Dutch football’s goalscoring sensation this season is Ali El Khattabi, born in Holland of Moroccan heritage and already an international for the African country.
Although the 24-year-old has yet to transfer his scoring talents from club to national level during his brief time in a Moroccan shirt, he has Holland’s Eredivisie buzzing this term. At the winter break he topped the chart with 14 goals in Sparta Rotterdam’s 18 games – three more than he notched for them in the whole of last season.
The run of form has revived his chances of a return to the international fold – El Khattabi made two substitute appearances at the 1998 World Cup finals in France and also played in the African Nations Cup finals in Burkina Faso earlier that year.
For the time being, however, El Khattabi has told the Moroccans they can count him out, presumably because he is angry about being sidelined by his country for more than a year and also so that he can concentrate on his success at Sparta.
The latter issue may, of course, result in a transfer, evento Rotterdam rivals Feyenoord. It is not something the player rules out. “I have a plan,” says El Khattabi. “First, a transfer to one of the three big clubs in Holland, Feyenoord included. That has always been a dream of mine. And then in about five years to be playing in England or Spain.”
El Khattabi is in his second spell at Sparta, having spent two seasons at Heerenveen. Before his original move to Sparta, he was with SVV, based in Schiedam, the town close to Rotterdam where he was born.
Morocco’s performance at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico, including a 0-0 draw with England, spurred El Khattabi to become a footballer. “I thought it was fantastic that my people could play in such an event,” he says. “I had already been to Morocco several times, although my world was Schiedam. The Moroccan team made a big impression on me.”
Both Holland and Morocco wanted to call him up at Under-23 level, but he held off making a choice for as long as possible. “In the end, I realised Morocco offered me the best chance of international soccer.”
His focus now, though, is on goals. “I live to score,” says El Khattabi. “I’ve become more of a killer in front of goal and that has come through character, experience and rhythm.”
And no lack of confidence, either, it would seem.
Club Sparta Rotterdam (Hol)
Born January 17, 1977, in Schiedam
Previous clubs SVDPW (Hol), SVV Schiedam (Hol), Sparta Rotterdam (Hol), SC Heerenveen (Hol)
International debut November 1997, v Togo
International caps 10 (0 goals)