It’s official, in these times of economic austerity Belgium have turned their backs on chocolate in favour of a more lucrative international export, the top level footballer. The latest confection from the mould is 17-year-old Zakaria Bakkali, who has been making Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal hearts go pitter-patter of late.
Bakkali may only be four games into his career at PSV, but that hasn’t stopped him making a name for himself with some explosive performances, including a hat-trick on his Philips Stadion debut against NEC Nijmegen.
The youngster – who has earned comparisons to Barcelona and Brazil great Romario – has belied his diminutive 5’5” stature to plunder a total of five goals for his club this season.
Nominally right sided, he is nonetheless pleased to roam across the width of the pitch and his superb hat-trick against NEC showcased just this, with raids from both flanks ending in right and left footed goals.
In common with many exciting young prospects who ply their trade as wide forwards Bakkali has liquid tricks and searing pace with which to bamboozle defenders, but unlike all but the most blessed of such players he is also an expert finisher.
His goals against NEC were an exhibition in the art, one rifled past the keeper at his near post, the other two coaxed with curl into top and bottom corners.
A prolific scorer for his nation’s youth teams, Bakkali has notched 18 times in 23 games in internationals between under-15 and under-21 level and has been on the radar of top clubs since he was voted the best player of the Nike Cup at the age of 15.
A wise head on young shoulders, he has already credited former PSV midfield scoundrel Mark van Bommel with improving his game, by showing him (in training) that once he dribbled past two players he was liable to be fouled.
Having visited the Etihad as 15-year-old in order to sign a contract, he eventually decided to stay and continue his development at PSV. City – 21/10 joint favourites for the Premier League title this term with Chelsea – will undoubtedly have to stump up far more of the folding stuff to secure his signature this time around.