From Hakim Ziyech comparisons to a low at QPR: The journey of Abdenasser El Khayati

Chennaiyin FC attacking midfielder Abdenasser El Khayati has been a vital part of his team in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 ever since joining them ahead of the season. El Khayati would probably be the first name on the team sheet especially after his heroics in the latest league fixture where he scored a hattrick and provided two assists in Chennaiyin FC’s biggest win in the history of the club.

El Khayati is the top scorer in the Hero ISL with seven goals so far along with four assists to his name. 11 goal involvements from six games and all coming from midfield is a sign of what is to come from an impressive midfielder who is turning out to be the signing of the season.

The 33-year-old is easily looked at as someone who is set to make an instant impact and leave a mark on the rest of his competitors. The Marina Machans will look to churn out the best out of a player like El Khayati as they would want to finish in the top six.

In an exclusive interview, El Khayati spoke to CFC TV where he discussed his upbringing, how he became a professional footballer, and a lot more.

Here are the excerpts:

When did you first realise that you could play football professionally?

My brothers and parents always said school is important and try to have a proper future as it is more secure when you focus more on the education but if you keep your focus only on football there is only 5 to 10% chance of making it. If you ask me to go back 20 years and what I want to become? The answer would be a football player and luckily I made it.

Who was your inspiration during this period?

I kept inspiring myself with the voices in my head telling me I can do it and I had the confidence as I was playing everyday and I knew what needed to be done to become a professional footballer. I had idols like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Andreas Iniesta, and even Juan Pablo Aimar. They do inspire you but they do not help you to become something, you got to do it yourself and keep that environment close to you where slowly you grow from there.

You’ve played football in leagues around the world, including in England and the Netherlands. Can you tell us about some of your experiences there?

My time in the UK was a bit of a mix with success and failure. In any career you will have ups and downs, and so did I. I was in the fourth division, at Burton Albion, many around me stopped me from joining the club in the UK as I was doing very well in Holland but I was the best player (top scorer) there. We won the league and went into the third division. We won the league again (League One), but I left after seven months to join Queens Park Rangers. Then came the ups and downs, but it helped develop my mentality, and then I went back to Holland from 2017 to 2019, and it was a great time there.

What do you look at as the biggest success in your football career?

It was during the 2018-19 season that I played for ADO Den Haag, a club that is always fighting to avoid relegation, but during my time there, we finished in the middle of the table. I was always compared to the best players in the league at that time (Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic), who used to provide assists and score goals every now and then. This was my greatest success and development until now.

What has been the greatest challenge that you’ve had to face in your football career thus far?

It was when Burton Albion sold me to Queens Park Rangers as their best player, but I knew I had to work harder because the type of player I could become was important to me. You need to be at the right club, with the right type of play (attacking style) that suits me a bit, so as to play and show the best ability you have.

How do you personally deal with challenges and obstacles that you have had to encounter?

Before coming to India, I was at a club in Holland (Willem II) in the Eredivisie, but before that, I was without a club for six to eight months when I used to train everyday, which was one of the hardest times of my life, but this is what helps you grow.

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