Not for the first time, we have been reminded of how our sport is far from exempt from tragedy.
We’ve been reminded that horrors, be they on the pitch or in the stands, can happen at any time and can happen to anyone within the game – from the established professionals to the promising youngsters likely to take the football world by storm in the coming years. Sadly, Abdelhak Nouri, at just 20-years-old, has been dealt the cruellest of blows to a career that looked like it was going to do just that.
An Amsterdam boy, the gifted talents of ‘Appie’ Nouri always wanted to pull on the famous white and red of his hometown club, like many young boys, in and outside of Ajax’s famed academy. Nouri, though, is one who has come through all of the ranks, proving himself at various youth levels – both on the club and international stages – as he put in the groundwork for himself to forge a successful career doing what he loves. Last season at Jong Ajax, playing in the Eerste Divisie, the true extent of Nouri’s talent became obvious to all.
Hailed as the player of the season, not just for Ajax II but for the entire second tier of Dutch football, many have tipped this to be his year. Space in the midfield after the departure of Davy Klaasen is another factor in what has been expected of Nouri ahead of the Eredivisie season ahead, especially after the youngster excelled in his long-awaited appearances for the first team last term, scoring on his debut in a cup victory versus Willem II.
He has been earmarked as a wonderkid for some time, with an incredibly skilful assist for the Dutch youth team having gone viral recently. Receiving the ball inside the box from a cross, probably in a scoring position, Appie displayed his composure, his creativity and his unselfish attitude to football; back-heeling the ball on the half turn to a teammate who dispatched the chance with ease – truly a piece of genius that graced Twitter, Facebook and Instagram feeds of football fans the world over.
However, after this well-publicised cruel twist of fate, flashes of his ability are all the football world may get to see of the talent that could have been. Even so, in the short time that the mainstream football circle has watched Nouri, it has been a pleasure. The way he plays with the fearlessness of youth whilst in possession, a strong dribbler but one smart and experienced enough despite his age to know when to pick a pass. Useful in dead ball situations as he has shown on occasion before and perhaps, most importantly, always so professional, humble and clearly happy to be at Ajax; the club he loves, representing the city he calls home.
What happened last week in a pre-season friendly was undoubtedly an unforeseen, horrific tragedy. The sheer cruelness of the situation means that the sadness around Dutch, European and even world football might linger for some time. The game is paying its respects to this young athlete, unfortunately, stopped in his most exciting, development years and we, at Life After Football, would like to pay ours, too. For, what has happened to poor, Appie Nouri, is a tragedy not just for Ajax, not just for Dutch football and not just for football in general. But it is also a tragedy for a young man who had so much to look forward to in his career and in life. A tragedy for a supportive family who have watched him grow from a football-loving child into a man on the brink of becoming a star for his favourite football club. And, it’s a tragedy for anyone who is lucky enough to call Nouri a friend or family.
It is these people that Abdelhak Nouri needs the most right now and we wish them all well, all the love, all the privacy and all the strength they need in what has been a sad few days for football, but an even sadder few days for those who make Appie the young man that he is.