Football is no stranger to young players being hyped up as the next big thing because of glimpses of talent, but the emergence of YouTube sensation Hachim Mastour took the idea of a ‘wonderkid’ to new levels.
Let’s set the scene. It’s the 2010s. Social media is now bigger than ever before and continues to dominate, football is evolving at a rate of knots and YouTube is quickly becoming a cornerstone in everyone’s life, particularly football enthusiasts.
Be it watching football challenges, FIFA pack openings or even compilations, the video-sharing platform was now at a level of popularity that was nigh-on incomprehensible. What was once a fun site on the internet was now taking over, and had already replaced TV for a generation of kids growing up.
What does any of that have to do with football, or specifically Hachim Mastour? Well, it was on YouTube where the teenage Moroccan sensation first started to put eyes on himself and steal headlines.
We’d all seen compilations and highlights reels before, but the emergence of this ridiculously silky teen from Europe was new ground. Nobody had heard of him, but he was very quickly becoming hot property thanks to his highlights and obscene skill going viral.
Born in Reggio Emilia, Italy to Moroccan parents, Mastour had some background of youth football, featuring in tournaments for Inter and impressing with scoring displays, but it was his YouTube virality that had announced him to the world before he was even 14.
Unable to leave local side Regianna until he had celebrated his 14th birthday, Mastour had at that point become one of football’s hottest prospects. Seriously. He couldn’t even get a provisional driving licence yet. That fact becomes more absurd when you learn that AC Milan parted with €500,000 to snap him up in 2012.
A viral sensation on the internet with his skills on display to the world, and signed for half a million Euros on the recommendation of Arrigo Sacchi, Mastour very quickly had a lot of hype to live up to.
Oh, he was also placed in adverts alongside Neymar at this point, too. No pressure, kid.
The lights were burning seriously bright, and they burned brighter when Clarence Seedorf brought him into Milan’s first-team squad for the final game of the 2013-14 campaign, sitting on the bench as the Rossoneri beat Sassuolo 2-1.
A now 15-year-old Mastour was the storyline in the following season, with the entire footballing world was watching. Gone was the ability to hide behind pumping EDM music, lens flares and 5-second clips of a quick skill. He was now in the game and had to find a way to swim. Fast.
Unfortunately, his first full season in senior football would pass him by somewhat. Mastour failed to make an impact at Milan in 2014-15, fluttering between a miserable and declining first-team and the youth academy, with the first signs of looking completely lost showing.
Nobody thought much of it, though, with him still being so young. And when a two-year loan to Malaga was announced ahead of the 2015-16 season, the wonderboy seemingly had the perfect pathway carved out. Until he didn’t.
He returned to Milan, a teenager with his tail between his legs, after one season in Spain, having made just one appearance for the La Liga side. It had become abundantly clear that first-team football had come far too soon for Mastour, but everyone involved with his meteoric rise was now in a difficult position.
You can’t exactly put a lid on his hype and seal him up for a few more years so he can nurture properly, so what do you do? Don’t ask Milan – they’re clueless, in decline and chopping and changing owners faster than Mastour chopped up defenders in those YouTube clips.
Another hopeless loan spell followed, this time to PEC Zwolle in the Eredivisie, and again ended without any real fanfare. For any 16 or 17-year-old, that would be fine. But Mastour wasn’t that – because the internet hadn’t allowed him to be.
One more miserable year in Milan would follow before the Moroccan found himself out in the cold at age 20. Released upon the expiry of his contract, he’d officially been chewed up and spat out. Viewers had long moved on from his YouTube clips, and many had forgotten about the wonderkid that once was.
For many, that was the story over. But for Mastour, it was always more than a story. More than a YouTube clip. This was his life. His dream. He tried to resurrect what was left of his career with a move to Greek side Lamia, but was again gone after a season, and couldn’t even make it work at Italian third tier side Reggina.
Nowadays, the YouTube sensation and once-capped Morocco international plies his trade in his parents’ birthplace, signing for second-division outfit Renaissance Zemamra (yeah, exactly) in the summer of 2022 after being clubless for a year.
25-year-old Mastour’s story is one that is endlessly unfortunate, but not one that was unpredictable. Too many minutes missed in his formative years, too many flashing lights and not enough care given. The point was never about whether or not he actually had the talent to make it, but about giving him suitable conditions to show that himself.