28th April 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
Feeling unfairly treated and hardly afforded an opportunity to stake his claim at Napoli, Omar El Kaddouri knew he needed to leave Maurizio Sarri's side in the January transfer window in order to receive some meaningful minutes.
Having joined the Partenopei from Brescia back in 2012, the Belgian born attacking midfielder never really made an impact for Napoli, largely due a lack of opportunities related to the fierce competition for places. Moreover, seeing as Sarri's largely favoured a 4-3-3 formation, this didn't help him either, for that shape doesn't allow for his preferred number 10 position to be utilised.
Although it was encouraging to see him impress during a two-year loan spell with Torino from 2013-2015, cementing a place at his foster club proved unattainable.
So after appearing to agree a transfer to Turkish outfit Trabzonspor, he then did a stunning u-turn and instead opted to remain in Serie A, joining Empoli. "It was my mistake," he concluded on the Trabzonspor debacle.
"I had signed a pre-contract agreement when I was in the Africa Cup of Nations with Morocco, but it was just a piece of paper that only I had and it has no value."
Upon speaking of his move to the Tuscan side, while it was clear he held no hard feelings towards the Little Donkeys, he did, however, give an insight into his frustration at his lack of on-field action. "Obviously not playing for a football player is a very difficult situation. In Naples, I leave an amazing group, I wish the best to all. I thank the fans for the affection shown to me.
He then went onto add how disappointed he was at Sarri's decision to omit him from Napoli's Champions League squad this season, which quite possibly was the beginning of the end for his Napoli career.
"My relationship with Sarri was always good, although maybe a little less so this year. I think I deserved more space and he could have done more than putting me on the bench. But instead I didn't start a league game in a year and a half and it seems very little to me," he lamented.
"The thing that disappointed me the most was not to be included on the Champions League list. I really wanted it because last year I made a contribution to getting us there."
Giving assurances that he'd be deployed in his desired number 10 position and now feeling appreciated and wanted, El Kaddouri's form has been encouraging since arriving at the Azzurri. The Moroccan international has steadily gone about recapturing his previously lost confidence, as he's now showing the quality that led him to become such a bright talent when Napoli first acquired him.
In the last month, however, his performance levels have been particularly outstanding. To get the ball rolling, he scored vs former team Napoli, then put in two man of the match showings, where he bagged a goal against both Pescara and Fiorentina. The latter fixture was undoubtedly his most significant contribution, for his important strike and all around display helped Giovanni Martusciello's men defeat the highly fancied Fiorentina in the Tuscan derby.
The technically gifted El Kaddouri is unquestionably relishing his opportunities at his new home, with his mazy dribbling, evasive movement and ingenuituve passing skills seeing him inject some imagination into his team's attacks. With the departure of former star playmaker, Riccardo Saponara, to La Viola in January, it must be said that El Kaddouri's done a sterling job of filling the void thereafter.
By the numbers, his 1.8 shots per game, two key passes pg, 1.6 successfully dribbles and the fact he's fouled almost two times pg give a fine indication of his offensive impact in an Empoli team that's had their fair share of struggles this term.
El Kaddouri's strong output has certainly been crucial in Empoli's recent upturn in results, though, which has seen them begin to distance themselves from the relegation zone (they're now five points clear).
At Empoli, it's been wonderful to see El Kaddouri put his Napoli nightmare behind him and begin to start enjoying his football again. All he needed was the chance to play regularly and have a coach who was willing to play him in his preferred position.
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Omar El Kaddouri: Proving to be a great investment for Empoli
28th April 2017. By Edward Stratmann.