriving in the summer. There were some clues as to his quality (his elder brother has 64 caps for Morocco and he made his professional debut for Utrecht aged just 18), but, as you say, nothing particularly remarkable about his time in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Remember though that he’s only 23 and he’s already gained important experience (including in the Champions League with Feyenoord and Brugges). But for sure, something at Verona has just clicked for him.
As players, Amrabat and Juric have similar characteristics. Perhaps having someone on the same wavelength has helped him develop as a player? He also plays alongside the massively experienced Miguel Veloso and they have formed a formidable midfield partnership. As with so many others at Verona this season, Amrabat just seems to have found a place where he can express himself and play the best football of his life.
VN: What’s the feeling around the Mastini about his impending departure? €20 million is a lot of money; is the general feeling that the deal is in Hellas Verona’s favor, or are folks upset to lose him?
RH: Of course, there is disappointment that he is leaving, but fans are also pragmatic and understand the economic realities of the situation. With the sale of Rhamani to Napoli and a big money move for Kumbulla likely in the summer, the President will be well pleased with the return on his modest investments last summer! Hopefully a significant part of that income will be reinvested in the squad and we’ll be able to unearth some more hidden gems in the summer.
We also take some comfort from the fact that he’s gone to our friends in Tuscany and not to our rivals in Napoli! If he’s as influential for Fiorentina as he has been for Verona this season, then €20 million will seem like a very shrewd investment.
VN: With a pretty good holding midfielder in Erick Pulgar, an attacking dynamo in Gaetano Castrovilli, and a solid box-to-box presence in Alfred Duncan, whose place would you say is most under threat when Amrabat heads to Florence in June?
RH: That’s an interesting question, but I’m probably not best placed to comment on the qualities of Fiorentina players.
As far as Amrabat is concerned, I don’t see him as traditional deep sitting holding midfielder – he’s much more expansive than that, but with his poor goal scoring record, he’s clearly no ten. For me, he’s the kind of box-to-box midfielder that every teams wants, and I’ve was Alfred Duncan I’d be looking to consolidate my position before Amra arrives in the summer!
Big thank you again to Richard, who’s an absolute pleasure to work with. We’re hoping to keep in touch with him more going forward, as he’s about as knowledgeable and talented a correspondent on all matters Hellas as you’re likely to find anywhere.