At last summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, right back Youcef Atal was a key contributor to Algeria’s campaign, until suffering a collarbone fracture in quarterfinals against Ivory Coast. Fortunately, his teammates were able to complete the task of winning the competition for just the second time in their history.
Meanwhile, at the club level, Atal had already been impressing after a great debut season at OGC Nice in France’s Ligue 1. Transfer rumors quickly followed — including to Chelsea, before the transfer ban was confirmed — but at the time, Atal felt an exit would be too much too soon. Now, the 23-year-old might be ready to leave however, and take the step up to the big leagues.
“Yes, there are clubs that wanted me at that time. Last year it was too early. And even today, I’m focusing on another great season.”
“Yes, I can play in a big club, that’s part of my goals. I work for that. There is not a player who will tell you that he would not like to play for a big club.”
Nominally a right back, one of Atal’s outstanding attributes is his versatility. This season he has already featured at right back, right midfielder, and at wide forward on both flanks. It helps that Atal plays at warp speed, going all out in whatever role he plays.
“I’m hard-hitting and I’ve been playing like that since I was little. I have never changed. These are my natural qualities and I try to enjoy them. On the flanks, you have to be fast anyway.
“I prefer to play right-back, but these are the coach’s choices. I was trained in this job. I see better when I am at the back.
“But whether I attack or defend, I play whole-heartedly. I give 100 per cent all the time.”
-Youcef Atal; source: Canal+ via Goal
While Reece James looks to be our right back of the future, Atal and his versatility could be useful, especially as our other full back options are either getting old or not showing enough consistency, or both. Chelsea will be free to splash the cash next summer, when Atal will surely feature heavily in the rumor mill.