When the Dutch squad was announced for the World Cup qualifiers, one surprising inclusion was a relatively unknown centre back, Karim Rekik. Rekik is a well known face in the youth circuit and is rated as one of the most promising players in Manchester City’s squad.
Karim Rekik has already captained Feyernoord Youth Team, Man City Reserves and is currently the captain of the U-19 Dutch National Team. The Dutch youngster of Tunisian descent was one of the most highly-rated youngster to come through from Feyernoord’s illustrious academy. The Dutch club boasts of a whole host of young talents, who they continually struggle to keep a hold of. Rekik caught Manchester City‘s attention at the U-17 World Championship and continued their pursuit since then. Feyernoord were understandably averse to the idea of selling one of their top talents, but City’s huge financial power eventually won the battle. The 2011/12 Premier League Champions have been following a policy of signing youngsters ahead of the implementation of UEFA’s Financial Fair Play. The likes of Gai Assulin, Stefan Savic, Denis Suarez (click here to read a Scout-Report on him), Luca Scapuzzi and Karim Rekik were all signed at relatively the same time by ex-boss Roberto Mancini.
Rekik made 2 appearances for Man City in his first season, both coming in the Carling Cup (now known as the Capital One Cup) as he occupied the left-back position against Birmingham and Wolves; he was only 16 at the time. The youngster was then also on the bench for Man City’s Carling Cup games against Arsenal and Liverpool; while also replicating that achievement against Wigan and Fulham in the Premier League. Quite a remarkable feat considering he’s just a teenager, and the large list of stars City have on their roster. 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, playing the entire 90 minutes and also receiving the first yellow card of his senior career. 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.
Last season Karim Rekik started off in the U21 Premier League tournament, even scoring in his first game against Middlesbrough. Mancini named him on the bench against Newcastle, and handed him his Premier League debut a week later against Reading. City were trying to cope up with a busy Boxing Day schedule and Roberto Mancini saw it as the perfect time to hand the youngster a start; he played 84 minutes of that game. As is custom with youngsters towards the end of a campaign, Rekik was spotted by Blackburn Rovers, and they secured a loan move for the player. It was a frustrating time as having made 4 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.
After being linked with a whole host of clubs, PSV Eindhoven finally secured a loan move for Rekik this summer. He joins a signed bursting with young talent; a Scout’s paradise. The likes of Maher, Wijnaldum, Depay, Locadia, Bakkali and Willems are the core of the young side, while Karim Rekik himself has formed a formidable partnership with Jeffrey Bruma. He has made 8 appearances (starting all those games) so far this campaign, including his debut in the Champions League as PSV lost over two legs to AC Milan.
Despite receiving a call-up to the senior Dutch side, Rekik is yet to make his debut for even the U-21 side. He was part of the U-17 Dutch team that won the European Championship, even scoring against Germany in a 2-0 win along the way. Currently he is a stalwart in the U-19 side, and is gaining a lot of experience as captain.
Karim Rekik can be described as a proper modern ball playing centre back. Rekik’s natural position is at the centre of the defence but he can be used as a make-shift left back whenever needed. Despite his young age, he has already acquired some handy experience.
Karim Rekik comes across as a very dedicated footballer. When he first joined, Manchester City, he was prone to mistakes when playing for the reserves, losing every challenge on the field and getting dispossessed easily which greatly affected his confidence. He has worked real hard since those early days, for which Manchester City should be equally given credit since they formed a personal program for him to recover his morale and gain strength. His hard work has paid off and is now seen as one of the best defenders in Eredivisie in his debut season itself.
Standing 6 ft 1 in tall, Rekik uses his height to good use for aerial duels and headed clearances. He is very strong in the air, winning 73.67% of his aerial duels in Eredivisie as testament for it. Karim is capable of playing from the back, an attribute which is gradually gaining real importance. He averages 9.75 long balls attempted per game this season, most of which have been decisive in starting a move and few of those eventually resulted into a goal like Wijnaldum’s strike against Ado Den Haag. His enthusiasm to help the team is visible by his tactical awareness. Rekik’s physique and tremendous strength makes it very difficult to him push off the ball. He is extremely comfortable in possession and is an accomplished passer of the ball, possessing a rich variety of passes averaging 70.8 passes per game and completing 89.4% of them this season.
His reading and understanding of the game is already top class and was visible from his performance against Fenerbahce in a pre season friendly. The following image sheds more light on his immense reading and positioning sense.
The image shows how Rekik (marked) reads Fenerbahce’s next move and swiftly positions himself ahead of Raul Meireles to nullify the attack.
To add to it, his brilliant anticipation and intercepting skills 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 is often seen that many defenders commit panicking or headless clearances which ultimately leads 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 and all of them were effective ones. One would expect a defender with physique like Karim to be on the slower side in terms of his pace. But thanks to his gifted body balance and structure, he has good pace to cover the ground throughout.
Rekik is a real commanding leader at the back, a trait which he shares with his City teammate and captain, Vincent Kompany. He is as calm and composed as one could get and is rarely seen caught in possession or divulging in reckless plays. 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. Being robust and backed up with his awareness, he can be very effective for countering any target-man. Rekik classifies as one of those defenders which every team requires in set piece situations for their physical presence.
One common drawback that is seen in most of the young players is concentration. This 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 expose this drawback. 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 like shown by 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. The best thing about Rekik is he hasn’t allowed his recent success to get into his head, a factor which has led to faltering of many promising young players in the past.
“Karim has the natural air of a central defender. This boy has so much talent, if he doesn’t make it, it will be a big failure for us.”
— Patrick Vieira, Man City Football Development Executive, quoted by De Telegraaf (via Goal.com)
“Karim Rekik is very young, only 18, but he has good quality. He’s a central defender but he can play left-back – we are very happy with him”
— Roberto Mancini, ex-Manchester City manager, via Yahoo! Sports“
“Although Karim is a boy in terms of age, he is physically a man. He is built like a brick out house. He is a big lad with a lot of quality.”
— Michael Appleton, ex-Portsmouth and Blackburn boss, quoted by Lancashire Telegraph
“Rekik is someone who despite his age, naturally takes the lead immediately and gets engaged in the organization.”
— Philip Cocu, PSV Eindhoven manager, quoted by Voetbal Nieuws
Karim Rekik renewed his association with Manchester City in December 2012 with a long term deal running till 2017. Currently on loan at PSV, Manchester City rate him and his brother, Omar Rekik, very highly and Karim is likely to be a squad member or maybe even compete with Nastasic for the centre back role once he returns. Karim Rekik once said in his interview that his dream is to represent the Netherlands in next years World Cup. It’s fairly safe to say, he is on the right path to achieve this dream.
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