One of the prevailing wisdoms of the transfer market is to never sign a player based on their World Cup form – but Premier League clubs have probably dropped a bollock by not snapping up Azzedine Ounahi.
Nobody apart from Ligue 1 followers and World Soccer-reading nerds knew about Ounahi before Qatar 2022, but the midfielder became one of the breakout stars of the tournament during Morocco’s historic run to the semi-finals.
Strong, intelligent and blessed with legs the same dimension as the Hubble Telescope, Ounahi impressed with his ability to evade pressure and keep possession in tight spaces, allowing the side to maintain the ball and pull down the pants of fancied European opposition.
His departure from Angers in January became inevitable, the price and destination were the only quibbles. Serie A leaders Napoli expressed a strong interest in signing the 22-year-old and, such is the modern world, Premier League middle-weights Leeds and Leicester fancied their chances too.
In the end, he made a somewhat surprising move across France, joining Marseille for a fee believed to be approximately €10million.
While l’OM are one of Ligue 1’s biggest clubs, and Marseille one of the biggest footballing hotbeds in Europe, there was a sense that Premier League clubs had missed an immense opportunity for a January bargain.
And we’d pay a penny for their thoughts now; on his Marseille debut, with his new club clinging onto a 1-0 lead, Ounahi controlled a flicked pass with all the care and delicacy of a father handling their newborn baby and set his sights on the Nantes goal.
Andrei Girotto made a futile attempt at postponing the inevitable, like a solider ducking down to dodge machine bullets on the Somme, but Ounahi sent him for an unscheduled hip replacement with a cute sleight of foot.
Having jinked his way into the penalty area, the composure shown to slot the ball past the onrushing Nantes defender indicated that the Moroccan could feasibly moonlight as a bomb disposal expert.
Not a bad way to win a game of football. Across la Manche, the sound of Premier League bristling almost drowned out the protests of striking workers.
🇲🇦🪄 Pure magic by Azzedine Ounahi… pic.twitter.com/toTsxX9vIQ
— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) February 1, 2023
In a window where Southampton outspent La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1 and the Bundesliga combined, it’s unfathomable that Ounahi was allowed to slip through English fingers.
That’s not to say Premier League clubs are entitled to first dips on every promising player that becomes available; Marseille is a huge draw for French-based players and the city is home to a large north African population. It’s clear why Ounahi was enticed by a move to the Velodrome.
And the logic of not signing players based on their Copa Mundial exploits has been firmly ignored; Chelsea have just paid £105million for Enzo Fernandez and any supporter who claims to know much about him before the tournament is a certified liar.
Meanwhile, Conor Gallagher, who essentially went to Qatar for work experience, was touted around the Premier League for £40million.
In a world that increasingly knows the price of everything, but the value of nothing, the decision not to snap up Ounahi for €10million will surely come to haunt chairmen across England.
By Michael Lee