There are millions upon millions of children who grow up with aspirations of making it into the world of professional football. 99% won’t make it into an academy and of the 1% that does, 99% won’t rise through the ranks to senior level with even fewer establishing themselves as the absolute elite.
Back in 2012 Hachim Mastour looked set to be one of that extreme minority yet mutter his name now and most fans haven’t even heard of him. Here we look at who he is and, more importantly, where his career has taken him.
A teenager set for the top
Mastour is the living embodiment of every ‘wonderkid’ ever seen on video games; by the time he was 14 his name was being banded around in conversations as a future Balon d’Or winner and the diminutive attacker was regularly likened to Brazilian legend Ronaldinho.
He was plying his trade with the Reggina youth setup but the superpowers of world football were chasing his signature. Real Madrid, Barcelona and Italian duo Juventus and Inter were rumoured to be heavily interested but €500k was enough to see Italian born Mastour join the other club from Milan, AC, instead.
A place in the Milan history books – nearly
The sum paid for Mastour was a huge outlay given his young age but he immediately established himself as the standout player in his age group with his low centre of gravity lending itself to carrying the ball past players with ease and, as you might expect, he had a trick up his sleeve too.
Mastour’s career was on a sharp incline and at just 15 he was playing for Milan’s under 21 team. His displays for the youth side earned him a step up to the senior side where he was on the brink of breaking Paolo Maldini’s record as Milan’s youngest ever player – an honour he does hold for the Moroccan national team – but he failed to make it off the bench.
That appearance in the famous black and red strip never did materialise for Mastour and instead he became one of the youngest journeymen in football.
All alone, on loan
The AC Milan hierarchy hadn’t given up on Mastour’s obvious potential and loaned him to Spanish side Malaga, who played in La Liga at the time. Mastour spent a year in Spain but ultimately failed to make an impression as he made just one appearance – a five minute cameo against Real Betis.
Next up was another temporary spell away from the spotlight of Italy’s media with a move to Zwolle of the Eredivisie arranged. Mastour featured a little more often but still only managed 178 minutes of senior football across six appearances, including one cup game.
The hype of football’s next icon was fading quickly as Mastour struggled to get to grips with life in the spotlight and Milan decided his mentality wasn’t in the right place to fulfil his potential and in July 2018 he was released.
Hardly a queue…
Just a few years earlier, Mastour could have picked virtually any club in the world and, as a bare minimum, they’d have been interested in meeting with him but two unsuccessful loan spells and questions over his dedication to football hardly set the hearts of the giants racing and, after two months without a club, Mastour signed for Greek side Lamia.
Two sub appearances started off his time in Greece as Lamia drew both games and in the third game Mastour was introduced as a 70th minute sub with his team trailing 1-0. The one-cap Moroccan won his team a spot kick with 10 minutes remaining and Jeronimo Barrales converted to give Mastour his first senior assist. Unfortunately, despite a reasonable start to life in Greece, Mastour only featured in three further matches (one league, two cup) getting just 132 minutes of game time and, after six months with Lamia, Mastour was a free agent once more.
Just self reflection or the start of a resurrection?
Mastour himself has given interviews since he returned from Greece to give an insight into where things went wrong for him. He insists his attitude wasn’t a problem and that he’s always trained hard but it seems he regrets some of his decision making, if nothing else.
At 14 years old, he was hot property and a combination of lacking life experience and surrounding himself with the wrong people saw the agents and sponsors milk him dry as a celebrity rather than a footballer whilst he feels a move to a ‘lesser’ club, such as Ajax, would have allowed his talent to be nurtured away from the spotlight and pressure of the Italian press.
Now though, Mastour is back with his boyhood club, Reggina, who play in Serie C but despite signing in October he has made just the one appearance so far. Mastour is still only 21 years old though, so never say never, particularly to a player who clearly has talent that far outweighs what he has delivered to date.