The Enigma That is Nabil Fekir

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Nabil Fekir
SEVILLE, SPAIN - JUNE 25: Nabil Fekir of Real Betis in action during the Liga match between Real Betis Balompie and RCD Espanyol at Estadio Benito Villamarin on June 25, 2020 in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

Spanish side Real Betis captured arguably one of the bargain transfer deals of last summer when they signed the talented French and Algerian attacker Nabil Fekir from Lyon.

The Enigma: Nabil Fekir

Fekir to La Liga

The attacking midfielder, soon to be 27 this July, penned a four-year deal with Los Verdiblancos. It was an eye-catching deal worth just £17.7 million, with an extra £8.9 million in various performance-related instalments. It represented a notable coup for the Andalusians.

Fekir was a World Cup winner with France just two years ago – the biggest feather in his cap. In addition, he has a wealth of weaponry in his armoury in terms of pure footballing skill. He’s a gifted dead-ball specialist with an eye for the spectacular (see his effort against Paris Saint-Germain for an exhibition in outstanding free-kick delivery).

A Box of Tricks

In Lyon’s third game of the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season, he would brilliantly score from the halfway line against Bordeaux. He is a player who brings an inventive style of play with his trickery and elusiveness being his forte. He is capable of wriggling out of small spaces while still in total possession of the ball thanks to his intelligent awareness. Fekir plays with verticality and likes to carry the ball from deep and maraud forward into the opposition box with his gift of a left wand.

The Versatile Fekir

Fekir is a classy and cool finisher in one-on-one situations with the goalkeeper. He also has a great knack of key assists with his creative defence-splitting passes. His dynamism with his tremendous ability to dribble means he is a hit with supporters. In addition, he is able to conjure up an assist or goal from nothing. He is also a very versatile player – able to play in any of the attacking positions. The Frenchman suits any position on the pitch such as left-wing, right-wing or attacking midfield, where he excels the most. He can also play as a secondary striker and has experienced playing in the out-and-out striker’s role.

Fekir Almost Anfield Bound

Two years ago, Nabil Fekir almost become a Liverpool player. The deal was so far in to the extent that the player posed with the club’s shirt at a photo shoot. Fekir also conducted an interview with Liverpool’s in-house television channel. This all occurred before the deal fell through, all due to Liverpool’s intention to renegotiate their original deal with Lyon of £53 million. This was done after they found issues with a previous knee injury of his, despite the player passing all the requisite medical examinations.

The Lion of Lyon

The player is born and bred in Lyon and was a product of their academy since the age of 12. He played for six successful seasons at the Ligue 1 outfit. He was the captain for the last two seasons, bringing leadership as well as trickery. Fekir was part of their Champions League campaign last season – scoring with aplomb against Manchester City. Indeed, Fekir has European experience with 30 appearances in both the Champions League and Europa League. He has scored ten goals, with seven assists to date.

In his time with the team known as The Kids, he appeared in 145 league matches, scoring 54 goals, an impressive ratio from the French marksman. Last season, he scored nine goals in 29 league appearances. However, his best season to date was the previous year – plundering 18 goals in just 29 games for his second double-figure haul of league goals of his career.

During his time in France, he earned widespread recognition and named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year for the 2014/15 season. He twice secured a place in the prestigious Ligue 1 Team of the Year, awarded in both the 2014/15 and 2017/18 seasons.

The Sleeping Giant of Real Betis

There were doubts in Fekir’s ambition to swap a Champions League club with a team not in European action this season, but bear in mind that Real Betis are a big club in their own right. They have the fourth largest stadium in La Liga with their Benito Villamarín a vast 60,721 capacity. Also, Real Betis possess one of the most passionate support bases in the country. Fekir arrived at a club where football goes beyond football, where football is a pure and passionate religion and emotive feeling, and their players are treated like royalty.

The deal for Fekir was also allied to the fact his younger brother, 22-year-old winger Yassin Fekir, joined the club too. Soon after, he was loaned out to third-tier Guijuelo, a club based in Salamanca in the north of Spain.

On paper, the Fekir transfer represented a fantastic bit of business for Betis. They arguably found a ready-made replacement for the outgoing Giovani Lo Celso to Tottenham Hotspur. However, the signing of the talented Frenchman should have softened the blow.

A lot of fan fair and excitement brought Nabil Fekir to Real Betis. His arrival was seen as him becoming the new jewel of the Betis crown.

The Fekir Verdict

Yet, it has been a frustrating campaign for the French international. He has managed only seven goals and seven assists in 27 appearances. They’re good statistics on paper but the attacker has flattered to deceive.

He made a flying start on his debut by scoring a terrific goal against Barcelona. What a way to cap off your debut; scoring in the Camp Nou. The next game he scored again against Leganes and the Frenchman was performing as expected.

But since then, his form has tailed off alarmingly. He has shown a distinct lack of discipline in many games both tactically and personally – he was sent off against Barcelona this past February.

Investigating His Season

There are several factors for his underperformance. Firstly, his club, Real Betis, have had a very poor season. The Andalusians are currently languishing in 13th place and are closer to the relegation places than their target of Europe.

In terms of Fekir, his best moments have come with a moment of individual brilliance rather than part of an impressive team move. For all his skills, he hasn’t taken the mantle of grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck. Nor has he demonstrated the leadership he has shown in his Lyon days. In many matches, he has been absent and the game has simply passed him by.

Another key factor has been that far too many times Fekir has been positioning himself too deep. He hasn’t put himself in dangerous enough positions on the edge of the box. His marauding runs are nice on the eye but he hasn’t put himself enough in those key areas to hurt the opposition. He has looked isolated and therefore reliant on his individuals moments. It is clear he hasn’t integrated into the team’s pattern of play.

It is not all his fault as his teammates haven’t got the best out of him. Betis have shown themselves to be a collection of individuals with a lack of structure, organisation and cohesion. From a tactical standpoint, there has been a lack of clinical vertical passes through to him. The possession has been pedestrian and players have ambled along with more horizontal passes, which haven’t penetrated the rival.

The Future of Fekir

As the season comes to a close, it is clear the Nabil Fekir experiment hasn’t worked so far. It remains to be seen whether the maverick signing will remain an enigma and a luxury to some extent or he will adapt to Spanish football and fully flourish on the La Liga stage.

 

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