City supporters have always taken a keen interest in the club’s youth setup. We have witnessed countless number of academy players who showed great promise but for some reason or the other never really made it here. But there are some players who have genuinely raised our hopes of being capable of breaking through to our star studded first-team in a few years time and among those is 18-year-old centre-back Karim Rekik.
Karim Rekik, a Dutchman of Tunisian descent, is the product of the illustrious Feyenoord academy. Since his early days, his talent was apparent and was considered one of Feyenoord’s top starlets, captaining the Feyenoord youth team. No wonder that when Manchester City poached him and his brother Omar, Feyenoord were (understandably) furious.
Rekik caught Manchester City‘s attention at the U17 World Cup and they pursued him after, eventually sealing his signature ahead of the likes of Juventus.
Rekik made two appearances for City in his first season, both in the Carling Cup where he occupied the left-back position against Birmingham and Wolves; he was only 16 at the time and was also on the bench for Carling Cup games against Arsenal and Liverpool.
Towards the end of the 2011/12 campaign, Karim was loaned out to Championship strugglers Portsmouth. He made his debut in a 2-0 victory over Hull City. Rekik finished the season with eight appearances, starting all those games, and playing the entire 90 minutes in seven. He primarily occupied the left-back position during his short stint at Fratton Park as Portsmouth were relegated following a 10 point deduction as they entered administration.
Mancini acknowledged his development in the 2012/13 season by naming him on the bench against Newcastle and handing him his Premier League debut a week later against Reading, where he played 84 minutes. Later, Rekik caught the eye of Blackburn Rovers and they secured a loan deal for him. It was a frustrating time as having made four continuous 90 minute appearances, Rekik found himself on the bench for the next 10 games, only making an appearance again 6 weeks after his debut.
Rekik is yet to make his debut for the Netherlands U21 side, but was incredibly called up by the senior Dutch national team recently, only to be forced into withdrawing due to injury.
Karim Rekik can be described as a proper modern ball-playing centre-back. His natural position is at the centre of the defence but he can be used as a makeshift left-back whenever needed. Despite his young age, he has already acquired some handy experience and has captained several teams that he has represented: Feyenoord youths, Netherlands U19s and City EDS.
Rekik comes across as a very dedicated and hardworking footballer. He revealed that upon joining City he was prone to mistakes, losing every challenge and getting dispossessed easily. This greatly affected his confidence, but he has worked hard to improve since those early days, for which City should be equally given credit since they developed a personal program for him to recover his morale and gain strength. His hard work has paid off and is now regarded as one of the best defenders in the Eredivisie (on loan at PSV) in his debut season there.
Standing 6’1″, Rekik uses his height to good effect for aerial duels and headed clearances. He is very strong in the air and has won 75% of his aerial duels in the Eredivisie so far.
Karim is capable of playing from the back, an attribute for defenders that is gradually gaining real importance. He has averaged 10.31 long balls attempted per 90 mins this season with an accuracy of 79.17% , most of which have been decisive in starting a move and few of those eventually resulted into a goal, such as Wijnaldum’s strike against Ado Den Haag.
Rekik’s physique and tremendous strength makes it very difficult to him push off the ball. He is comfortable in possession and is an accomplished passer of the ball, possessing a rich variety of passes. He has averaged 72.38 passes per 90 minutes played and completed 89.3% of them this season. Those are very impressive numbers and City will have a quality addition when he returns as the team lacks a ball-playing defender who attempts to start attacks in the mould of David Luiz or Mats Hummels.
His reading and understanding of the game is already top class and was visible in his performance against Fenerbahce in a pre-season friendly. The following image highlights his reading of the game and positioning:
The image shows how Rekik (marked) reads Fenerbahce’s next move immaculately and swiftly positions himself ahead of Raul Meireles to nullify the attack.
To add to this, his ability to anticipate and intercept balls makes him capable of handling any striker. Rekik is well composed in any situation but at the same time does not shy away from sliding in to a tackle. His tackling technique is clean and is rarely seen in clumsy positions. It’s often the case that many defenders make panicky clearances that ultimately lead to a goal.
Rekik’s presence of mind makes him very solid in clearing the ball. He alone made 11 clearance in his debut Eredivisie match, all of which were effective (he was named as the Man of the match in his debut for PSV). One would expect a defender with physique like Karim to be on the slower side in terms of his pace. But thanks to his body balance and structure, he has plenty of pace to cover the ground when needed.
Rekik is a real commanding presence at the back, a trait that he shares with his City teammate and captain Vincent Kompany. He is as calm and composed, rarely caught in possession or divulging in reckless play. He is always up to challenge for ground or aerial 50-50s and his leadership qualities can be seen in the way he conducts himself on the pitch.
You can see him instructing his teammates, asking them to push forward and at the same time making his defenders aware of any runs that the opponents’ attackers are making. His mere presence has a calming effect on the PSV’s backline, with Karim taking the role of organising the defence (fascinatingly similar to a certain Belgian centre-back).
Being robust and backed up with his awareness, he can be very effective in dealing with any target man. He uses his body to good effect to shield the ball away from danger and in 1v1 situations. Rekik is one of those defenders that every team likes in set-piece situations because of their physical presence.
One common flaw in young players is concentration. The City defender isn’t much different. Another drawback of his game is his tendency to pass the ball back to the goalkeeper often. Given the relentless pace at which football is played in Premier League, teams can ruthlessly exploit this. At times Karim tends to commit early which gives the opposition player an extra split second to make a decision. His decision making can be susceptible at times as shown in the following image.
The image is from the Champions League qualifier against AC Milan at the San Siro. Here, instead of closing Boateng down, Rekik tried to back off and block the shot which turned out to be a poor decision as Boateng scored from 20 yards out.
Since joining PSV Eindhoven on loan, his consistency and understanding with Bruma has been remarkable. To his credit, Rekik hasn’t allowed his recent success to go to his head, a factor which has led to the faltering of many promising young players in the past. He has managed to impressed all his coaches and has received glowing praise from the likes of Roberto Mancini, Michael Appleton, Patrick Vieira, Louis Van Gaal, and Phillip Cocu.
Rekik recently had to undergo an ankle surgery which kept him out for around a month. Around the same time rumours emerged that PSV would ask City if they could extend his loan deal for second season, with talks planned for December. Interestingly, PSV won 55.56% of their matches when Rekik started compared to winning 33.33% when he didn’t.
Karim Rekik once said in an interview that his dream is to represent the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup. Given Louis Van Gaal’s admiration for the young centre-back and his progress at PSV, it won’t be surprising at all to see him in Brazil next year.
Patrick Vieira’s quote last year sums up City’s hopes for the young defender: “Karim Rekik has so much talent, if he doesn’t make it here then it will be a big failure on our part.”
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