The shining star of Algeria’s best-ever World Cup.
Despite having just 14 caps for his country, all the signs are that left-winger or second striker Yacine Brahimi will one day be mentioned in the same breath as such icons as Rachid Mekhloufi, Mustapha Zitouni, Lakhdar Belloumi and Rabah Madjer.
Hugely impressive as Algeria reached the knock-out stage of Brazil 2014 – the furthest they have ever gone in the World Cup – and equally electrifying since joining Porto last summer from Spanish outfit Granada, Brahimi was recently voted African Player of the Year in a BBC poll. And on the evidence of the past 12 months, there should be many more honours to come, with January’s African Nations Cup an ideal opportunity in which to make his mark.
Born in Paris 24 years ago to Algerian parents, he went to the Clairefontaine school of soccer excellence and was capped by France at youth and under-21 level, but in the spring of 2013 opted to take a different international tack, renouncing “Les Bleus” for a future in the green and white of Algeria.
Full credit to the Algerian federation for the persistence they showed in courting him, with three years’ worth of persuasion, charm and appeals to sentiment eventually paying off. “In the end, I followed my heart,” explains Brahimi. “I’m proud and happy to play for Algeria.
“It took a while because I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t an established player. While at Rennes I was held back by a string of injuries and only on signing for Granada did I begin to start regularly. I was in a better place and could join the Algerian squad without any worries.”
Rennes must regret their inability to get the best out of young Brahimi. During his two seasons, he started only sporadically and the word was that coach Frederic Antonetti found him too lightweight, too injury prone and too unpredictable.
Granada, who initially brought the Algerian in on a 12-month loan deal in the summer of 2012, would prove to be much more to his liking. Free to express himself, his ball skills, elusiveness and creativity were exactly what the Liga doctor ordered. He ended the season as the most effective dribbler in the Spanish top flight, even outstripping the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi, and was rewarded with a permanent contract.
Exceptional in tight spots and able to take on and beat any number of opponents, he has always been technically good. But what he has added to his game of late is greater clarity and composure in the box. Rather than snatching at chances, he now looks much more in control of the situation – and this certainly was the case in September when he scored a hat-trick for Porto in their Champions League victory over BATE.
“I think I’m more determined these days to seal the deal,” says Brahimi, who is rumoured to be on the shopping list of Paris Saint-Germain, the club he played for as a boy. “In the past I have not been cool enough. On the training ground, I’ve been working hard on my finishing.
“I’m always looking to be more efficient for the team.”