Hand the France No10 shirt to a gifted manipulator of the ball with North African roots and sooner or later a flood of Zinedine Zidane comparisons will follow. Count that as doubly true if the player in question has loudly proclaimed the retired legend as his idol, but it would be a mistake to label Abdallah Yaisien the next in a long line of pretenders to Zizou’s throne.
The 17-year-old has a playful, cheeky manner that instantly sets him apart, and more importantly he is simply too young to merit the association – a point he is the first to make. “No, I’m nothing like him,” Yaisien told FIFA.com, conscious that he has only recently signed professional terms with Paris Saint-Germain. “He’s the best of the best and he had everything: the career, the talent, the personality and influence. Absolutely everything.”
'He's got raw talent'
On the pitch, Yaisien defies comparison too. He exists in a category of his own at the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup, his mazy dribbles, total ease on the ball and impressive vision singling him out instantly from his peers. He is one of the game’s young artists and almost everything about him is unique, down to his blend of Egyptian and Algerian roots, a fascinating heritage given the intense footballing rivalry between the two nations.
“We’re all about technique in the North African countries, so maybe I’ve got some of that in my genes,” he explained with a smile. “Egypt and Algeria are obviously my roots, but above all they’re now my favourite places to go on holiday. I’m French: I was born in France and I grew up in France.”
Yaisien hails originally from Bondy in the suburbs of Paris, but it was while playing for neighbouring club Clichy-La-Garenne in 2007 that he first caught the attention of the capital’s most prestigious outfit. Just 13 at the time, his gifts were already impossible to ignore. “PSG are the club of my heart and I hope to do great things with them,” he said.
Recognition came quickly at international level too, and after rising through France’s youth ranks Yaisien is now a stalwart of Patrick Gonfalone’s U-17 side at Mexico 2011. "He’s got raw talent,” explained the France coach. “Physically he’s not the strongest, but when he’s got the ball something happens. He’s capable of unlocking a defence all on his own.”
“We’ve got players with great potential in every position,” said Yaisien, keen to temper the praise. “Anyone can score and anyone can make the difference. It’s just that I play in a position where you see a lot of the ball, so it’s normal that I get noticed a little more than others.”
Perhaps, but Yaisien has certainly played his own part in attracting headlines, delivering exquisite assists against Argentina and Jamaica and registering a sublime goal of his own against Japan. He also changed the nature of the encounter with Jamaica, coming on in the 56th minute and promptly sparing France from defeat. “That match taught us a lot,” said Gonfalone afterwards. “In particular, we saw that the team operated better when all our main players were on the pitch.”
Modest as ever, Yaisien prefers a different version of events. “I didn’t change anything at all,” he said. “When I came on, Jamaica were starting to crack.” Overall, the youngster ended the game with a feeling of regret. “It wasn’t a good match. We should have won. I or someone else should have scored another goal. We’re disappointed; we wanted to top the group as that would have prevented us having to travel to Queretaro. That’ll add to our fatigue, plus Benjamin [Mendy] is suspended for the game.”
The promising midfielder clearly feels a strong bond with his team-mates, and they hold him in similarly high regard. Yassine Benzia is a particularly fervent supporter, not least because he has found the net twice thanks to Yaisien’s creativity. “Abdallah is a very good player,” the usually guarded Lyon forward told FIFA.com after the Jamaica game. “We get on very well both on and off the pitch. We often pass to each other in training and during matches. It’s a huge pleasure to be able to play with a player like that.”
Yaisien may not be Zidane. He may never have won the Ballon d’Or, conquered the UEFA Champions League or basked in FIFA World Cup™ glory, but there can be no denying the buzz he is currently generating on the playing fields of Mexico.