Manchester United midfielder, Sofyan Ambrabat, is a player who has always been tipped for success. His path there hasn’t always been linear but there is a sense that his time has finally come.
The Moroccan arrived at Old Trafford this summer, after a protracted saga, on an initial loan with an option to buy.
Arguably, despite being a known figure in European football, Amrabat only really made his name at the 2022 World Cup.
The 27-year-old captained Morocco through an impressive run that saw the Atlas Lions become the first African side to reach the World Cup semi-finals.
The story of Amrabat’s rise to the dizzying heights that are Old Trafford began many years ago. Robin Pronk, a veteran of youth development in Dutch football, has spoken to The Athletic, providing some fascinating insights into the player’s history.
In 2016, then a youth coach with FC Utrecht, Pronk became acquainted with two characters who may now prove instrumental in Man United’s short-to-long term future.
The first was a young but fast rising coaching star by the name of Erik ten Hag. The second, an outstanding youth midfielder – Sofyan Amrabat.
As he tells it, there was one game, where Amrabat, then 19 and playing for the club’s under-21 team, really stood out, catching his attention:
“We won 2-0. It was for the title and, in matches like this, the big players always stand up and make a difference. He was very important for us that day. His mentality was always to be on the big stage.”
Amrabat would eventually go on to make his professional debut under Erik ten Hag. To this day, the player remains grateful to the Dutchman, which may perhaps partly explain his “United or nothing” stance when informed about the Red Devils’ interest.
Speaking on Ten Hag’s influence on his career, he said:
“That was so important for me,”
“He made a plan for me. He asked me about my strong points and what I wanted to improve. From the first day, he was busy with me.”
According to Pronk, as the Atheltic report details, Amrabat, surprisingly, was not always the hardworking, focused professional that he is today.
“To be honest, Sofyan was not really hard working in the beginning,” he said.
At some point, the player apparently began to actively apply himself, and there are some who believe that this is down to the influence of Amrabat’s big brother, Nordin, who once played for Watford.
Rob Alflen, first team manager at Utrecht at the time is one of those. Speaking of his evolution into a consummate professional, Alflen said:
“He also had the example of his brother being a professional footballer.”
“Sofyan always felt he had to get as far, at least, as his brother. That brought its own pressure. Some people, faced with that pressure, find it too hard and can do nothing about it. Sofyan, on the other hand, has shown he can handle pressure and turn it to his advantage.”
Amrabat has always cut the profile of a player who relentlessly demands more from and for himself. As a youth player, he would hound Utrecht first team manager, Rob Alflen for opportunities.
This summer he was insistent on making the move to a big side.
The first to come knocking were Barcelona, whose pursuit was welcomed by the player. In an attempt to force a move, he missed a training session, and posted a cryptic message on his Instagram account, presumably a come-get-me plea to the Catalan giants:
“Go for it now. The future is promised to no one.”
Fortunately, from United’s perspective, that deal fell through, but the player clearly retained his desire to move on and up.
When the chance for a reunion with Erik ten Hag came, his answer was an unhesitating yes.
Now that he’s arrived at Old Trafford, he’ll have very little time to settle before facing the stern test of contributing in an inconsistent United team.
Amrabat, however, is not one to shirk from the hard challenges. While his relentless displays caught the eye in the World Cup, few would have known, as the Athletic report shares, that the combative midfielder required pain killing injections to manage excruciating back pain.
Those who have managed him in the past, including Erik ten Hag, will have known to expect such grit.
It’s still early days for the Moroccan, but United fans will hope that he settles quickly and starts to show what he’s about.