Usually when Liverpool signs a player, I've at least a passing familiarity with them. Sometimes, it's someone I've watched often – like Joe Allen, Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, etc. You know, players bought from other Premiership sides. Less often, it's someone I've seen on a few occasions and can supplement with statistics and those damned YouTube videos, like Fabio Borini. And if I haven't seen them very often, the signing's been rumored for long enough that I can do a modicum of research; you know, like if the Gaston Ramirez rumors had any semblance of truth.
I had never heard of Oussama Assaidi until today. Not while he was playing with Heerenveen, as I rarely if every catch an Eredivisie match, and not linked with Liverpool, as none of the gossip sites, forums, or Twitter ITKs breathed a word of his name in the last couple of months. While it amuses me very, very much when that happens, it doesn't help my ability to analyze signings.
So I'm kind of at a loss as to how to approach this.
• Cursory biographical details: 24 years old (his birthday was yesterday), 22 caps for Morocco, 20 league goals in 68 appearances for Heerenveen, with 10 of those goals (and seven assists) coming last season.
• The YouTube videos are a good place to start. Of course, there's the much-needed caution that they don't make highlights of a player's bad decisions and bad matches, but it's a decent starting point. Here's the one linked on the official site when announcing the transfer. Here's another comprehensive compilation. Here's 11 minutes of highlights from Heerenveen 6-2 Twente, where Assaidi scored three and assisted three. Here's an audacious goal that didn't count, with Assaidi marginally offside, that's just fun to watch over and over and over.
• As usual, Twitter is a fairly big help. Most informed writers, such as Andy Brassell, Leander Schaerlaeckens, and Mohamed Moallim, among others, have described him as a speedy, versatile winger who's an excellent dribbler. Most say he's better on the left than right, more willing to take players on, run with the ball, and cut inside from that flank, more comfortable crossing from the right when he's on his stronger foot. Dutch analyst 11tegen11 linked to an 18-month-old match review of the aforementioned 6-2 demolition of defending league champions Twente where Assaidi scored three and created the other three. I especially liked this quote, linked by Andy Brassell, from Moroccan manager Eric Gerets to current QPR player Adel Taarabt: "Watch (Assaidi) & you'll figure why you're not in the team." Liverpool could certainly do with a better, harder-working version of the sometimes-gifted, often infuriatingly erratic Taarabt.
• Football-lineups.com is often one of my favorite resources; their line-ups show that Assaidi started on the left, in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation, in all 25 of his league starts for Heerenveen last season. He also came on as a sub twice, was subbed off in 13 of those 25 starts, and was chosen as football-lineups.com man of the match on four occasions, all in the first two months of the season.
So what does the transfer suggest for Liverpool?
First, it's finally one of those vaunted MONEYBALL!!!! type transfers we've heard so much about. A 24-year-old player, unknown by the masses, in the last year of his contract for all of a reported £3m. If he's a success, fantastic. If not, little harm done.
That he's primarily an inverted winger who scores and assists when cutting inside fits with how both Borini and Downing have played in the last two matches, and suggests he'll primarily be Borini's back-up on the left. What this means for Raheem Sterling is less certain, but I highly doubt it'll involve a loan for Sideshow Raheem.
I also doubt this will be Liverpool's only wide forward signing. Liverpool lost three of these kind of players over the summer – Kuyt, Maxi, and Bellamy – and have now replaced two with Borini and Assaidi. That Assaidi plays for Morocco, and will most likely miss most of January and February at the Africa Cup of Nations reinforces this notion. Morocco have to beat Mozambique over two legs during the September and October international matches, but they should be heavily favored to do so. This strengthens Liverpool's depth but doesn't cure those issues.
Finally, no parallels with previous Eredivisie signings. For every Afonso Alves or Mateja Kezman, there's Ruud van Nistelrooy, Dirk Kuyt, or Cheick Tiote. Or Luis Suarez. The league they come from doesn't ensure success or failure. Just felt the need to get that out there. And no parallels with Nabil El Zhar because don't. Just don't.
Assaidi will need time to adapt to Liverpool and time to adapt to the Premiership. That he played in a similar formation, if not similar system, at Heerenveen is a benefit, but it will still take time. That he should be limited to spot starts and substitute appearances behind Borini, mostly used on the left but capable of playing on either side if need be – if all goes according to plan – will be of great benefit to the player and his development at Liverpool.
It's a promising signing in a need position, with low risk and high reward. That's good business, the type of business that Liverpool haven't done nearly enough, and that's cause for optimism in and of itself.
Welcome to Liverpool, Oussama.