With one blistering sprint and full-blooded slide tackle, Sofyan Amrabat catapulted himself into the footballing public’s consciousness and cemented himself as the breakout star of the World Cup.
It’s fair to say the Fiorentina defensive midfielder may not have been particularly well-known to many English football fans before the Qatar competition.
But the 26-year-old enjoyed a wonderful tournament – epitomised by that juicy, viscerally thunderous tackle on a little-known France forward called Kylian Mbappe – and rocketed onto the radars of several big clubs.
Premier League heavyweights Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea have all been credited with interest, while Spanish giants Barcelona are also reportedly keen on the signature of the star – available this summer for just £30million.
Mail Sport profiles the Moroccan, who duelled with Declan Rice in a European final, that United manager Erik ten Hag is reportedly monitoring – and analyses how he might fit in at Old Trafford.
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Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat (centre) was one of the breakout stars of the 2022 Qatar World Cup
He catapulted onto the scene with a brilliant slide tackle on France’s Kylian Mbappe (right)
Manchester United are reportedly monitoring his situation amid a £30m valuation by Fiorentina – below, Mail Sport profiles Amrabat and analyses how he might fit in at Old Trafford
Impressing for Morocco
Amrabat, the younger brother of former Watford winger Nordin, probably couldn’t have hoped for a better World Cup.
He had played just 14 minutes at the 2018 tournament, but didn’t miss a single minute as the Atlas Lions became the first ever African team in the tournament’s 92-year history to reach the semi-finals.
The defensive midfielder was an ever-present, the side’s physical and emotional heartbeat: dynamic, mobile, combining icy composure with fiery passion, playmaking grace with brute force.
His performances – which, somehow, didn’t earn him a place in FIFA’s official Team of the Tournament (Casemiro? Who was eliminated in the quarter-finals? Really?) – nonetheless saw him named in ‘Dream XIs’ the world over.
They can’t just be reduced to one moment, though if they could, it would be his tackle on Mbappe. With Walid Regragui and Co 1-0 down against France in the semi-final, jet-heeled Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe bursts down the left.
Against one of the fastest players in the world, Amrabat somehow coaxes his battered body – which required a painkilling injection in his back before four out of seven games at the tournament – into chasing him down and flying into a tackle.
As well as winning the ball, with Mbappe rolling around pathetically on the floor, he springs to his feet, carries the ball on and passes it forward to begin the attack.
After that moment, there was talk French President Emmanuel Macron sought him out in the dressing room after the game to call him the best midfielder at the tournament. Quite a compliment.
The 26-year-old defensive midfielder caught the eye last season for both club and country
Catching the eye and a Rice battle
That physical durability saw him play 49 matches in all competitions for Italian side Fiorentina last season, on top of his international exploits with Morocco, and rack up 81.4 kilometres of running at the World Cup – more than anyone else.
Though he did not score – he only has six senior goals in just under a decade – and only recorded one assist, that is not to underplay the significance of his contribution.
In 2022-23, he made 1.43 tackles per game, 0.82 interceptions per game, 5.57 ball recoveries per game, won 3.42 duels per game and received an average rating of 6.90.
But he’s not just a defensive destroyer – his passing accuracy is an impressive 91.2 per cent, he record 48.3 accurate passes per game and his figure of 62.5 touches per game shows he is confident carrying and progressing the ball upfield.
His 1.59 fouls per game yielded 16 yellow cards in total but no reds, demonstrating his wholehearted, committed style of play does not spill over into indiscipline.
Barging over AC Milan’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic with a shoulder charge proves his fearlessness and that he is uncowed by anyone – traits that would serve him well in English football.
Amrabat’s season culminated with the Europa Conference League final against West Ham which saw him pitted against Hammers captain Declan Rice, who is imminently joining Arsenal for £105million.
The 49-cap international gave as good as he got and could look forward to more battles against Rice and challenging for trophies if he does move to United.
Amrabat battled against Declan Rice (left) in the Europa Conference League final in June
Amrabat, 26, averaged 3.42 duels won per game last season. Graphic credit: sofascore.com
Man United’s interest
As reported by Mail Sport on Tuesday, Man United are said to be eyeing up a move for Amrabat.
Mail Sport previously reported that the club have rekindled their interest in the midfielder, after initially targeting him during the January window, before signing Bayern Munich’s Marcel Sabitzer on loan after Christian Eriksen’s injury.
Fiorentina were previously unwilling to part with the 26-year-old, who has become a bedrock in Vincenzo Italiano’s high-achieving side, this season helping them reach the finals of the Coppa Italia and the Europa Conference League.
Amid Barcelona, Liverpool, Chelsea and Bayern Munich interest, the Viola rejected all approaches. But the club have since changed their minds, and could be willing to let the player go for as little as £30million.
As per talkSPORT, this has piqued the interest of the Red Devils, who are in the midst of a midfield revamp after signing Chelsea’s Mason Mount for £60m last week.
To free up cash for additional spending, United will look to move on a string of squad players, including central midfielders Fred, Donny van de Beek and youngster Hannibal Mejbri, plus Anthony Elanga, Alex Telles, Eric Bailly, Brandon Williams.
The club are also prepared to listen to offers for defensive midfielder Scott McTominay, as well as Anthony Martial, Jadon Sancho, Harry Maguire and Dean Henderson.
With a deal close for Inter Milan goalkeeper Andre Onana, if Ten Hag can raise funds by selling unwanted squad players to sign a striker – the priority position – he could well turn to strengthening his midfield next, with £30m seen as extremely reasonable for a player of Amrabat’s abilities, age and profile.
United manager Erik ten Hag coached Amrabat at Utrecht and a reunion could be on the cards
How he would fit in at Old Trafford
If a move does go through, there are perhaps questions about how he might fit in. Would he get into United’s best XI? Probably not. Their first-choice midfield will likely be Casemiro, Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes.
But Mount and/or Fernandes may be more frequently used in attacking midfield or out wide, with Marcus Rashford up front, especially if the Red Devils cannot secure a new striker.
And in any case having a strong squad with players capable of coming in without significantly weakening the team is important, especially given United’s desire to compete on every front, with a Champions League return in 2023-24.
He would offer excellent cover for 31-year-old Casemiro – whose absence was keenly felt when injured or suspended last season – and would allow for a formational change to a double pivot in a 4-2-3-1 system, for example.
Amrabat is a more accomplished all-rounder than Fred or McTominay, and could be a rotation option as a No 8 in a 4-3-3, allowing Fernandes – who played 59 times in all competitions last season – rest and recovery. He could offer competition and cover for Christian Eriksen, 31, who missed several games last season with injury, too.
Moreover, he worked under manager Ten Hag at Dutch side FC Utrecht at the age of 18, revealing it was ‘so important’ for his development in an interview with The Athletic.
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. Not only me, all the players… he put a lot of time into individual work because he knew if the individual was better the team would be better.
‘After every game, he would take me through a video and explain everything to me. I was 18 or 19 years old, so sometimes I was thinking, “Oof, again?”. But now, when I look back, I know it was so important for my career. I learned such a lot from him.’
Six years later, the pair could reunite – this time at Old Trafford.
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Man United are also looking to bring in priority goalkeeping target Andre Onana from Serie A
Ten Hag also secured the signing of Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount (left) for £60m last week