Fit again after his 2019-20 season was cut short with a knee injury sustained in December, highly rated, in-demand right-sided utility Youcef Atal is looking forward to playing for OGC Nice again - and making his debut in Europe.
Atal drew plenty of attention in season 2018-19 and the first half of 2019-20 with his barnstorming runs, dazzling dribbles and knack for superb goals and, now that he has recovered from the knee meniscus injury he sustained away to Metz in Ligue 1 Uber Eats, the 23-year-old is raring to get back to doing what he does best.
'Do my thing'
Which is actually a topic of some contention. A right-back by training, his pace, ball control and fierce finishing make him an excellent winger - in fact his best scoring run came when he was played on the left wing! - but the Algerian does have a preference.
"I prefer to play right-back because I've got my bearings there. It's the position where I can do my thing. I start from further out and it's the best way to use my speed," he told French sports daily L'Equipe. "When a full-back gets forward a lot, as I do, people don't see that he's defending too. But that's the priority and I really enjoy it. When I start a match, I tell myself that nobody is going to get through on my side. Tackling, challenging, that's also fun."
It has been two years since the former Paradou AC standout made the move across the Mediterranean, and Atal explained that is has been a huge learning experience.
"In the beginning, I wanted to give everything so that people would get to know me, so I could carve out a place for myself, because where I come from, it wasn't easy. A lot of things made me grow up, and I came to understand football in Europe," he said. "I wanted to touch the ball all the time, but you have to be able to pace yourself. There are some things you have to do on your own and some things you don't. It's those details that make the difference."
Not going anywhere/European dream
Despite his injury lay-off, Atal has not been forgotten by the transfer market, and there is no shortage of rumours linking him with a wide range of clubs including PSG, Inter, Watford, Napoli and Tottenham. How does this affect Atal?"When you hear about interest in signing you, it's good because it's the reward for your work. If the big clubs are watching you, it means you're in the picture. You exist. But [during the lockdown] I was focused on my injury and all I was thinking about was having a good season here at Nice," he explained. "I haven't had a complete second season and I need to have one. We're playing in the Europa League, and it's my first time playing in Europe. The day I have to leave Nice, it will be for a very big club."