Zakaria Aboukhlal has been a revelation for Toulouse FC this season, with three goals and two assists since his summer arrival from AZ Alkmaar…
Toulouse were promoted as Ligue 2 BKT champions last season, and it doesn't look like Téfécé fans are going to get the relegation dogfight they might have been expecting - and Aboukhlal is a large part of the season why.
A Dutch-born Morocco international who made his Toulouse debut at left-back, Aboukhlal has since settled into his natural position further up the field, and the results have been exciting so far.
Aboukhlal was born in Rotterdam to a Moroccan mother and Libyan father on 18 February 2000 - meaning he shares a birthdate with Sir Bobby Robson, Roberto Baggio and Gary Neville - and his sports-mad family facilitated his interest in football.
Mother Lamya Aboukhlal was a former African athletics champion with Morocco, while his father Tarek founded an amateur club in 2008 for his son to play in after RKC Waalwijk had scrapped their youth academy amid financial turmoil.
Aboukhlal Junior then spent eight years in Willem II's academy alongside a certain Frenkie de Jong before making the move to PSV Eindhoven in 2018. But after just two first-team appearances he then turned down Tottenham Hotspur and Everton to sign for AZ in 2019.
Alkmaar is where Aboukhlal really blossomed, and Toulouse were delighted to get a player this summer who by this time had switched his international allegiance to Vahid Halilhodzic's Morocco after 31 caps and 12 goals at youth international level for the Netherlands.
Style of play:
Aboukhlal was handed his Toulouse debut at left-back in a 3-1 loss to FC Nantes in Round 4. Aboukhlal had got the opener that day and Philippe Montanier soon realised he could get a tune out of him further forward.
A quick, left-footed player, Aboukhlal likes nothing better than playing on the shoulder of the last defender, where his pace allows him to fly past his marker on the counter, while his ever-improving finishing has helped him to the aforementioned goal-tally.
Following that debut goal against Nantes, Aboukhlal has found the target in recent victories over Stade de Reims and Montpellier Hérault SC, also assisting Brecht Dejaegere for the fourth of Toulouse's goals when they beat La Paillade 4-2 last time out.
It is unlikely Aboukhlal will have to play left-back again, but the left-footed flying machine is happy playing on either side of the Toulouse attack, and has completed a league-high average of 28.4 sprints per match this season.
Watch: Highlights of Toulouse's 4-2 win over Montpellier
What they said:
"I'm very happy to sign for Toulouse. Le Téfécé are a historic club in France. It's a new stage in my career and I hope to take a new step and become even more competitive. I want to make people happy, the club and its fans."
- Aboukhlal on signing for Toulouse this summer.
"I'm really happy to discover this player who plays on the right, the left, can start deeper, who's strong and not afraid to go in for a challenge. He's a 20-year-old player who can evelve in this national team over the next 10 years."
- Former Paris Saint-Germain coach Halilhodzic on giving Aboukhlal his Morocco debut in 2020.