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The Curious Case of Mbark Boussoufa

March 15, 2011

The Russian league runs at a different period compared to most European leagues. Instead of from August until May, it runs from March until November to avoid playing in the harsh cold Russian winter, although this will change in 2012. Because of that, the transfer deadline for the Russian league was last week. One transfer stuck out, it was Mbark Boussoufa moving from Anderlecht to Anzhi Makhachkala, after almost going to Terek Grozny.

In the last few years, Russian football has become a plaything for the rich Russian businessmen. Roman Abramovich started a trend when he bought Chelsea in 2003. A host of Russians started backing clubs in their own country. Spartak Moskow, Zenit St. Petersburg and Rubin Kazan all have rich beneficiaries behind them. And recently two clubs joined the frame: Terek Grozny and Anzhi Makhachkala.

Terek Grozny is owned by Ramzan Kadyrov, the president of Chechnya and a former Chechen rebel. He is now trying to make Terek Grozny a footballing force in Europe. In January 2011 he signed Ruud Gullit as coach in order to push the club into Europe. Anzhi Makhachkala was recently purchased by businessman Suleyman Kerimov, listed at number 136 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Billionaires. He too is trying to make this tiny club from Dagestan into a European force by throwing money at it. The first order was the signing of Roberto Carlos (yes that one) with an annual salary of roughly €7 million.

Mbark Boussoufa is a talented Dutch-Morrocan attacking midfielder, who grew up in Amsterdam. He joined the Ajax youth academy at a young age and went through the ranks, together with the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong, John Heitinga and Hedwiges Maduro. At the age of 17, he got into problems with Danny Blind, who was the head of the youth academy at the time. Danny Blind felt that he had an attitude problem and wanted to demote him to the A2 team for a couple of months (he was in the A1 team at the time), while his team-mates were in A1, Jong Ajax and even training with the senior squad. This led to Boussoufa signing for Chelsea after being scouted at a youth tournament. Recently Johan Cruijff said in Belgian paper Le Soir that he knows of Boussoufa, “He was developed by us [Ajax]. That he left is because Ajax failed at the time.” Although to be honest, it is not really sure how well he would have been had he stayed at Ajax as competition for his place included Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and Steven Pienaar.

At Chelsea he didn’t really break through. When he was very close to the first team, Roman Abramovich came and bought several players. He moved to AA Gent in Belgium were he stood out and received both the Young Belgian Player of the Year Award and Belgian Player of the Year Award in 2006. He then switched to Anderlecht, where he has been their key player since, winning the Belgian Player of the Year Award two more times. Lots of teams were interested in him, but he never seemed to be wanting to go away, citing that he was happy at Anderlecht. Then suddenly he moved to Russia.

At 26 years of age, Boussoufa is in his prime. Belgium may be a small league, but is has proved a good stepping stone for certain footballers, like Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini, Bryan Ruiz, and Mido to name a few. Boussoufa could have gone to a bigger league and proved how good he is. Yet he chooses to go to Russia and not even one of the big teams. Sure he can make lots and lots of money at Anzhi Makhachkala. One of the reasons the transfer to Terek Grozny did not materialise was due to his demands, according to Chajdar Alchanov, Terek Grozny’s vice president: “There are players at the club who earn €15,000 and suddenly another one earns €500,000. That is not normal. He also wanted four bodyguards, who would take him to training in a Mercedes, a house, and security. Against who should we protect him anyway?”. But what is the challenge in Dagestan? He won’t be playing Champions League, while he would have at Anderlecht. Probably not even Europe League.

I have a fear that we won’t be hearing from Boussoufa much again. He chose the money (fair enough) and will therefore spend his days in Dagestan and not in the Champions League. He could have chosen for a better league, even if it was with one of the smaller teams in those leagues. Or even staying at Anderlecht, which isn’t that bad. Players make bad moves all the time. This one just feels like a really really really bad move. Maybe Danny Blind was right 10 years ago…


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