London (AFP) – Five things about Moroccan international midfielder Sofiane Boufal who joined Southampton in the English Premier League on Monday for a reported club record £16 million ($20 million/18 million euros):
Growing in stature
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder will join the growing band of small players aiming to make a big impact on the Premier League. Boufal is 1.75m (5ft 9in) having measured just 1.45m when he was 17. Coaches told him in the past that he was too small. His twin sister Aicha told how when he wanted to join Intrepid, a club in the French city of Angers, “the coach sent him home saying he was too small, but Sofiane persisted and insisted and he got what he wanted.”
Look back at Angers
Born in Paris, Boufal came through the youth system at Angers and made his debut in the French second division at the age of 18 and the following season became a first team regular. Lille paid four million euros for him in January 2015 and he again made a quick impact with his speed and dribbling. Boufal first attracted the attention of top European clubs in 2015-16 when Tottenham Hostpur, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter Milan were all said to have expressed interest.
Mum’s the word
Boufal’s mother brought him, Aicha and elder brother Abdeltif up in Angers on her own. “My mother is my rock,” he told La Voix Du Nord newspaper in December. “I asked her to follow me to Lille as her advice to me is really important. She watches all my matches. You know family is everything to me and it’s what helps me progress.” He said it was heartbreaking to see his mother going to work as a cleaner one day in the French winter. “I had tears in my eyes, I was crying. From that moment I swore to myself I would do anything to help her stop having to work,” he told France Football. His twin sister said she finds his game nerve-wracking. “My heart is pounding when I watch him play,” she told La Voix du Nord. “I’m permanently on edge that he will be injured and I cry every time he tumbles to the ground and hold my breath till he gets back up again. Then I call mum to see how she is doing because she worries as well.”
Boufal has acknowledged how fortunate footballers are to have such a high paid job. He is involved with a charity called ‘Reve’ (Dream) in Angers. “It turns dreams into reality for seriously ill children,” Boufal told La Voix du Nord before recounting how he had organised for a seriously ill boy to be photographed with Paris Saint-Germain players and then Boufal had lunch with the boy and his mother.
Heart over head
Boufal, born in France to Moroccan parents, could have played for Morocco or France and he admitted to L’Equipe newspaper that it was a tough choice. He was called up by the Moroccan squad last year but asked for extra time to make up his mind. “I will never forget what France has given me,” he said. “It allowed me to grow up, to become a man, it welcomed my parents. I am very attached to my country. It was like having to choose between my mother and my father.” He finally made his debut against Cape Verde in March this year.
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