16 August 2012

On Oussama Assaidi

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.


Ryan said...

First of all, new to the site. Love it. It is already a new daily morning read.

Based on some of BR's comments, I think you could see the Eredivisie becoming a source of transfers for him. He likes young players who have trained in a passing/pressing environment, which right now favors the Dutch and Spanish leagues.

Thanks for the info on this unknown signing. Hope he turns good, and I agree, I am interested to see how this effects Raheem.

Erich said...

Ditto what Ryan said, found this site from liverpool offside. New to it, and already really like what I've seen.

This looks like it could be a really good signing. Hard to do better for that amount of money.

Thanks for all your analysis.

Mike Georger said...

Does Rodgers speak Dutch? I seem to remember talk about him studying the Dutch game a lot when he became the lead candidate.

Either way I like the move. Seems like this is the Walcott/Tello type of player without having to splash out on those (never wanted Tello, so, yay).

Can guarantee he won't be coming on the next US tour with that name though.

drew said...

Excited to see this guy get some time, would not be at all surprised to see him thrown in at Hearts.

Ideal summer from here out: closing on Sahin, getting one more winger, and also one more interchangeable forward type. Then Adam and Cole (and Wilson?) out for whatever we can get, and at least think of getting Sterling out on loan so that perhaps he can come back in January and take up some of the time Assaidi will be missing.

Also loans for Suso, Wisdom, Ngoo, really any others of the youngsters who might have a part to play late this year or early next...

Ugh, want the window over.

Jay Wright said...

Good write-up and as you rightly say, this is one of the instances where ppl could accurately talk about moneyball (as opposed to say, arguing that Downing is a "moneyball" signing at £20m because there are stats suggest he crosses the ball every 22.6 minutes and passes forwards every 3.4 passes, or whatever bs stats were referenced at the time).

Anywhoo - I've never heard of the guy before either, but am really optimistic about this signing!

McrRed said...

Thanks Nate.
Great write-up as ever.
Is this lad a southpaw?

McrRed said...

Ah, just watched the youtube videos...he's an orthodox righty.

Love that disallowed goal clip!!!