The “Hooghoudwestrijd” is a ball control contest organised by Ajax for their budding young stars. On 11th December, 1998, one hour before an Eredivisie clash between the Dutch giants and Heerenveen was due to kick off, the crowd at the Amsterdam ArenA watched in amazement at the performance of a 13-year-old, who kept the ball up 900 times, not once letting it hit the ground. The youngster, of course, won the contest, and left the pitch to rapturous applause. That was the day Moubarak “Mbark” Boussoufa began his trek towards stardom.
12 years on, Boussoufa stands on the brink of another breakthrough, this time to the very top level of the game. After six seasons in the Belgian top flight (the first two with Gent, the rest with Anderlecht), the Dutch-Moroccan midfielder has made a name for himself as the undisputed ‘king of assists’, with 74 recorded at the time of writing. Almost everyone agrees; Boussoufa must face a bigger test.
Belgium has been good to Boussoufa, and showered him with honours and trophies. Two league titles have arrived at Anderlecht, the Belgian Footballer of the Year award (2005/06) has been won, along with Belgium’s Best Young Player (in 2006 and 2009), the Ebony Shoe (an award handed out annually to the best player with African roots), and in February of this year Boussoufa’s winning goal in the dying seconds of a meeting with title rivals Club Brugge was voted Belgium’s goal of the year – bagging it he showcased great dribbling ability and provided a vital tonic to keep Anderlecht’s foes several points off the Jupiler League lead.
But it is this season which has been Boussoufa’s best so far. With 12 goals and 14 assists, the midfielder has played a key part, along with team-mate Romelu Lukaku, the Jupiler League’s youngest top scorer ever, in Anderlecht’s march to a 30th national title. Having topped the Belgian Eerste Klasse, 12 points ahead of Club Brugge, it took the Brussels side just six matches in the 10 game long end of season playoffs – the teams involved had their points halved – to wrap up the title.
Boussoufa was born on 15th August, 1984, in Amsterdam, and began to play the game with amateur local clubs Midden-Meer and Fortius. Although the midfielder started his professional career in Ajax’s famed youth academy, he never managed a single appearance for the senior team. Little Boussoufa had talent, of that there was no doubt – he appeared alongside Wesley Sneijder, Hedwiges Maduro, Steven Pienaar and Nigel de Jong. But there was something wrong, as Boussoufa later explained. “My problem was the coach, Danny Blind”, said the midfielder. “Every time he kept me on the bench he said it was because I was no good at school. I couldn’t stand that, because those were neither technical nor tactical reasons.”
During the summer of 2001, Boussoufa headed to England, and Chelsea, where he met fellow Dutchmen Ed de Goey, Mario Melchiot and Winston Bogarde. In London the new arrival shared an apartment with Arsenal youth academy starlet Quincy Owusu Abeyie, a forward of immense potential who went on to disappoint due to a total lack of discipline – the striker now plys his trade in Qatar. Even though Boussoufa resisted many of his room-mate’s night-life adventures, sometimes his behaviour strayed into the unprofessional too. “Once I missed my daily English lesson”, he explained, “and everybody at Chelsea got so angry that I thought I’d have to leave The Blues the morning after.”
Just as with Ajax, Boussoufa never played a game for Chelsea’s first team, but nevertheless did not regret the move. “I’ve learned a lot from Chelsea’s top players”, he said at the time. “Especially Gianfranco Zola, the best I’ve ever seen.” In the summer of 2003, Roman Abramovich bought the club and began his revolution, buying players like Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Damien Duff and Joe Cole, and the writing was on the wall for the youngster. “I understood immediately that my chances of playing were close to zero”, remembered the Moroccan midfielder – Boussoufa chose to represent Morocco ahead of Holland in 2006.
The decision was soon made to set sail for Belgium, and Boussoufa ended up with Gent. At the Jules Ottenstadion the midfielder showed his true worth. Although not physically strong – debate persists as to whether he would have flourished in the English Premier League – he has great vision and outstanding dribbling and passing ability. In his first season in Belgium, Boussoufa was pipped to the Belgian Young Player Award by Anderlecht defender Vincent Kompany. However, he only had to hang on another 12 months for well deserved recognition, as he picked up the trophy after helping the Buffalos to fourth place with nine goals to his name, three of those coming in a 4-1 win over Club Brugge, and 16 assists.
In June 2006, Boussoufa signed a four-year contract with Anderlecht, costing the Paars-wit €3.5M. Four years on though, the time has come for Boussoufa to bid farewell to Brussels and the Belgian league. “Anderlecht are a strong team, also without me”, said the midfielder during their title celebrations.
Now Boussoufa, 25 years old, will try his luck in a bigger league. The Bundesliga, La Liga or even a Premier League comeback. It’s now or never for Mbark Boussoufa.
Fonte: Inside Futbol